Rosacea is a chronic condition that typically causes facial skin to blush or redden more easily, especially around the cheeks.
Along with discoloration, rosacea can also cause visible blood vessels, as well as swelling, thickening of the skin, and changes in your skin’s texture.
People with rosacea can find it difficult to establish an effective skincare routine because the condition can make your skin more sensitive to many common ingredients, says Jeffrey Hsu, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Oak Dermatology.
Also, because rosacea can cause a stinging and burning sensation, your skin may be more prone to irritation from certain skincare ingredients.
Ultimately, the best way to manage and improve rosacea is to work with a dermatologist, who can offer support with:
- identify your triggers
- design a personalized skincare regimen based on your specific symptoms and skin type
- prescription drug treatment, if needed
That said, if you don’t have the option of seeing a dermatologist, you might have questions about caring for rosacea-prone skin. The guide below can help you develop a safe skincare routine for rosacea at home.
There’s no cure for rosacea, but Hsu says the right skincare products can help minimize symptoms.
Once you identify the ingredients that trigger rosacea flare-ups and remove them from your routine, you may notice significant improvements in your skin.
Not only that, but after eliminating products with harsh ingredients, you can replace them with products that boost moisture and strengthen your skin barrier — two things that are especially important in treating rosacea, according to Cybele Fishman, MD, dermatologist certified by Advanced Dermatology PC.
Not taking care of your skin — which can mean under or over washing, neglecting to moisturize or skipping sunscreen — can make rosacea worse, says Michele Green, MD, cosmetic dermatologist in private practice.
Choosing skin care products containing these specific ingredients can help relieve and calm rosacea symptoms:
- Azelaic acid. This natural acid has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful for calming rosacea flare-ups and treating severe acne, says Westlake Dermatology board-certified dermatologist Emily Wood, MD.
- Niacinamide. This B vitamin can help reduce redness and inflammation, Green says, while helping to strengthen your skin’s protective barrier and keep it hydrated. If you have oily skin, note that niacinamide can also help regulate sebum production and minimize the appearance of pores.
- Alpha arbutin. This natural antioxidant is known to brighten skin, and Wood says it can help even skin tone and improve discoloration.
- Ceramides. Wood strongly recommends looking for moisturizers containing ceramides, fatty acids that can help your skin retain moisture.
- Aloe. Aloe can have a temporary calming and soothing effect during a flare-up, Green says, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Bisabolol. This active ingredient, derived from chamomile flower, can helpreduce redness and irritation during a flare-up, according to Hsu.
- Acetyl tetrapeptide-40. This peptide can reduce inflammation and redness while strengthening skin barrier function, says Hsu.
- Camellia sinensis leaf extract. This extract, which comes from tea leaves, may protect skin from sun damage while fighting inflammation, Hsu says. It can also reduce oil production.
If you suffer from rosacea or suspect that you do, you may want to avoid skin care products containing the following ingredients:
These ingredients can irritate your skin and make rosacea symptoms worse.
According to Wood, retinoids like tretinoin can also make rosacea worse, causing increased dryness, flaking, and discoloration of the skin. It’s always a good idea to consult a dermatologist before using retinoids.
What about CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD), which is extracted from the cannabis plant, has also gained attention as a potentially beneficial ingredient for skincare, primarily due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
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Hsu notes that more studies are needed to confirm whether CBD can actually help treat rosacea — and if so, how much CBD you need to apply to get those benefits.
According to Wood and Green, the following signs could suggest that a skincare product is making your rosacea worse:
- increased discoloration
- facial dryness
- a burning or tingling sensation when you apply the product
- swollen bumps that look like pimples or acne breakouts
Whenever you introduce a new product into your routine, dermatologists strongly recommend doing a patch test first to check your skin’s reaction.
Just keep in mind that patch testing isn’t a foolproof way to test for susceptibility. Even if you do not have a reaction in a patch test, the skin on your face may react differently to this product.
“Facial skin is thinner and more sensitive than skin elsewhere on the body, such as the inside of the arm where most skin tests are done,” Green says. “However, skin testing is still a great way to gauge whether or not a skincare product will cause a reaction.”
Also, although patch testing can help identify allergies, it does not always identify all possible adverse reactions.
“You can patch test negative on an ingredient and feel irritation from it,” says Fishman.
Overall, dermatologists agree that less is more when it comes to caring for rosacea-prone skin.
Using too many products, products with too many ingredients, or washing your face too frequently can damage your skin and increase sensitivity and irritation, Hsu says.
These general tips provide a starting point for developing your skincare routine:
- Aim to cleanse your face twice a day, recommends Green.
- If you have particularly dry skin, Fishman recommends washing with just water in the morning, then using a mild creamy or milky cleanser at night.
- Instead of using an abrasive washcloth, try gently rubbing the cleanser into your face with your fingertips before rinsing off with warm water.
- Avoid using toner or astringent, says Fishman. These products typically contain alcohol, acids, and other ingredients that can increase sensitivity and dryness.
- After cleansing, always apply moisturizer. Green says a vitamin C serum can be helpful in the morning to brighten and even skin tone — just opt for a weaker formulation to avoid irritation. A richer moisturizer, such as one containing hyaluronic acid, may be best for nighttime, Green recommends.
Remember that sunscreen is essential
Sunscreen is a must for everyone. But if you have rosacea, you’ll need to take extra care to apply (and reapply) sunscreen every day.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, just a few minutes of sun exposure can trigger redness and flushing.
Green recommends using a fragrance-free, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
Mineral-based (physical) sunscreens, such as those containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, are less likely to cause irritation than chemical sunscreens, such as those containing avobenzone or oxybenzone.
Learn more about the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens.
What to avoid if you have rosacea
The study authors found that certain habits seemed closely linked to the development of rosacea, including:
- excessive washing of the face
- using a face mask more than four times a week
- applying makeup more than six times a week
- having salon or spa treatments more than once a week
Although the study focused on skin care practices that can lead to rosacea, these habits could also make symptoms worse.
It is not always possible to manage the symptoms of rosacea on your own.
If you notice your symptoms getting worse, even after changing your skincare routine, Wood recommends contacting a board-certified dermatologist.
A dermatologist can offer more support by:
- identify symptoms of rosacea or other skin conditions
- identify possible triggers
- find out if prescription medications might help control rosacea
Learn more about what dermatologists do.
Telehealth for Rosacea
Many dermatologists have embraced telemedicine platforms to better serve people looking for more accessible healthcare options.
Your insurance may cover a virtual visit, says Hsu, but if it doesn’t, or you don’t have insurance, some dermatologists offer reasonable fees for a consultation.
Managing rosacea starts with implementing an effective skin care regimen. Dermatologists advise keeping your routine as simple as possible: use a gentle, non-foaming cleanser once or twice a day, follow with moisturizer, and apply SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen daily.
As you adjust to your new skincare routine, pay attention to your rosacea symptoms. If they start to get worse or don’t improve within 2-4 weeks, seeing a dermatologist is a good next step.
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance writer covering health and wellness, fitness, food, lifestyle, and beauty. His work has also appeared in Insider, Bustle, StyleCaster, Eat This Not That, AskMen and Elite Daily.