What is rosacea & how do you treat it?

Find out more about the common skin condition

What is rosacea?

Rosacea is a common skin condition that mainly affects the face, particularly the cheeks, nose and chin. It’s characterised by inflammation of the skin, which results in flushing and redness. While the symptoms come and go in severity, it tends to be a long-term issue. It’s more common in women, but tends to be more severe in men. It’s also more common in people over the age of 30, and in fair-skinned people.

At present it cannot be cured, but there are ways to help manage the symptoms.


What are the symptoms?

Flushing – one of the main symptoms, this is when your skin reddens involuntarily due to the widening of blood vessels, usually in the face. It can last for a few minutes and happen frequently.

Persistent redness – this tends to occur mainly on the cheeks, nose and chin. It can look similar to sunburn that doesn’t go away, or blotchy in appearance like from drinking too much alcohol.

Red bumps – these spots can resemble acne and may be tender to touch.

Small visible blood vessels – these become dilated making them visible underneath the skin. This is known as telangiectasia.

Eye problems – this can include red and sore eyes and eyelids, as well as dryness, irritation and sensitivity to light.

Other symptoms associated with rosacea include sensitive skin (such as burning, itching and stinging), dry skin and facial swelling.


What are the causes of rosacea?

While the exact cause is unknown, the following is thought to contribute to the condition:

Abnormalities in blood vessels in the face – they dilate easily, causing the face to appear red and flushed.

Skin peptides – these naturally occurring molecules in the skin become activated due to external factors, and increased levels of them can cause dilation, redness and inflammation.

Microscopic mites – known as demodex folliculorum, these mites live harmlessly on the skin. Rosacea sufferers may have a higher number of them, resulting in a reaction.

Genetics – rosacea does seem to run in families, although there is no clear genetic link and no scientific research has been undertaken to prove this.

There are a number of things that can trigger or cause rosacea flare-ups. These include:

• Exposure to sunlight

• Stress

• Strenuous exercise

• Alcohol and caffeine

• Certain foods, such as dairy products or spicy foods

• Hot or cold weather

• Certain components within cosmetics


Is rosacea different to acne?

While some symptoms can appear similar to acne, they are different conditions and are treated in different ways. Some people with rosacea will experience spots and breakouts, specifically papules and pustules, but they won’t experience blackheads or large legions of cysts. They also won’t experience any scarring to the skin, unlike some people with acne.

To learn more about acne, read our article here.


How do you treat rosacea?

Although there’s no cure as of yet, there are a number of treatment options that can help to reduce or control the inflammatory symptoms of rosacea. The length of treatment depends on the severity and nature of your symptoms.

Medications

There are some medications that can be prescribed by your GP to help treat rosacea symptoms.

Topical gels and creams, containing an antibiotic are often an effective type of treatment. These are applied once or twice a day, and may take several weeks to show improvement. Oral antibiotics may also be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of rosacea as they can help to reduce inflammation. These courses may need to last for several months.

If your rosacea doesn’t improve, your GP may refer you to a dermatologist.

Self-help

There are also some self-care measures you can take to help minimise your symptoms. One of the most effective is avoiding common triggers that are known to cause rosacea flare-ups. While this isn’t always practical or possible, making changes to your lifestyle can help to keep your condition under control.

It can be worthwhile keeping a written diary to try and identify any triggers you may have, noting down whether your symptoms worsen during certain activities, or after eating certain foods. For instance, spicy foods, alcohol and dairy may trigger rosacea symptoms in some people. Be mindful that not everyone is triggered by the same things, so it can take some time to figure out what does or doesn’t affect you.

As well as avoiding potential triggers, it’s important to look after your skin. Using a sun cream is highly recommended, even when it’s overcast or cloudy outside. Choose one with an SPF factor of 30 or above, and one that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Try to reduce the time you spend in the sun in the warmer months, and cover up where possible. When it comes to cleansing, look to use products that are suitable for sensitive skin – avoid anything that’s alcohol-based or scented. Instead opt for something described as mild or hypoallergenic.

Seeking help

If you think you may have rosacea or are concerned about your skin, please speak to your GP for advice.