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Rosacea vs Acne: How To Spot the Difference

Rosacea vs Acne: How To Spot the Difference

Rosacea and acne are similar yet different skin conditions that share many of the same symptoms and are frequently confused for one another. 

Though tricky at times, you must learn to recognize the difference to help support your skin back to health. You wouldn’t use acne gel on rosacea or rosacea cream on acne. 

At MadeMan, we’re here to explain rosacea, acne, and the differences between the two.

What Is Rosacea?

Rosacea is a skin condition that causes the appearance of redness, small blood vessels, and swollen, pus-filled bumps to appear on your skin. It is possible to experience flare-ups of rosacea for weeks to months before it temporarily goes away. 

What Are Common Triggers of Rosacea 

While the exact cause is unknown, it is believed that rosacea may stem from an overactive immune system, heredity, or environmental factors. 


One of the most common triggers for rosacea is changes to one’s environment. Unprotected exposure to the ultraviolet radiation carried by the sun’s rays can cause oxidative stress that damages your skin cells, resulting in a flare-up. 

Make sure that you apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (meaning that it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of at least 30 every morning. Wear your sunscreen even when it is overcast and when you plan to spend your day indoors. 

For additional support, consider wearing sun-protective clothing when you can.

Cold Weather 

The wintertime is another major environmental trigger for rosacea. In the winter, days tend to be dry and cold, which may cause flushing. Harsh winds tend to irritate the skin and exacerbate existing symptoms. 

Wearing articles of clothing like a scarf or jacket collar to protect your face from the frigid air and harsh winds while outdoors can help defend yourself against these triggers. 

To combat the cold, individuals will often use indoor heating to stay warm. However, it is essential to note that the warmth provided by indoor heating can sometimes aggravate rosacea symptoms. 

Excessive Exercise 

Another common source of rosacea flare-ups is exercise. High-intensity workouts increase your core body temperature, your heart rate, and blood flow. Together, these effects may result in flushing and the appearance of reddened skin. While sweat in itself is natural and not harmful, it can contribute to the development of heat rash. Heat rash can directly aggravate your rosacea.

Exercise is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, to avoid this trigger, the solution should not be to stop exercising but rather to stick with low to medium-intensity exercises when necessary and possible.  

Spicy Food 

Another common cause of rosacea is the consumption of spicy food and hot drinks. Most spicy foods contain an ingredient called capsaicin. 

Capsaicin is the component in different hot peppers that makes the food taste spicy. Consuming capsaicin may trigger an outbreak, leaving your skin feeling warm and looking red.


While drinking alcohol, your blood vessels may enlarge and produce more blood flow. This may trigger your rosacea and cause facial redness. One study reported that alcohol was a definite trigger for 76% of surveyed rosacea patients. 

The surest way to avoid being triggered by items featured in your diet is to limit your consumption of these foods and beverages. While removing them would ensure that they would not cause a rosacea flare-up, you are still entitled to frequent restaurants and bars with your friends and family. We simply advise that, while there, you consume spicy foods and alcohol in moderation.

What Is Acne

Acne is a skin condition that can occur anywhere on the skin where there are sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are small oil-producing glands located in the skin that are usually attached to hair follicles and that release sebum into the duct and up to the skin’s surface. 

On occasion, sebum, combined with other substances like dirt and dead skin cells, will become clogged in these pores. When acne bacteria feed on the clogged follicles, they can multiply and irritate the skin, resulting in acne.

What Are Common Triggers of Acne

You are more at risk of developing acne if it runs in your family or if you are experiencing hormonal changes. 


In men, one of the most common hormonal changes to trigger outbreaks is the increased production of a hormone, called androgen. 

Androgens are hormones that initially increase during puberty and contribute to growth in men. A common effect of an increase in androgen is that it prompts sebaceous glands to enlarge, therefore increasing the rate of sebum production. This excess sebum increases the chances of clogging and breakouts.

To effectively treat hormonal acne, it is typically required that you use a prescribed medication. To determine the right medicine for you and to receive your prescription, make an appointment with your dermatologist or physician. 

In support of your skin’s healing process, you can do your own work by ensuring that you are using a safe and effective cleanser and moisturizer on a daily basis. It is important that it contains all-natural ingredients, is gentle on your healing skin, and provides a deep cleaning to prevent future breakouts.


Another common trigger known to worsen acne is stress. Experiencing high levels of stress may increase the level of stress-related hormones that get released into your body. 

One of these hormones is called the corticotropin-releasing hormone. When CHR is produced, it can bind to receptors in the sebaceous glands, which will, in turn, drive up the skin’s oil production and cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum faster. Just as was explained with androgen, this excess sebum has the potential to become clogged with other dead skin cells and form acne.

In theory, getting enough sleep at night is one of the best ways to combat stress acne. Sleep offers you an escape from the stresses of your daily life and provides your skin with the time it requires to heal. 

It is also worth noting that, while you sleep, the blood flow in your skin increases, contributing to your skin’s ability to heal accrued damage. The average amount of hours of sleep needed by each person varies, though the general belief is that eight hours are needed to properly rejuvenate your skin.


Common external causes of breakouts pertain to one’s diet. While there is not enough research to confirm that altering a person’s diet can stop acne production, there are studies that suggest that the overconsumption of dairy products or foods rich in carbohydrates and sugar may contribute to complications with acne. 

Additionally, it is proven that maintaining a healthy diet filled with vitamins and nutrients can support your skin’s overall wellness. 

Therefore, incorporating healthy ingredients into your meals can make a positive change in strengthening your skin’s ability to ward off unwanted conditions. If you find it challenging to remove unhealthy items from your diet, you can try countering the unwanted effects of processed foods with antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins. 

Antioxidants can be found in blueberries, artichokes, and red beans. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in salmon, flaxseed, and walnuts. Vitamin A can be found in eggs, milk, and liver. Vitamin C can be found in peppers, strawberries, and potatoes.

You also have the option of consuming these nutrients as supplements. 

Is It Rosacea or Acne?

With such similar symptoms, you might still be wondering how to decipher between rosacea and acne. Here is a description of the symptoms connected to each condition that may assist you with identifying your own problem.

You Have Rosacea If...


One of the most common symptoms associated with rosacea is swelling. Rosacea is often accompanied by swollen bumps on the face, including pimples that very closely resemble acne. These pimples may contain pus. 

Additionally, it is common for men with rosacea for their nose to swell and increase in size. The condition can thicken the skin on the nose which is what causes its enlarged appearance.


Facial blushing, more commonly referred to as flushing, is another common symptom of rosacea. Flushing is when there is persistent blushing visible in the central part of your face. Flushing can present itself differently depending on a person’s skin tone. For those with lighter skin, flushing typically appears as a pink color. For those with darker skin, flushing may result in a darker patch of discoloration.


Another common sensation is the feeling of burning and irritation. Areas of the skin affected by rosacea tend to feel hot and tender. This symptom may also be accompanied by ocular rosacea, which prompts the eyes and eyelids to experience dryness, irritation, and swelling. 

The symptoms of ocular rosacea may begin to affect a person before the skin symptoms appear.

You Have Acne If…

Acne is best identified by the bumps that form on the face. There are different types of acne and varying levels of severity. 

Cystic Acne 

The most severe form is called cystic acne. Cystic acne develops when the substances trapped in your follicles, including sebum, dead skin cells, and dirt, form cystic lesions deep beneath your skin. These cysts are typically tender and contain pus. 

Whiteheads or Blackheads 

You may also be dealing with whiteheads or blackheads. If the wall of the blocked-up follicle bulges but the pore remains closed, the result is typically a whitehead. If the follicle wall bulges but the pore is open to the surface, the spot may darken, causing a blackhead. 

Papules and Pustules 

Finally, there are papules and pustules. If your clogged pores appear as small red bumps on the skin, you have probably developed papules. If you find yourself with papule-like spots but notice puss at their tips, they are likely pustules.


By understanding the characteristics of rosacea and acne, as well as the differences between the two, you can begin to identify which condition you are struggling with and which treatments will work best.

At MadeMan, we aim to simplify your skincare routine. Take our Quiz and find out what products are right for you.



Rosacea | PubMed

Red Wine Named Top Alcohol Trigger | Rosacea

Acne vulgaris: pathogenesis, treatment, and needs assessment | PubMed

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