Acne Rosacea vs. Acne: Understanding the Difference

Acne Rosacea vs. Acne: Understanding the Difference

Learn about the differences between rosacea vs. acne from our experts and how to treat them. Shop dermatologist-approved products at CLEARSTEM.

In the acne vs. acne rosacea debate, it’s not difficult to understand how the two can get mixed up. After all, both can cause uncomfortable inflammation and facial redness which gives you the rosy cheeks of winter all year round. And, of course, red and painful breakouts can also be associated with both rosacea and acne.

In fact, the scientific names of both conditions include the word “acne” in them! But these are two very different conditions and should be understood and treated differently. Read on to know how to understand which common skin condition you might be fighting – and the best things to do about keeping the redness at bay.

What is Acne?

First of all, the scientific name of what is commonly known as acne is acne vulgaris. This skin condition is actually very common. So what causes acne exactly? Acne occurs when hair follicles in the skin (or pores) become clogged with an excess of dead skin cells and sebum (or skin oils). This causes inflammation, redness, and bumps on the face in the form of comedones (whiteheads and blackheads), pimples, pustules, nodules, and cysts. Acne is usually mild to moderate in appearance, but in some situations, it can be pretty severe and may lead to acne scarring. (1)

That said, if topical medication is not handling your mild to severe acne, it may be a different type, such as fungal acne (or malassezia folliculitis). Fungal acne vs. rosacea is also very different and should be diagnosed or treated by a doctor. Finally, acne vulgaris is most commonly found on the face, but can also be present in other areas of the body. Basically, anywhere that has hair follicles can also possibly have an acne breakout. (2)

What is Rosacea?

Rosacea, which is another common skin condition, can also be known as acne rosacea. Acne rosacea vs. acne vulgaris has some clear distinctions, with rosacea being an overall, intense facial redness. Pustules, papules (or common pimples), and swelling are all commonly present with rosacea. However, one big difference between rosacea vs. acne is that rosacea will not usually involve comedones in the form of blackheads or whiteheads. (3)

Other common rosacea symptoms include inflammation, redness, and irritation of the eyes. Rosacea is usually centrally located on the face in the cheeks, nose, and lower forehead, and while it cannot be completely cured, the intense and recurring redness and inflammation of the skin can be controlled by different treatment options and lifestyle changes. 

How to Know if You Have Rosacea or Acne

There are some key comparisons to tell the difference between rosacea and acne. To determine which one you have without going to a professional, take a closer look at the affected area, the types of bumps, and even your age. Here is how to tell if you are looking at rosacea or acne.

First, let’s go ahead and focus on acne vulgaris, or what is commonly referred to as acne. Acne occurs most regularly in teenagers and young adults, but it often extends into older adults in many cases. Acne-prone areas are common on the face but can also be on other locations on the body, as well. The skin may be red and inflamed, but redness and inflammation will be centered around the acne spots instead of in large patches. Bumps can be in the form of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, pustules, and more severe nodes and cysts. (4)

Rosacea, on the other hand, is more common in adults older than 30 years. Rosacea is concentrated only on the face, with the most common areas being the cheeks, nose, and forehead. While bumps can be associated with rosacea, these are usually in the form of pimples or pustules and are less noticeable than the flush of the surrounding skin. Rosacea can also involve itchiness and warmth in the skin, as well as a thickening of the skin or even eye irritation in severe cases. (3)

Key Differences Between Acne and Rosacea 

When looking at rosacea vs. acne, it’s a good idea to focus on some key differences to know what skin condition you are dealing with, and therefore the best way to possibly treat it. If you think you have a severe case of either of these skin conditions, talking to a dermatologist is important to help your skin stay healthy and possibly prevent scarring. 

Here’s a simple breakdown of key differences: (4 & 5)

  • Location on the body. Acne shows up on the face, back, shoulders, buttocks, and chest. Conversely, rosacea is concentrated on the face, in the cheek, forehead, nose, and sometimes eye areas.
  • Age at time of outbreak. Acne is usually more common in the teenage years thanks to severe hormonal fluctuations, but it can also occur in adults, as well. Rosacea, on the other hand, normally occurs only in people over 30.
  • The common symptoms. Acne has bumps (whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, pustules, nodes, or cysts) with redness or irritation located around the bumps. Rosacea is redness or flushing, with or without the bumps, and in large areas of the skin. The skin may also feel warm or itchy.

Why Rosacea and Acne Look Similar 

Rosacea or acne are both skin conditions that are classified by bumps and redness. They look similar because of the skin’s reaction to either condition. The things that can lead to rosacea and acne are normally very different, and specific symptoms of both conditions are different enough to lead to an obvious diagnosis of either one. That said, though, they start out looking very similar with redness and bumps. 

But there are only so many things that can happen within your skin with so many effects. That’s why it’s so easy to get the two skin conditions mixed up with one another, and any redness, irritation, and clogged pores (leading to bumps of various types) are usually the most common effects of these skin conditions. 

What Causes Rosacea?

Rosacea vs. acne has a lot of differences in the cause of the condition. The exact cause for rosacea has yet to be discovered, but at this point, it is thought that rosacea involves a few things: how your body regulates the temperature, spice, and digestive inflammation. There is also a connection between gluten and rosacea.  Rapid and regular changes to the blood flow in your skin can all make it more likely that your skin will show redness that does not go away over time. (5)

These triggers can be caused by a number of things, too, such as high blood pressure, spicy foods, alcohol, or a raised heart rate due to exercise (or another cause). The association between rosacea and liver health has also been made apparent, as rosacea can be a marker for certain liver problems.

What Causes Acne?

Acne, on the other hand, can be caused by pore-clogging ingredients in skincare and makeup, hormones, digestive & gut health disturbances, and stress. When your body goes through hormonal fluctuations of any type, your skin can produce an overabundance of sebum, which is the oil that helps protect your skin and keep it supple and hydrated. This excess sebum and dead skin cells clog your pores, which can lead to stress acne. (4)

And as you probably already know, hormonal fluctuations can happen at any time in your life, and for many reasons. This can include stress, diet, vitamins and medications, but they are most common at puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. 

Can Rosacea Look Like Acne?

Knowing the difference between rosacea vs. acne can be somewhat difficult because they start off looking much the same, with redness and bumps. Over time, though, the differences will start to become more apparent in the location of the persistent redness and irritation, as well as the types of bumps involved.

Can You Have Acne and Rosacea at the Same Time?

While it is possible to have both of these skin conditions at the same time, it’s also rare, mostly because of the ages at which people are normally affected by acne vs. rosacea. If you think you are affected by both conditions, it may be worth it to speak to a professional who would be able to more accurately diagnose each problem.

Does Rosacea Cause Acne?

The short answer is no, because the condition of acne rosacea does not cause the clogged pores that are common to acne vulgaris. However, if a rosacea diagnosis or flare-up is causing you stress, or perhaps you are trying a topical medication that may be clogging your pores, then these things can lead to fluctuations in your skin. This may cause your pores to clog and breakouts to form. (5)

Should You Pop Rosacea Pimples?

Absolutely not! Like with any other bumps on your face, you should never pop pimples on your face. While you may think that popping will clear your skin faster because you’re getting that buildup of bacteria out of your face, popping is the quickest way to get acne scars and damage your epidermis. The natural healing process is interrupted and complete healing can actually take longer. Also, if your hands aren’t super clean, you run the risk of infection, which may make your skin situation much worse. (6

PRO TIP: We recommend ice-packing or ice-rolling multiple times a day, followed by anti-inflammatory skincare serums like CELLRENEW

How to Prevent Rosacea and Acne

It’s difficult to prevent acne, since hormonal fluctuations happen to all of us for a variety of reasons. However, good attention to skincare with a consistent routine, as well as knowing your skin and how it reacts to certain things, can help the severity of acne breakouts be less and the time of the breakout to be shorter. Lifestyle habits can help as well, like de-stressing and getting good sleep. (7)

Rosacea is thought to be genetic in many cases, which means you’ll just have to manage it rather than hoping that it will disappear forever. However, living an active and healthy lifestyle with positive ways to deal with stress and paying attention to how your body reacts to certain things can help prevent rosacea from forming in the first place. Even better, it can also help keep instances of rosacea less severe when they do happen. (3)

Options for Rosacea

Topical applications may help prevent the severity of rosacea when it occurs. Certain ingredients have been shown to work positively with persistent redness and irritation of the skin. Look for rosacea treatment products that contain ceramides, azelaic acid, or aloe. A good skincare routine for sensitive skin can also help with outbreaks. Skin-renewing moisturizers like HYDRAGLOW Plant Stem Cell Moisturizer and products that protect your face from the sun, such as our SUNNYSIDE Brush-On Mineral Sunscreen are also beneficial.

The combination of lactic acid and rosacea has also shown promise, as it helps obliterate germs and slough away dead skin cells. For severe rosacea, a dermatologist may prescribe topical drugs to reduce bumps and constrict blood vessels to prevent reddening, antibiotics to clear infections, or oral acne drugs as an effective treatment method.

Options for Acne

This varies based on the type of acne, but it is commonly treated with topical products that help to clear pores and keep excess oils and debris from building up on your skin. Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are common ingredients to look for to help clear up mild to moderate cases. We also recommend using an alpha hydroxy acid to unclog pores, which you can find in our CLEARITY "The Blackhead Dissolver" serum.

If you’re wondering, “Can taking vitamin A help acne?” then the answer is yes. It can reduce inflammation as well as cell damage. The same internal functions that inflame acne can also inflame rosacea, so taking MINDBODYSKIN may help alleviate some of these triggers.

More severe cases of acne should be treated by a functional medicine professional or a holistic dermatologist to help minimize scarring and diagnose potential bacterial infections like staph. You might need to run some blood or hormone panels to rule out endocrine disorders (such as PCOS). Ultimately, your goal is not just to have clear skin, but also a healthy body. And by taking a holistic approach to treating your breakouts, you can help ensure your good health on the inside out!


Source 1: Acne Vulgaris

Source 2: Malassezia (Pityrosporum) Folliculitis

Source 3: Acne Rosacea Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Source 4: What is Acne? Definition & Types

Source 5: Rosacea

Source 6: Skin care for acne-prone skin

Source 7: Epidemiology of Acne Vulgaris and Its Association With Lifestyle Among Adolescents and Young Adults in Hail, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: A Community-Based Study