Yup, Acne Rosacea Is a ThingHere’s How to Tell If You Might Have It


Today in Things That Look Like Acne But Aren’t, let’s take a closer look at something called papulopustular rosacea (wow, so beautiful, so majestic, so rolls-off-the-tongue!). Unless you’re a medical professional, you’ve probably never heard this very technical name before, but you probably have heard of something called “acne rosacea”—i.e., a combo of redness, swelling, and acne-like breakouts that can pop up on your cheeks. And hey, if you haven’t heard of either, and your flushed, bumpy cheeks are suddenly making sense, congrats—you’ve made it to rosacea talks.

Acne rosacea/papulopustular rosacea gets its nickname because it shares symptoms of both acne (like little zits) and rosacea (red, flushed skin). But because rosacea can have bumps, and acne can be red, it’s not that easy to figure out on your own whether you’re dealing with regular ol’ acne or actually rosacea breakouts. How to know for sure? Consult your dermatologist. But while you wait for that appointment, read the below for a little more insight on papulopustular rosacea to help answer some preliminary questions you might (k, most definitely) have.

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Papulopustular rosacea vs. acne:

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Again, they can look very similar, but in general, rosacea acne tends to have a tinge of sensitivity and irritation to it, and bumps tend to be small. “Rosacea will usually present with pimple-like breakouts, but no blackheads, whereas true acne can consist of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, or deep cysts,” says board-certified dermatologist Devika Icecreamwala, MD.

Not only that, but rosacea also typically presents with redness and sensitivity throughout the face—even when you’re not breaking out—with the redness being most pronounced on the cheeks, forehead, nose, and/or chin, whereas acne tends to have redness only in the areas where you’re breaking out. See the difference?

What causes papulopustular rosacea?

Here’s the thing: We don’t know exactly why papulopustular rosacea happens. Frustrating, I know. Dr. Icecreamwala does, however, highlight a few triggers known to bring on a rosacea flare-up, like sunlight, stress, booze, spicy foods, and hot drinks—like coffee and tea. So, you know, a normal Friday for me. But! That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the above are triggers for you, and you might even have other triggers that cause your flare-ups. Again, it’s complicated.

How do you get rid of papulopustular rosacea?

Not only is the cause unclear, but there’s unfortunately no cure for rosacea, either. Enough with the bad news, though. Dr. Icecreamwala says that with the right skincare products and lifestyle changes, you can help avoid flare-ups and prevent your rosacea from worsening. “Many people with rosacea can look and feel their best by seeing a dermatologist, changing their lifestyle, and using gentle skincare products,” Dr. Icecreamwala adds.

How do you treat rosacea papules and pustules?

Despite how good you might think your skincare products are, many formulas can actually irritate your skin and cause rosacea papules. Womp, womp. To prevent all that, Dr. Icecreamwala recommends swapping exfoliants and excessive scrubbing for gentle and mild skincare products, like one of the four rosacea products above. But if you’re having trouble finding the right formulas (hey, it’s not easy to find a good skincare regimen if you have rosacea), your dermatologist can make even better recommendations specifically for you to keep your flares under control.

Just take note: Whatever you do, don’t try to tackle your rosacea breakouts with acne spot treatments. Dr. Icecreamwala says traditional acne treatments with ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are way too aggressive and harsh for rosacea-prone skin. Your best bet is to consult a dermatologist to discuss a skin regimen, prescription medications, or in-office treatments to *safely* improve your acne rosacea.

What happens if rosacea is left untreated?

Sadness, frustration, annoyance, etc. Nothing necessarily bad will come out of leaving your rosacea untreated, but it will most likely just get worse with time/age if you leave it alone. Thankfully, avoiding rosacea triggers and using rosacea-friendly skincare products can help improve rosacea flares, while seeing a dermatologist to better understand treatment options can help you best (have I stressed that enough, yet)?

Moral of the story, if you think you might have papulopustular rosacea, don’t play doctor. Confirm your diagnosis with your dermatologist so you can get started on the best treatment plan already.

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