Acne vs. Rosacea. How to Combat Both

 Acne vs. Rosacea. How to Combat Both

Acne and rosacea are two relatively common skin conditions, with the former being even more common. These conditions share some symptoms and treatments, but differentiating your condition from the other is critical to properly treating it.

Acne and Rosacea

Acne is a skin condition that occurs when the skin produces too much sebum, or oil. While our skin needs some oil to remain hydrated and protected, there are different bodily changes that can result in the production of too much. Hormonal shifts like puberty and pregnancy are two common triggers for acne breakouts. Acne is characterized by the appearance of blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples, and in serious cases, painful cysts or nodules that occur deeper in the skin.

Rosacea is fairly common, but the exact causes for it are not fully understood. It seems to be related to an incorrect or overactive immune system response to the environment (pollutants, climate, etc.). It’s also believed to be a hereditary condition, meaning if your relative has it, you’re more likely to develop the condition. Rosacea is a lifelong condition once it starts, and it's usually characterized in the beginning stages by redness and a tendency to flush more easily. Rosacea can develop further, causing visible veins, burning and stinging, sensitive skin, and even an enlarged nose. Rosacea can also lead to the development of pimple-like, swollen bumps on the skin. These bumps can be full of pus and really resemble acne’s whiteheads. This particular symptom is why rosacea can often be mistaken for acne and therefore not properly treated.

Telling Them Apart

So how do we distinguish the two conditions? It all comes down to looking at the other symptoms that accompany your pimples. Rosacea pimples are breakouts too, but rosacea does not cause clogged pores that lead to blackheads like acne. If you see clogged pores in addition to your pimples, it is more likely acne. Oily skin can occur with both conditions, but it’s far more likely with acne. If your skin is excessively oily, acne is probably the culprit. The location of pimples is also important. The symptoms of rosacea are very localized toward the center of the face, around the nose. While it can spread outward, if you’re seeing pimples on your neck, again it’s more likely acne. With acne, redness is localized to the breakouts. If your skin is generally red, with visible blood vessels, it’s probably rosacea.

Treating Them

So how do we treat these two similar yet different conditions? As with most skin conditions, treatment is not one size fits all for acne and rosacea. Treating the acne-like breakouts of rosacea can sometimes employ the same or similar drugs as treating acne. For example, antibiotics are often prescribed to reduce the breakouts of both conditions. Antibiotics cannot be taken for long stretches of time, so they’re generally prescribed to get symptoms under control and allow for other medications to treat the condition. Azelaic acid is another topical medication that can be used to treat both symptoms. It works by clearing out clogged pores for acne and acting as an antibiotic to eliminate bacteria for both conditions. Some treatments unique to acne include oral contraceptives and topical retinoids. Contraceptives work to balance the hormonal rushes often responsible for acne breakouts, while retinoids use vitamin A to clear away dead skin cells and promote healthier growth. You have a lot of treatment options for either condition, but exploring them all with your dermatologist is a must. Proper diagnosis is key, and trying to treat your condition on your own without knowing what it is can damage your skin.


Rosacea and acne resemble each other, but a trained eye can tell them apart and enable you to get the treatment you need. Struggling with pimples but don’t know if it’s acne or rosacea? Call the qualified dermatologists at Pacific Dermatology Specialists today.

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