Skin Care, Skin Care Problems

Rosacea: Symptoms, Causes, Triggers & Treatment

Rosacea: Symptoms, Causes, Triggers & Treatment


Introduction to Rosacea

Rosacea is a common chronic skin condition that causes redness and visible blood vessels on the face. It most often affects middle-aged women with fair skin, but can occur in men and people of all skin tones. The redness often appears on the cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead.

The main symptoms of rosacea include facial flushing, persistent redness, spider veins (telangiectasia), acne-like breakouts, burning or stinging sensations on the skin, and watery or irritated eyes. The condition tends to come and go, with periods of flare-ups followed by remission.

Rosacea affects around 16 million Americans and over 45 million people worldwide. It is more common in women, people with lighter skin tones, and adults between the ages of 30 to 60. However, people of all ages can develop rosacea. There are a variety of subtypes, but the most common include erythematotelangiectatic rosacea and papulopustular rosacea.

Common Symptoms

Rosacea often begins with facial redness or flushing that comes and goes but gradually becomes more persistent. The redness typically appears on the cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead. Other common symptoms include:

  • Facial Redness/Flushing – Redness is one of the most obvious and common symptoms of rosacea. It occurs when blood vessels in the face dilate too easily. The face may appear flushed or sunburned. Redness is often triggered by factors like hot drinks, spicy foods, alcohol, exercise, temperature changes, or emotional stress. The redness comes and goes at first, but tends to become more persistent over time.

  • Bumpy Texture – Small red bumps or pimples may develop, often resembling acne. Papules (small bumps) and pustules (pus-filled bumps) can form. The skin may feel rough and uneven. This is caused by inflammation and thickening of facial skin.

  • Acne-like Breakouts – In some cases, acne-like breakouts occur with rosacea. This is known as rosacea papulopustulosa. Breakouts contain pus and resemble adolescent acne. Breakouts often occur in the “rosacea zone” – the cheeks, chin, nose, and central forehead.

  • Eye Irritation – Many people with rosacea also experience dry, irritated, swollen eyes. Symptoms can include a gritty feeling, stinging, burning, watery eyes, and increased sensitivity to light. This is known as ocular rosacea. Left untreated, it may cause permanent vision damage.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of rosacea is unknown, but research suggests several factors may play a role:

  • Blood vessel abnormalities – People with rosacea tend to have abnormally enlarged blood vessels on their face. It’s unclear whether this is a cause or effect of rosacea. The enlarged vessels may contribute to flushing and blushing.

  • Immune system involvement – Some research suggests rosacea may be an inflammatory response triggered by the immune system. Abnormal immune responses could cause inflammation and redness.

  • Genetic predisposition – Many people with rosacea have a family history of the condition. Certain genes may make someone more susceptible. However, environmental triggers also seem necessary for rosacea to develop.

  • Triggers – While the exact cause is unknown, certain triggers are known to exacerbate rosacea. Triggers like sun exposure, stress, hot weather, wind, spicy foods, alcohol, and hot beverages can all cause flushing and make rosacea symptoms worse. Avoiding triggers can help control rosacea.

So in summary, the exact pathological process behind rosacea is not fully understood. It likely involves a complex interaction between blood vessel abnormalities, immune system problems, genetics, and environmental triggers. More research is still needed to determine the mechanisms that cause rosacea to develop.


Rosacea has four identified subtypes that have their own unique symptoms.

Erythematotelangiectatic (redness)

This subtype is characterized by flushing and persistent redness in the central areas of the face. The redness is caused by the dilation of small blood vessels under the skin. Facial burning, stinging, and dryness are also common.

Papulopustular (acne)

This subtype presents with acne-like breakouts such as papules (small red bumps) and pustules (pus-filled lesions). The breakouts typically occur in the central areas of the face and resemble acne vulgaris.

Phymatous (thick skin)

This subtype involves thickening of the facial skin, including the development of irregular bumps and nodules. The nose is most often affected, appearing bulbous and enlarged from excess tissue. Phymatous rosacea can also thicken the cheeks, chin, forehead, and ears.

Ocular (eyes)

Ocular rosacea causes red, dry, irritated eyes and eyelids. Other symptoms include styes, watery eyes, burning or stinging, blurred vision, light sensitivity, and the feeling of having something in the eye. Left untreated, ocular rosacea can damage the cornea.


Rosacea is often diagnosed based on the typical redness and rash on the face. A dermatologist will perform a visual exam and ask about your symptoms and medical history.

They will look for small red bumps or pimples, flushing of the facial skin, and spider veins. The redness often appears on both cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead.

To rule out other conditions, the dermatologist may ask:

  • When did the redness first appear? Has it worsened over time?

  • What triggers the flushing and blushing?

  • Do you have any eye issues like dryness, burning, or sensitivity?

  • What skin care products do you use? Have you used topical steroids on the face?

  • Do you have any allergies, digestive issues, or skin disorders?

  • What medications are you taking? Some may cause facial redness.

  • Is there a family history of rosacea or autoimmune disorders?

Your medical history helps determine if the symptoms are from rosacea or another condition like eczema, lupus, or sun damage. There is no single test to diagnose rosacea. The dermatologist will analyze the symptoms and clinical presentation to make the diagnosis. They may also perform a skin biopsy to rule out other skin disorders.

Rosacea: Symptoms, Causes, Triggers & Treatment

Treatment Options

Rosacea treatment focuses on reducing signs and symptoms. Because rosacea tends to worsen over time, early treatment is recommended. There are many treatment options available, including lifestyle changes, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, prescription medications, and medical procedures.

Avoiding Triggers

Identifying and avoiding things that trigger rosacea flare-ups can help prevent recurrence. Common rosacea triggers include sun exposure, emotional stress, hot or cold weather, wind, heavy exercise, alcohol consumption, hot baths, spicy foods, and skin-care products containing alcohol, witch hazel, fragrances, or other irritants. Keeping a diary can help identify personal triggers.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Several OTC skin-care products are options for treating mild to moderate rosacea:

  • Gentle facial cleansers, toners and moisturizers formulated for sensitive skin. Products containing added sunscreen help prevent sun damage.

  • Green-tinted makeup or primer may help camouflage redness. Avoid oil-based or thick, heavy products.

  • Sulfur-based facial products have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Sulfur may help with pustules and papules.

  • Azelaic acid cream helps reduce swelling and redness. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.

Prescription Medications

Doctors may prescribe topical or oral medications for more severe rosacea:

  • Topical antibiotics such as metronidazole, clindamycin, or erythromycin help control inflammation and bacteria on the skin.

  • Oral antibiotics such as tetracycline, doxycycline, or minocycline may be used for moderate to severe rosacea. Low doses are often prescribed long-term to control symptoms.

  • Topical brimonidine helps reduce persistent facial redness.

  • Isotretinoin, a strong oral retinoid, may be prescribed for severe rosacea cases.

Laser and Light Therapy

Laser and light therapy reduce blood vessels and redness on the skin. Common options include:

  • Intense pulsed light (IPL) systems emit wavelengths absorbed by red blood cells to shrink blood vessels. Multiple treatments are usually needed.

  • The potassium titanyl phosphate (KTP) laser emits a green light that targets blood vessels. It also helps improve texture.

  • Pulsed dye lasers use yellow light to target dilated blood vessels. This helps reduce redness and flushing.

Several treatment sessions are typically required for optimal results. While laser therapy is usually effective, symptoms may recur and require additional treatments.

Lifestyle Changes

Making certain lifestyle adjustments can help reduce rosacea flare-ups and symptoms. Here are some tips:

Sun Protection

Wearing sunscreen daily is crucial, as sun exposure is a common rosacea trigger. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Seek shade between 10am and 2pm when the sun’s rays are strongest. Wear wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses outdoors.

Gentle Skincare

Use mild, fragrance-free cleansers and moisturizers. Avoid rubbing or scrubbing your face. Pat dry gently after washing. Minimize use of toners, astringents, masks, and exfoliants that may irritate skin.

Managing Stress

Stress can aggravate rosacea flares. Practice relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or massage therapy. Get enough sleep and take time for hobbies you enjoy. Consider cognitive behavioral therapy.

Diet Modification

Some find spicy foods, hot beverages, and alcohol can trigger flares. Keeping a food diary may help identify personal triggers to avoid. Some studies suggest probiotics may help; talk to your doctor.

Coping with Rosacea

Living with rosacea can be challenging, as the visible symptoms like facial redness and acne-like breakouts can significantly impact self-esteem and emotional wellbeing. Here are some tips for coping with rosacea:

Self-Esteem Tips

  • Remember that rosacea is a common condition affecting millions of people. You are not alone.

  • Try not to let rosacea define you or diminish your self-worth. You are so much more than your skin condition.

  • Surround yourself with supportive friends and family who boost your confidence.

  • Find a support group to connect with others who understand what you’re going through.

  • Seek counseling if rosacea is causing depression or anxiety. A therapist can help provide coping methods.

  • Focus on positive aspects of yourself and other talents besides your appearance.

Covering Up Redness

  • Use green-tinted makeup or concealer to counteract redness. Avoid irritating ingredients.

  • Try camouflaging red areas with lightweight scarves or hats outdoors.

  • Hairstyles like bangs or certain cuts can help mask facial redness.

  • Sunglasses hide red eyes. Look for large frames or wraparound styles.

Support Groups

  • The National Rosacea Society has an online support group with message boards.

  • Local support groups may meet in person. Check dermatology clinics or hospitals.

  • Online rosacea forums like Rosacea Support Group allow connecting with others worldwide.

  • Facebook groups like Rosacea Sufferers provide social support.

  • Support groups help diminish isolation and provide real-world tips from fellow patients.

Outlook and Prognosis

Rosacea is a chronic condition characterized by periodic flares where symptoms worsen followed by periods of remission where symptoms improve. While there is no cure for rosacea, with proper treatment most people can keep their symptoms under control and live normal lives.

Rosacea does not directly cause mortality or shorten life expectancy. The condition can cause emotional distress due to its visible symptoms, but it is not life-threatening. With a combination of lifestyle changes, trigger avoidance, and medical treatment, many patients see a significant improvement in their quality of life.

The course of rosacea is highly variable between patients. Some may only experience occasional flares while others deal with more persistent symptoms. It is possible for rosacea to go into remission for extended periods of time. However, there is no way to predict the course the condition will take for any individual patient.

While rosacea cannot be cured, it can be effectively managed with diligent treatment and trigger avoidance. With proper care, most patients are able to control their symptoms and prevent flares. The prognosis for rosacea is generally good, with many people able to find an effective treatment regimen that works for them.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience persistent facial redness or flushing, bumps or pimples on your face, or eye irritation, it’s important to see a doctor for evaluation. These could be signs of rosacea or other skin conditions that may require treatment.

Some specific signs that warrant a doctor visit include:

  • Redness on your cheeks, nose, chin or forehead that does not go away
  • Small red bumps or pustules on the face
  • Burning or stinging sensations on the face
  • Visible blood vessels on the face
  • Watery, irritated eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Recurrent styes or chalazia (bumps) on the eyelids

Rosacea often worsens over time without treatment. Seeing a doctor early can help get the condition under control before it progresses.

A dermatologist can examine your skin and eyes to determine if you have rosacea. They may also ask about your medical history and what triggers your symptoms.

There are many effective treatments for rosacea, including topical creams, oral antibiotics, laser therapy and more. A dermatologist can develop a customized treatment plan to reduce redness, swelling and irritation.

Left untreated, rosacea can cause permanent thickening of facial skin and disfigurement. But with proper diagnosis and treatment, it’s possible to manage symptoms and prevent the progression of rosacea. Don’t wait to seek help if you notice persistent facial redness, pimples or eye problems. Schedule an appointment with a dermatologist right away for evaluation and treatment.