Dermatologists share tips on how to treat rosacea redness and breakouts

The best ways to identify rosacea triggers and control symptoms, according to experts.
Rosacea can’t be cured, but you can manage the symptoms and keep it from worsening.
Rosacea can’t be cured, but you can manage the symptoms and keep it from worsening.Shutterstock

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By Stephanie Thurrott

Rosacea is a common skin condition that causes the face to redden. In early stages, people with rosacea are likely to flush. Left untreated, different types of rosacea can cause visible blood vessels, breakouts like acne, thickening skin or dry, itchy, sensitive eyes.

“It’s an inflammatory condition that’s usually hereditary,” said Dr. Carolyn Jacob, medical director of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Jacob noted that rosacea is more common in people of Celtic descent, but it strikes people of every ethnicity.

Symptoms of rosacea

Rosacea typically starts after age 30, according to the National Rosacea Society (NRS). If you have rosacea, you might notice that you blush more easily or more often than other people, and you might feel a sensation of warmth when you blush. You might also notice:

  • Redness of the face
  • Rosacea with acne — bumps or pimples
  • Visible blood vessels
  • Eye irritation
  • Thickening skin
  • Burning, stinging, swelling or dryness

“It’s common in both men and women,” said Dr. Amy McMichael, chair of the dermatology department at Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology. She said people will say they’ve always had good skin, but as adults they notice their skin becomes extremely sensitive.

Redness and telangiectasia (aka spider veins) may not be observed in patients with darker skin, said McMichael, "but the lesions are still similar with pustules and papules."

People with rosacea may find it affects their quality of life. The NRS reports that more than 90% of people with rosacea say it has lowered their confidence and self-esteem. And more than half of people with severe symptoms have missed work because of it.

Causes of rosacea

Experts don’t know what causes rosacea. Your immune system, certain intestinal bacteria, a common skin mite or an infection-blocking protein could factor into whether you develop rosacea, according to the AAD.

Diagnosing rosacea

Your dermatologist will diagnose rosacea based on your medical history, an examination of your skin and the symptoms you report. Medical tests can’t diagnose rosacea, but they can rule out other conditions such as lupus and allergic reactions, the AAD reports.

“Once you figure out the triggers and get a reasonable regimen, [rosacea] is pretty easy to control,” said Dr. McMichael.Getty Images stock

Treatment for rosacea

Rosacea can’t be cured, but you can manage the symptoms and keep it from worsening. “You want to get it under control and keep it under control, so it doesn’t progressively get worse. If it’s left out of control you can develop more permanent red blood vessels on the face,” Jacobs said.

Lots of different factors can lead to rosacea flare-ups, and different triggers affect different people.

See if you notice your rosacea flaring after:

  • You’re overheated
  • You’re exposed to cold air or the sun
  • You eat spicy foods or drink hot liquids
  • You drink red wine
  • You exercise
  • You get embarrassed

It'll help to avoid things that set off or exacerbate symptoms. “Once you figure out the triggers and get a reasonable regimen, it’s pretty easy to control,” said McMichael.

People with rosacea should protect their skin from the sun.

The AAD recommends:

  • Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day
  • Staying indoors when the sun is strongest
  • Wearing a hat, sun-protective clothing and sunglasses
  • Staying in the shade

You should also use mild skin care products to avoid irritating your skin.

If avoiding triggers, protecting yourself from sun exposure and modifying your skin care routine don’t help, the AAD says that these treatment options can help control your rosacea symptoms.

How to treat rosacea

  • Facial redness: lasers or prescription medications
  • Breakouts: lasers or medications that you apply to the skin or take by mouth
  • Thickening skin: surgery
  • Eye symptoms: warm compresses, cleansers, eye drops or medication