Best skincare products for rosacea to calm redness and soothe irritation

best products for rosacea
Best skincare products for rosacea and redness imaxtree

Rosacea might not be the most talked about skin condition (we’re giving that crown to acne), but it doesn’t mean it’s not affecting a lot of us. According to Patient UK, one in 20 people in the UK, to be precise (this writer being one of them).

While rosacea symptoms usually appear in the central part of the face – we’re talking ruddy cheeks, noses, chins and foreheads – it can make its way down the neck and chest area, too.

Redness is a popular symptom, but rosacea goes way beyond the standard blushing and can be particularly sore and painful in some cases.

Whether you’ve just been diagnosed and aren’t sure what to use for your skin, or you're a seasoned pro looking to jazz up your routine, we’ve asked the experts what the best products out there are for treating rosacea.

Here’s our rundown on everything you need to know about the skincare condition and the skincare products you can add to your basket to help treat rosacea.

What is rosacea?

Although there are childhood snaps of me clearly suffering from rosacea, I didn’t officially get diagnosed until I went to see a dermatologist in my early 20s. Since then, there has been one expert I head to for all my rosacea woes, Dr Sam Bunting. To think there was a time when I didn’t know what azelaic acid was makes me sad, but this was all BDS (before Dr Sam).

“Rosacea is a common chronic inflammatory disorder of the skin that affects around 10% of Northern Europeans,” says Dr Sam. “I think of it as our skin’s over-zealous defence in response to the environment and it’s something many individuals have a genetic susceptibility to. There are changes in the skin’s microbiome, the nerve endings in the skin and in the skin barrier – but exactly what happens first to trigger the disease remains unclear”.

In typical cases, rosacea usually occurs in the 30-60 age category, but it can develop at any age (take my childhood case as an exception to the rule). Rosacea sufferers will generally be classed as an ‘English rose’, i.e. those with fair skin, but it’s on the rise in those with darker skin, too.

According to a study from 2021, only 18% of images in medical textbooks featured dark skin tones, making it even more difficult for patients to be properly diagnosed. Dr Sam says this “presents a greater diagnostic challenge. It's less common in melanated skin and the signs can be subtle or atypical and more easily missed”.

How many types of rosacea are there?

Rosacea may often get lumped into one category, but there are actually four varying types you can be diagnosed with. Over to Dr Sam to explain:

Type 1: “This is known as erythematotelangiectatic rosacea (or ETR) and is characterised by a prolonged flush, which is often the first sign of the disease. Dilated capillaries or telangiectasia are also seen, leading to reddening of the skin”.

Type 2: “Perhaps the most recognisable, this is termed papulopustular rosacea – it’s the form that gets mixed up with acne because you see red spots (papules) and white-headed spots (pustules) typically in the centre of the face, over the cheeks, nose and chin”.

Type 3: “Phymatous rosacea. This is most commonly seen in men and is characterised by firm, thickened areas overlying the redness zone, most commonly on the nose (rhinophyma) and it’s because the inflammatory process progresses to fibrosis”.

Type 4: “Finally, ocular rosacea. Gritty, sore and red eyes are common in as many as 40% of patients and may be associated with skin changes or may occur in isolation”.

What skincare products work best for rosacea?

Now, onto the good stuff. Navigating the world of skincare when you have rosacea is a minefield. Products that have been labelled as “suitable for sensitive skin” have often caused more flare-ups than they’ve solved, in my case.

While products suitable for rosacea sufferers have got to be a little more than formulated with sensitive skin in mind, the good news is that some products don’t require a prescription, which can help to ease and soothe the situation.

Dr Sam advises going for fragrance-free skincare products throughout your routine to help avoid irritation. “Extra care should be taken with cleansing – if you get cleansing wrong with rosacea, it's hard to get skincare right,” says Dr Sam. “Gentle, non-foaming cleansers are best and I’d strongly advise sticking to a single, uncomplicated cleanse”.

If (like me) your rosacea flare-ups usually lead to skin feeling as dry as a crispy autumnal leaf in a Nora Ephron romcom, Dr Sam recommends selecting a moisturiser with “barrier repair ingredients, like ceramides and niacinamide”.

When it comes to consistency, it’s not one-size-fits-all, says Dr Sam; “The texture should be tailored to your skin – rosacea affects all skin types”.

My combination skin personally loves a gel moisturiser. Not only are these lightweight and deeply hydrating but the jelly-textures often cool heated skin upon application. Pure bliss, if you ask me.

What skincare ingredients work best for rosacea?

We’ve mentioned niacinamide and ceramides above, but there are some ingredients that stand out from the crowd when it comes to rosacea. Reader, meet azelaic acid.

“Azelaic acid is my go-to ingredient,” says Dr Sam. “It used to only be available on prescription but it’s also now widely available over the counter, which is great news. Previously, there was really very little to suggest to rosacea sufferers over the counter so this is real progress. Anything from 5% to 20% can be helpful”.

What makes azelaic acid so great for rosacea, you might ask? “It reduces inflammation and makes skin less reactive, so it’s a great long-term solution for redness,” explains Dr Sam. Sounds right up our street.

The miracle ingredient can be found in any form of product you fancy. From serum to toner to moisturiser, we’ve found the best azelaic acid formulas out there.

What skincare products should people with rosacea avoid?

We’ve covered how to reform your skincare regime and what new products to add, but there’s also what you might be doing already that can be doing more damage than good.

Dr Sam has made a handy list of rosacea faux pas to avoid:

Essential oils and fragrances: both are potential irritants and can aggravate rosacea.

Physical exfoliants: can deplete the skin barrier further, increasing redness and triggering sensitivity.

Chemical sunscreens: can cause issues – mineral sunscreen tends to be better tolerated, especially if the eyes are affected by rosacea.

Say no to facials: they offer little to benefit the rosacea sufferer and are high risk for triggering a flare. A daily, consistent skincare routine is the most effective way to approach rosacea management – you know your skin best.

Cleansing tools: the use of rough flannels or harsh cleansing brushes can cause damage to your skin barrier.

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