What Is Rosacea?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on May 23, 2023
6 min read

Rosacea is a skin condition that makes your skin look flushed or red. You may also have small bumps with pus inside. It can look similar to acne or other skin problems.

Symptoms differ based on the color of your skin. Flushing and blushing are often more obvious on light skin, but harder to see on brown or Black skin. This might make it harder for people with darker skin to get the right diagnosis. 

Even if you don't see obvious redness, you may have rosacea if your skin has: 

  • Small red bumps
  • Bumps that contain pus
  • Stinging, burning, and sensitivity

 Your doctor can suggest medicine and other treatments to manage your symptoms. You can also take steps at home to help yourself look and feel better.

There are 4 types of rosacea. But you can have symptoms of more than one type at the same time. The types of rosacea are:

Erythematotelangiectatic rosacea. With this type, you have long-lasting redness on your face. Small blood vessels under your skin get larger and more visible. Your symptoms often come and go. Without treatment, the redness can get worse or even become permanent.

Papulopustular rosacea. This causes pus-filled "whiteheads" as well as swollen red bumps that look a lot like acne. Often, they show up on your forehead, cheeks, and chin, but they can also affect your scalp, chest, or neck. Your face may also be red or flushed. If you have a serious case, these symptoms can take a while to get better.

Phymatous rosacea. With this rare type, your skin gets thick and scarred. This form of rosacea most often affects your nose, and can make it look swollen, bumpy, and sometimes discolored.   

Ocular rosacea. This type of rosacea affects your eyes, causing them to feel irritated and look bloodshot or watery. Your eyes become dry and sensitive, and you may get cysts on your eyelids. 

For people with lighter skin, the main thing you may notice is redness on your cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead. Less often, the color can appear on your neck, head, ears, or chest.

After a while, broken blood vessels might show through your skin, which can thicken and swell. Up to half of people with rosacea also get eye problems like redness, swelling, and pain.

Other symptoms you may get no matter what your skin tone include:

  • Stinging and burning of your skin
  • Red or pus-filled bumps that may resemble pimples
  • Patches of rough, dry skin
  • A swollen, bulb-shaped nose
  • Larger pores
  • Broken blood vessels on your eyelids
  • Bumps on your eyelids
  • Problems with your vision 

Rosacea symptoms can come and go. They might flare up for a few weeks, fade, and then come back.

Treatment is a must, so see your doctor. If you don't take care of your rosacea, your symptoms can get worse and might become permanent.

Common triggers for rosacea include:

  • Sun exposure
  • Very hot or very cold weather
  • Alcohol
  • Very hot or spicy foods
  • Intense exercise
  • Stress 
  • Some cosmetic, skin, or hair products

In addition, menopause and some drugs may cause flushing. To help identify your triggers, keep a diary of when symptoms appear, what you were doing, the environmental conditions, and what you think may have brought on your symptoms. Discuss this with your doctor.


Doctors don't know exactly what causes rosacea. A few things that may play a role are:

Your genes. Rosacea often runs in families.

Blood vessel trouble. The redness on your skin might be due to problems with blood vessels in your face. Sun damage could make them get wider, which makes it easier for people to see them.

Mites. They're microscopic insects. A type called Demodex folliculorum normally lives on your skin and usually isn't harmful. Some people, though, are more sensitive to the mites, or more of the mites than usual. Too many mites could irritate your skin.

Bacteria. A type called H. pylori normally lives in your gut. Some studies suggest this germ can raise the amount of a digestive hormone called gastrin, which might cause your skin to look flushed.

Some things about you may make you more likely to get rosacea. For instance, your chances of getting the skin condition go up if you:

  • Have light skin, blond hair, and blue eyes
  • Are between ages 30 and 50
  • Are female
  • Have family members with rosacea
  • Had severe acne
  • Smoke

There isn't a cure for rosacea, but treatments can help you manage the redness, bumps, and other symptoms.

Your doctor may suggest these medicines:

  • Azelaic acid, a gel or foam that clears up bumps, swelling, and redness
  • Brimonidine (Mirvaso), a gel that tightens blood vessels in the skin to get rid of some of your redness
  • Clindamycin (Cleocin, Clindagel, ClindaMax), an antibiotic that kills bacteria on your skin
  • Erythromycin (Erygel), another type of antibiotic
  • Isotretinoin (Amnesteem, Claravis, and others), an acne drug. Don't use it if you're pregnant because it can cause serious birth defects.
  • Ivermectin (Soolantra) and calcineurin inhibitors such as pimecrolimus and tacrolimus, medications you apply to your skin (topicals) 
  • Oxymetazoline (Rhofade), another topical
  • Metronidazole (Flagyl) and doxycycline, antibiotics.
  • Sodium sulfacetamide and sulfur (Avar, Sulfacet, Clenia, Plexion), antibiotics.

It can take you a few weeks or months of using one of these medicines for your skin to improve.

Your doctor may also recommend procedures to treat your rosacea, such as:

  • Lasers that use intense light to get rid of blood vessels that have gotten bigger
  • Dermabrasion, which sands off the top layer of skin
  • Electrocautery, an electric current that zaps damaged blood vessels

There's a lot you can do on your own. For starters, try to figure out the things that trigger an outbreak, and then avoid them. To help you do this, keep a journal that tracks your activities and your flare-ups.

Some things that often trigger rosacea are:

  • Sunlight
  • High or low temperatures
  • Wind
  • Stress
  • Hot baths
  • Hot or spicy foods or drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Intense exercise
  • Medicines such as blood pressure drugs or steroids you put on your skin

Also, follow these self-care tips to protect your skin and help fade redness:

Put on sunscreen. To prevent symptoms triggered by sunlight, use a sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage (it blocks UVA and UVB rays) and SPF 30 or higher. Apply it whenever you go outside. Also wear a wide-brimmed hat that covers your face.

Use only gentle skin care products. Avoid cleansers and creams that have alcohol, fragrance, witch hazel, and other harsh ingredients. After you wash your face, gently blot your skin dry with a soft cloth.

Use a moisturizer. It's especially helpful in cold weather, when low temps and wind can dry up your skin. Oil-free is best. 

Be careful with cosmetics.  Use high-quality, oil-free makeup.

Massage your face. Gently rub your skin in a circular motion. Start in the middle of your face and work your way outward toward your ears.

Cover up. Put a green-tinted cover-up on your face to hide redness and broken blood vessels.

Go indoors. Get out of the heat and sun and cool off in an air-conditioned room.

Care for your eyes. If rosacea has made them red and irritated, use a watered-down baby shampoo or eyelid cleaner to gently clean your eyelids every day. Also put a warm compress on your eyes a few times a day.

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, like a Mediterranean diet, seems to help some people who have rosacea.

It's also important to care for your emotions along with your skin problems. If you feel embarrassed by the way you look, or you think it's starting to affect your self-esteem, talk to your doctor or a counselor. You can also join a support group where you can meet people who know just what you're going through.

Show Sources


Photo Credit: Lipowski / Getty Images

American Academy of Dermatology: "Rosacea: Signs and Symptoms," "Rosacea: Tips for Managing," "Rosacea: Who Gets and Causes."

Mayo Clinic: "Metronidazole (Oral Route)," "Rosacea: Self-Management," "Rosacea: Symptoms and causes," "Rosacea: Treatment, "Rosacea: "Diseases and Conditions," "Rosacea on Brown Skin," "Clindamycin (Topical Route)," "Erythromycin (Topical Route)," "Oxymetazoline (Topical Application Route)."

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Rosacea."

National Rosacea Society: "All About Rosacea," "Coping With Rosacea," "Lasers Used to Treat Some Rosacea Signs," "Understanding Rosacea," "Diagnosing Rosacea In Darker Skin Can Often Be Difficult."

National Health Service (U.K.): "Rosacea – Causes."

National Institutes of Health: "Red in the Face."

National Library of Medicine: "Azelaic Acid Topical."

International Rosacea Foundation.


American Academy of Family Physicians.



NYU Langone Health: "Types of Rosacea."

Cleveland Clinic: "Sulfacetamide; Sulfur topical skin cleanser or emulsion."

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: "Rosacea."

Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology: "New developments in the treatment of rosacea – role of once-daily ivermectin cream."



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