To the untrained eye, rosacea (rose-AY-sha), which causes redness, swelling, and pimples on the face, can look like acne or sunburn. But unlike acne or sunburn, rosacea will not go away without treatment and, if left untreated, will only get worse. If you think you have rosacea, consult your doctor promptly. It is much easier to treat sooner than later.

Not just a complexion problem

Rosacea is very common. It is estimated that 1.6 million Canadians have this condition. Rosacea can have quite a negative effect on self-esteem and self-confidence. Many are embarrassed about their looks and try, quite unsuccessfully, to cover-up their skin with a variety of over-the-counter medications and makeup.

Who gets rosacea?

Typical rosacea sufferers are fair-skinned adults between 30 and 50 years of age. Heredity plays an important role and women are more prone to developing it than men - although men can also be severely affected. There are plenty of "atypical" rosacea sufferers as well; the condition also affects children and people with other skin types.


People who develop rosacea have a tendency to flush or blush easily. In time, the flush progresses to a persistent redness with small, red bumps, sometimes containing pus. These pimples are different from the blackheads and whiteheads associated with acne. Red lines, called telangiectasia, gradually begin to appear during a flush. In some people, the face stings or feels itchy or burns. About half of rosacea sufferers develop eye problems, such as conjunctivitis and eyelid irritations. In extreme cases of untreated rosacea, small knobby bumps develop on the nose, a condition called rhinophyma.


No one is certain what causes rosacea, although many now believe it is a neurovascular disorder. Certainly, both genetics and the environment figure in its development. The following precipitating factors have been identified as triggers but differ from person to person:

  • heat (including hot baths)
  • strenuous exercise
  • sunlight
  • wind
  • cold temperatures
  • hot drinks
  • spicy foods
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • menopause
  • emotional stress
  • long-term use of topical steroids on the face
  • rubbing or scrubbing the face
  • cosmetics containing fragrances or alcohol


Your doctor is in the best position to diagnose rosacea and advise you on an appropriate treatment plan. Today's options range from topical products and oral medications to treat the papules and pustules, to laser therapy for the visible blood vessels on the face and laser surgery for rhinophyma.
Non-surgical treatments include:

  • topical antibiotics (i.e., metronidazole, clindamycin, erythromycin), to reduce flare-ups;
  • oral antibiotics (e.g., tetracycline, minocycline, erythromycin, doxycycline), to reduce pimples and redness;
  • topical brimonidine, to reduce redness.

No one treatment is perfect. Your doctor may recommend a combined approach. Don't hesitate to discuss the consequences of any prescribed drug treatment plan with your pharmacist, who can advise you on the effects and possible side effects of the various medications. Be patient. It can take a couple of months before you notice a significant improvement. In the short-term, cosmetics may help. Some people find that green-tinted makeup can mask the redness.

Living with rosacea

The first step toward coping with your rosacea is to prevent flare-ups as much as possible. Keep a journal of what seems to trigger the flushing, e.g., foods, medications, cosmetics and soaps, activities. Certain things, such as menopause, are obviously impossible to avoid. Others, such as coffee, spicy foods, or irritating cosmetics are much easier. Follow a gentle cleansing regimen and avoid over-the-counter acne medicines as they may not be suitable for your skin. Protect yourself from the sun; wear a hat and, if you can without triggering a flare-up, use sunscreen with a sun-protecting factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Try not to overheat when exercising; exercise in a cool environment and take a break every 15 minutes or so to cool down before continuing.

Note: Rosacea has been incorrectly linked to alcoholism. Although alcohol can make your symptoms worse, the symptoms could be just as severe in someone who does not drink at all.

For more information:

Rosacea awareness program

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