Rosacea (pronounced "roh-ZAY-sha") is a chronic and potentially life-disruptive disorder primarily of the facial skin, often characterized by flare-ups and remissions. Many have observed that it typically begins any time after age 30 as a redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead that may come and go. In some cases, rosacea may also occur on the neck, chest, scalp or ears. Over time, the redness tends to become ruddier and more persistent, and visible blood vessels may appear. Left untreated, bumps and pimples often develop, and in severe cases the nose may grow swollen and bumpy from excess tissue. This is the condition, called rhinophyma (pronounced "rhi-no-FY-muh"), that gave the late comedian W.C. Fields his trademark bulbous nose. In many rosacea patients, the eyes are also affected, feeling irritated and appearing watery or bloodshot.
Although rosacea can affect all segments of the population, individuals with fair skin who tend to flush or blush easily are believed to be at greatest risk. The disease is more frequently diagnosed in women, but more severe symptoms tend to be seen in men -- perhaps because they often delay seeking medical help until the disorder reaches advanced stages.
While there is no cure for rosacea and the cause is unknown, medical therapy is available to control or reverse its signs and symptoms. Individuals who suspect they may have rosacea are urged to see a dermatologist or other knowledgeable physician for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Rosacea can vary substantially from one individual to another, and in most cases some rather than all of the potential signs and symptoms appear. According to a consensus committee and review panel of 17 medical experts worldwide (see Classification of Rosacea), rosacea always includes at least one of the following primary signs, and various secondary signs and symptoms may also develop.
The consensus committee and review panel of 17 medical experts worldwide identified four subtypes of rosacea, defined as common patterns or groupings of signs and symptoms. These include:
Many patients experience characteristics of more than one subtype at the same time, and those often may develop in succession. While rosacea may or may not evolve from one subtype to another, each individual sign or symptom may progress from mild to moderate to severe. Early diagnosis and treatment are therefore recommended.
To view examples of the four subtypes, see Faces of Rosacea.
Because the signs and symptoms of rosacea vary from one patient to another, treatment must be tailored by a physician for each individual case.
Various oral and topical medications may be prescribed to treat the bumps and pimples often associated with the disorder, and a topical therapy to reduce facial redness is now available. Dermatologists often prescribe initial treatment with oral and topical therapy to bring the condition under immediate control, followed by long-term use of topical therapy to maintain remission. A version of an oral therapy with less risk of microbial resistance has also been developed specifically for rosacea and has been shown to be safe for long-term use.
When appropriate, treatments with lasers, intense pulsed light sources or other medical and surgical devices may be used to remove visible blood vessels, reduce extensive redness or correct disfigurement of the nose. Ocular rosacea may be treated with oral antibiotics and other therapy. To view photos of treatment techniques, see Rosacea Treatment Photos.
Patients should check with their physicians to ensure their skin-care routine is compatible with their rosacea. A gentle skin-care routine can also help control rosacea. Patients are advised to clean their face with a mild and non-abrasive cleanser, then rinse with lukewarm water and blot the face dry with a thick cotton towel. Never pull, tug or use a rough washcloth.
Patients may apply non-irritating skin-care products as needed, and are advised to protect the skin from sun exposure using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
Cosmetics may be used to conceal the effects of rosacea. Green makeup or green-tinted foundations can be used to counter redness. This can be followed by a skin-tone foundation with natural yellow tones, avoiding those with pink or orange hues.
To learn more, see Skin Care & Cosmetics.
In addition to medical treatment, rosacea sufferers can improve their chances of maintaining remission by identifying and avoiding lifestyle and environmental factors that trigger rosacea flare-ups or aggravate their individual conditions. For listings of common factors that may aggravate rosacea in individual cases, see Rosacea Triggers. The National Rosacea Society offers free to its members a Rosacea Diary Booklet to assist patients in identifying factors that may affect their rosacea, as well as a booklet called "Coping with Rosacea" that provides tips on lifestyle management.
Acknowledgments: This section was reviewed and edited by Dr. Larry Millikan, chairman of Dermatology, Tulane University; Dr. Guy Webster, professor of Dermatology, Thomas Jefferson University; and Dr. Diane Thiboutot, associate professor of Dermatology, Pennsylvania State University.
Please see our Frequently Asked Questions page for more specific information.
The National Rosacea Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the lives of people with rosacea by raising awareness, providing public health information and supporting medical research on this widespread but little-known disorder. The information the Society provides should not be considered medical advice, nor is it intended to replace
consultation with a qualified physician. The Society does not evaluate, endorse or recommend any particular medications, products, equipment or treatments. Rosacea may vary substantially from one patient to another, and treatment must be tailored by a physician for each individual case. For more information, visit About Us.