9 Rosacea Myths—Busted!

by Lambeth Hochwald Health Writer

There are plenty of misconceptions about rosacea, a chronic skin condition that affects 16 million Americans. For example, you may have heard that rosacea is crazy contagious or that every single person with it is destined to get a red, swollen nose. But, guess what? None of those things are true. “Rosacea is a spectrum in terms of how it manifests as a disease,” says Kathleen Cook Suozzi, M.D., an assistant professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. Read on as we look at some of the most common rosacea myths—and bust them right open.

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MYTH: Acne and Rosacea Are the Same Thing

While rosacea and acne are both a form of inflammation, they’re not the same thing and shouldn’t be treated the same way. For starters, rosacea typically stays with you for life while acne comes and goes. The confusion, however, is understandable. “At one end of the rosacea spectrum is something called papulopustular rosacea,” says Dr. Suozzi. “With this, you develop acne-like lesions and inflamed bumps on the forehead, nose and cheeks.” While this looks and behaves like acne, it isn’t technically acne. “On the other end of the rosacea spectrum is erythematotelangiectatic (ERT) rosacea, characterized by the flushing that most associate with rosacea.”

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MYTH: Drinking Causes Rosacea

No, drinking is not a root cause of rosacea but it could be a trigger. “Some patients with the ERT form of rosacea will often say that a glass of wine flares their rosacea,” says Dr. Suozzi. “For others, it isn’t (an issue).” Emphasis on some people. For them, alcohol may cause the blood vessels on the face to dilate, increasing discoloration.

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MYTH: You Have to Skip Coffee to Keep Rosacea Symptoms at Bay

Your morning java isn’t necessarily prompting a rosacea flare, Dr. Suozzi says. But if a patient reports an increase in rosacea after drinking hot caffeinated beverages, she will urge that patient to keep a rosacea diary. The heat from the drink can irritate skin, while researchers say that caffeine may contribute to the dialation of blood vessels. “I have my patients jot down what they eat and drink in a given day,” she says. “A retrospective review of triggers can be subjective. But with objective data I can help patients avoid specific triggers.”

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MYTH: Poor Hygiene Can Lead to Rosacea

A dirty or oily face does not cause rosacea. In fact, since rosacea is an inflammatory condition, the more conservative you are with sudsing up—use an uber gentle cleanser and only your fingertips—the better. “Rosacea symptoms can in fact become more severe if a patient were to scrub his or her skin or use harsh products on it,” Dr. Suozzi says. “I always want my patients to know that the biology of rosacea is that it’s driven by internal, not external, factors. It’s due to the underlying biology of your skin and your body’s immune response…” Not last night’s makeup.

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MYTH: You Experience Rosacea All Over Your Body

The truth of the matter is that rosacea appears most predominantly on your face. “There are rosacea variants that appear elsewhere on the body but those are rare,” Dr. Suozzi says. Generally speaking, you expect for rosacea to stay in the place where it initially appeared. The small red pus-filled bumps that are most common with rosacea tend to generally appear on the face, neck, chin and ears.

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MYTH: Rosacea Is Just Like Any Other Skin Sensitivity

According to a National Rosacea Society survey, 77% of rosacea patients had been diagnosed with other skin conditions. Here’s the thing: Just because it’s red and swollen doesn’t mean it is definitely rosacea. “A lot of times, the main misdiagnosis occurs when you call a skin sensitivity rosacea,” Dr. Suozzi says. “You might be experiencing sun damage or an irritation due to a new topical product.” It’s important to note that a skin sensitivity on your face is just as likely to be allergic dermatitis or eczema.

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MYTH: There’s a One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Rosacea Treatment

Like many other skin conditions, your treatment plan depends on your exact type of rosacea. “If you have papulopustular rosacea, antibiotics can be very helpful,” Dr. Suozzi says. “Topical antibiotics like metronidazole and erthyromiycin can be helpful to treat rosacea skin lesions.” If redness is the main way your rosacea is manifesting, laser therapy may be recommended to target blood vessels under the skin that are leading to redness. However, be sure to speak with your dermatologist about the right treatment for you specifically.

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MYTH: If Your Mom Had Rosacea, You Will, Too

While rosacea is, in part, genetically derived, and studies suggest that people with rosacea are four times more likely to have a family history of the condition than those without it, that’s just one factor that can prompt rosacea, Dr. Suozzi says. It’s not a for sure thing that your parents will pass rosacea down to you. “Rosacea is caused by a combination of genetic underlying predisposing factors and immune alterations in the skin,” she says. “It’s also [exacerbated] in patients with sun damage in their skin.”

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MYTH: Rosacea is Curable

Unfortunately, at present, rosacea isn’t curable. Rather, it’s a chronic condition that tends to wax and wane. “Sometimes it peters out,” Dr. Suozzi says. However, it most commonly appears in your 30s or 40s because that's when many patients have sun damage that exacerbates rosacea. "As that damage accumulates, your rosacea picture can worsen. In the end, though there’s no cure, antibiotics, anti-flushing medications and laser therapy remain good treatment options. “All of these can help manage rosacea symptoms,” Dr. Suozzi says.

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MYTH: Rosacea is Contagious

Despite popular belief, rosacea is no way transmissible from one person to another, whether by touch or via hugs or handshakes. In fact, the idea that bacteria on the skin can spread rosacea is without any medical evidence. Turns out, that myth may have been kept alive because physicians may prescribe antibiotics to treat rosacea. No matter the treatment protocol, you can’t catch rosacea.

Lambeth Hochwald
Meet Our Writer
Lambeth Hochwald

Lambeth Hochwald is a consumer lifestyle reporter covering health, fitness, marriage and family.