Your Complete Guide to Rosacea: Causes, Treatments, and Tips

April is Rosacea Awareness Month, and in recognition, we’ve compiled an in-depth guide to this common skin condition. Rosacea can get in the way of self-confidence and self-esteem, and can cause frustration, worry, and embarrassment, and even anxiety and depression. But with the right knowledge, treatment, and support, you can address your rosacea and get the beautiful, glowing skin you deserve. Keep reading to learn more and start controlling your rosacea today.

What is rosacea?

Rosacea is a skin condition characterized by frequent blushing, visible blood vessels, and/or tiny bumps filled with pus, which may cause the skin to feel like it is burning. These symptoms may “flare” periodically and slowly spread beyond the face to the ears, back, neck, and other areas of the skin.

Rosacea is quite similar to, and sometimes mistaken for, other skin conditions, like acne. This is because there are many symptoms that are associated with rosacea. Dermatologists have named four different subtypes of rosacea based on certain symptoms. (However, it is possible to have multiple kinds of symptoms at the same time.)

  • Erythematotelangiectatic rosacea, characterized by redness and visible blood vessels or spider veins
  • Papulopustular rosacea, characterized by swelling and breakouts
  • Phymatous rosacea, characterized by rough texture and skin thickening, including on the nose
  • Ocular rosacea, characterized by red, swollen, or irritated eyes or eyelids, including sty-like swelling, which may interfere with eyesight

Rosacea is common and can affect anyone, though it is more common for those who:

  • Are fair skinned
  • Are female
  • Are middle-aged 
  • Smoke
  • Have family members with rosacea

And while rosacea is more common for those with lighter skin, those with darker skin can also develop rosacea. However, the data on the percentage of people with darker skin who are impacted may be skewed by the fact that rosacea on darker skin is harder to detect. For people of color, these symptoms can suggest you are suffering from rosacea:

  • A persistent warm or burning feeling on your skin
  • Swollen, bumpy, or dry areas of the skin
  • Dusky or yellowish-brown discoloration on your skin
  • Breakouts that won’t clear with basic acne treatments
  • Thickening of the skin on your face

Without treatment, rosacea can worsen, so be sure to book a consultation with us if you suspect you may have rosacea. The founder and medical director of Mint & Needle manages and treats rosacea, so you’ll be in good hands. Rosacea is a lifelong condition, but treatment can effectively reduce and control your symptoms.

What causes rosacea?

The underlying causes of rosacea are not well understood, but researchers have hypothesized that rosacea may be caused by hereditary factors, an overactive immune system, environmental triggers, or multiple factors in combination. 

Rosacea flare-ups, however, can be associated with certain “triggers,” which can differ from person to person. These include:

  • Alcohol
  • Certain kinds of drugs (such as those that dilate blood vessels)
  • Hot drinks
  • Spicy foods
  • Extreme temperatures (which may cause flare-ups during the summer or winter)
  • Sunlight
  • Strong wind
  • Strong emotions and stress
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Some skin or hair products

Learning how to avoid your “triggers” can help you manage your rosacea.

How can I tell the difference between rosacea and acne?

Rosacea is often confused for acne, but paying close attention to your symptoms can help you to distinguish between the two:

  • While acne can cause multiple kinds of breakouts at once (whiteheads, blackheads, cysts, etc.), breakouts caused by rosacea tend to be pus-filled blemishes only.
  • Redness caused by acne tends to be concentrated around breakouts only, while redness caused by rosacea can be comprehensive, even affecting the eyes.
  • Acne tends to be associated with oily skin (unless you use skin products which dry out your skin), while rosacea is not associated with oily skin.
  • Acne causes rough texture due to scars when acne clears, while rosacea tends to cause enlarged pores and spider veins.
  • Acne does not tend to cause sensitive skin except due to localized inflammation (or due to the overuse of acne treatments), while rosacea is associated with intense burning or itching when your skin comes in contact with common products like sunscreen and makeup.
  • Finally, acne is most common in teenagers, while rosacea is most common among those 30 years of age and older.

A clinical provider can help you figure out what condition you have and propose appropriate treatment options.

How can I treat my rosacea?

While avoiding your triggers is the first step to treating rosacea, there are a few other simple things you can do to reduce your symptoms. The first is to use sun protection, since rosacea-prone skin can be very sensitive to sunlight. Wear protective clothing like hats and sunglasses, and make sure to use a powerful SPF (30 or greater), like our Hydrating UV Defense SPF 44.

Beyond that, practicing the right skincare habits and using the right skincare products can make a big difference. Be sure to avoid rubbing or scrubbing your skin, which can irritate your skin and result in a flare-up. It’s also important to stick with mild ingredients.

Your provider can also suggest medical-grade products to treat your specific rosacea symptoms, and we recommend our Sensitive & Rosacea Regimen (which we talk more about below).

Read on to learn more about which products to avoid and look out for. 

If I have rosacea, what products should I avoid?

It’s important to avoid products that contain irritating or drying ingredients. Ingredients to avoid include:

  • Fragrances
  • Vitamin A (Retinol)
  • Vitamin C
  • Exfoliants
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Parabens and Sulfates

Many of the same ingredients that can irritate generally sensitive skin (or that are beneficial to sensitive skin) also apply to rosacea-prone skin. For more information, check out our blog “What Products Should I Use on My Sensitive Skin?

If I have rosacea, what products and treatments should I use?

Your Complete Guide to Rosacea: Causes, Treatments, and Tips

A provider can give you the best recommendations for your specific rosacea concerns. In general, treatments for rosacea will depend on which type(s) of rosacea you have.

For general redness, lasers and other light-based treatments can be very effective, especially to eliminate visible blood vessels. We recommend starting out with a Photofacial/IPL or RF microneedling treatment to first address the vessels and redness. After you calm down the redness with one of those options, we suggest doing a CoolPeel or CO2 laser treatment to continue managing it.

For acne-like breakouts, many of the treatments used to treat persistent acne, like azelaic acid, metronidazole, sodium sulfacetamide and sulfur, retinoids (to prevent dormant rosacea only), antibiotics, doxycycline, and isotretinoin, can be used to treat rosacea with a provider’s supervision.

In general, it’s important to pair any treatments with a gentle skincare routine. We recommend our Sensitive & Rosacea Regimen, which includes a full set of products for daily use.

With this regimen, we recommend that you follow the routine below:

This regimen will work to heal your skin and even your skin tone, while preventing future flare ups and giving your skin a dewy glow. 

Rosacea can be a frustrating condition to deal with, but it is addressable and treatable. We hope this blog provided some helpful tips for tackling rosacea!