Is Rosacea Contagious? A Complete Guide to Understanding this Skin Condition


Woman touching the rosacea on her face.
Highlights
  • Rosacea is a medical condition that affects the skin on the face and occasionally other areas like the chest and neck. It often causes individuals to look like they have a flushed appearance.

  • There are four types of rosacea, including ocular rosacea, erythematotelangiectatic rosacea (ETR), papulopustular rosacea (PPR), and phymatous rosacea.

  • Although the cause of this skin condition is unknown, many believe it’s the result of underlying ailments or immune system disorders.

  • Treatment options for rosacea include topical and oral medications, laser therapy, and surgery.

Rosacea is a skin condition typically characterized by facial redness. This can be a distressing health problem due to its obvious impact on your appearance.

While some treatment options may improve the appearance of skin redness, there is no cure for rosacea.

Even if you don’t have rosacea, you may know someone who does and you might be wondering if the condition is contagious.

Fortunately, there is nothing to be concerned about, as rosacea can’t be passed from one person to the next. It isn’t bacterial or viral, and you can’t get rosacea by touching someone else’s skin.

Another common misconception is that rosacea is a result of poor hygiene.

In this article, we will discuss what rosacea is, its common symptoms, and why it isn’t contagious.

What is Rosacea?

Rosacea is a relatively common inflammatory condition that typically causes blushing or a flushed appearance.

It also makes the small blood vessels in the facial skin more apparent.

Rosacea may present as small, pus-filled bumps, which often resemble acne or other skin conditions. As a result, it is sometimes misdiagnosed.

Usually, the signs and symptoms of rosacea flare up for a few weeks or months. Then, they tend to improve or even completely go away.

The most common places you’ll see symptoms of rosacea are on the central facial skin, including the cheeks, nose, and forehead — although the neck and chest may also be affected.

Key Point: Misconceptions About Rosacea
  • It’s contagious: Rosacea can’t spread between people. It isn’t caused by a virus or bacteria, which means you can’t get it even if you touch someone else’s face. This health problem occurs beneath the skin.

  • Rosacea is a form of acne: This inflammatory condition may look like acne but these two conditions are unrelated.

  • It’s triggered by caffeine: Hot drinks may trigger rosacea, but the caffeine in coffee specifically doesn’t cause flare-ups.

  • Rosacea results from poor hygiene: This condition is unrelated to personal hygiene.

What Causes Rosacea?

The causes of rosacea are mostly unknown, and more research on this is needed. However, research has found that there are a number of potential causes of rosacea.

Another health condition

Rosacea is a health condition in itself. However, it is believed that it could be caused by other underlying health conditions that affect the blood vessels, immune system, or nervous system.

Microscopic skin mites

Also known as Demodex, these microscopic mites live in the skin and cheeks. They may cause some of the symptoms of rosacea.

Protein that doesn’t function properly

There is a protein that occurs naturally in the body called cathelicidin. Its main purpose is to protect the skin from infection.

If this protein doesn’t function effectively, it may lead to some of the signs of rosacea.

What are the Different Types of Rosacea?

There are four main types of rosacea, each with its own symptoms.

Ocular rosacea

Ocular rosacea primarily affects the eyes, often making them look red and bloodshot. This type of rosacea may result in a burning sensation or irritation in the ocular area.

Often, ocular rosacea can feel like dry or sensitive eyes. In severe cases, cysts may form on the eyelids.

infographic of ocular rosacea

Erythematotelangiectatic rosacea (ETR)

This type of rosacea usually includes persistent redness on the face. Small blood vessels on the skin may also start to look enlarged, especially on the cheeks.

infographic of erythematotelangiectatic rosacea

Papulopustular rosacea (PPR)

Papulopustular rosacea is characterized by what looks like whiteheads on the skin. These blemishes are usually filled with pus. They appear as red or swollen bumps and are often confused with acne.

In some individuals, these bumps might also develop on the chest, neck, and scalp.

Infographic of papulopustular rosacea

Phymatous rosacea

In phymatous rosacea, the skin is likely to thicken and scar, especially on the nose. The skin becomes discolored, bumpy, and even swollen.

Infographic of phymatous rosacea

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Rosacea?

The most common rosacea symptoms include:

Facial redness

Red skin is the most common rosacea symptom. It typically starts with frequent blushing and a flushed appearance which may eventually become persistent redness over longer periods.

The skin may also start to feel rough and scaly, and burning or tingling sensations may be present.

A rash

Raised red patches or pus-filled bumps may start to develop. This can often look like a rash or acne. Visible blood vessels

While blood vessels naturally occur in the skin, rosacea makes them more apparent. They often look like thin red or slightly darker lines on the cheeks and nose.

Skin thickening

Also known as a bulbous nose, skin thickening can make the nose appear enlarged and swollen.

Eye irritation

Eye symptoms include swollen eyelids or the sensation of something being stuck in the eye.

Burning or stinging sensations

For many rosacea patients, the affected skin may feel hot and tender to the touch.

Who Gets Rosacea?

There are certain risk factors for rosacea. This means that some people are more likely to develop this skin condition than others.

Age

Typically, rosacea affects people between the ages of 35 and 50, but this is not to say it can’t develop earlier.

Fair skin

People with fair complexions are more at risk of developing rosacea. According to the National Rosacea Society (NRS), redness is less visible on darker skin, so it may go undiagnosed in some individuals.

Genetics

If you have a family history of rosacea, it may be passed on to you through your genes.

Women

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), women are more likely to develop rosacea. However, men typically have more severe symptoms.

How is Rosacea Diagnosed?

There is no test that doctors or dermatologists can do to diagnose rosacea. Instead, diagnosing rosacea is based on a physical examination that assesses your symptoms.

Your doctor will take note of the appearance of your skin or eyes and discuss your family history with you.

They may order some blood tests to rule out other conditions that may look like rosacea, such as seborrheic dermatitis and eczema.

What are the Treatment Options for Rosacea?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition. However, there are some treatments available to improve the symptoms people experience.

Topical medications

These include ointments, creams, and gels containing ingredients that narrow the blood vessels. They may also contain antibiotics to reduce rashes and redness.

People with eye symptoms can use lubricating eye drops or antibiotic ointments to treat their symptoms.

Oral medications

People with rosacea are often prescribed oral antibiotics with anti-inflammatory properties, especially in the case of severe rashes or more serious eye symptoms.

Laser treatments

Through the use of pulsing light devices, healthcare professionals can use laser therapy to shrink visible blood vessels.

Although this won’t make them disappear completely, it does make blood vessels less apparent.

Laser therapy can also address excess tissue buildup for people who experience thickened skin.

Surgery

The final option available to people with rosacea involves a procedure where a scalpel is used to remove thickened skin.

There are also surgeries that can remove damaged and visible blood vessels.

Infographic of rosacea symptoms.
Key Point: What Happens if Rosacea is Left Untreated?

It’s important that you seek treatment if you believe you have rosacea. This is because redness typically gets worse over time.

Untreated ocular rosacea may also permanently damage your eyesight because it can affect the cornea.

What are the Common Triggers of Rosacea?

Identifying your triggers is important if you want to improve your rosacea. Here are some common triggers to consider:

Sun exposure

Spending long periods in the sun – especially without sun protection – may trigger a rosacea flare-up.

Sunlight exposure can result in the production of vascular endothelial growth, which contributes to the appearance of visible blood vessels.

Stress

Unmanaged emotional stress may be a trigger for some. This is because stress releases hormones called cortisol and adrenaline into the body, which may worsen the symptoms of rosacea.

Rosacea can be an emotionally distressing condition, and this stress may make its symptoms worse and perpetuate a vicious cycle.

Environmental factors

Very hot or cold temperatures have an impact on the skin, which can result in flare-ups. Warmer temperatures, for example, may increase blood flow in the face, triggering flushing.

Intense exercise

For most people, intense physical activity will cause some flushing on the skin. However, for those who have rosacea, this may be severe redness.

When you exercise, your heart rate and blood flow increase, which may worsen rosacea.

Alcohol consumption

Consuming alcohol may trigger symptoms of rosacea. Alcohol dilates the blood vessels in the skin – potentially causing rosacea to flare up.

Diet

The food you eat may be the greatest rosacea trigger of all. According to the NRA, some foods that could worsen rosacea symptoms include:

  • Spicy foods
  • Yogurt
  • Dairy products like sour cream and cheese
  • Red wine
  • Hot drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Yeast
  • Certain fruits like citrus, tomatoes, bananas, red plums, or raisins
  • Soy sauce
  • Vanilla
  • Vegetables like eggplant and spinach

Each food item causes a different reaction in the body that may lead to a rosacea flare-up. The capsaicin found in spicy foods, for example, may activate the TRPV1 receptor in the body which can dilate blood vessels leading to redness.

Key Point: How to Cope with Rosacea

Beyond medical treatments, there are some things you can do to cope with having rosacea:

  • Be gentle on your skin: Treat your skin with care, especially when it comes to cleansing. Use skincare products that are designed for sensitive skin, and avoid products with ingredients like alcohol.

  • Protect your skin from sunlight: Always use an SPF when going outside, even if the weather is cooler.

  • Pay attention to your eyes: The problems associated with ocular rosacea may lead to severe eyesight issues. Be sure to monitor your eyes if you believe you have rosacea.

  • Get mental health support: Having rosacea can be mentally taxing, particularly because it affects your physical appearance. Joining a support group or seeing a mental health professional may help you feel better.

When Should I Seek Medical Treatment for Rosacea?

If any of the above symptoms sound familiar or are persistent, it’s important to seek medical attention from a healthcare provider.

Seeing a doctor or dermatologist to have your rosacea treated is the quickest way to get your symptoms under control and potentially reduce the psychological impact of having a visible skin condition.

Where Can I Learn More About Rosacea?

With LifeMD, you can speak to a board-certified physician or nurse practitioner if you suspect you may have rosacea.

A licensed medical professional can assess your symptoms and prescribe various treatment options if necessary.

Visit our website to schedule an online appointment for rosacea treatment, today.

Dr. Payel Gupta

Dr. Gupta holds certifications from the American Board of Allergy and Immunology, American Board of Internal Medicine, and American Board of Pediatrics. With a deep interest in global health, she’s volunteered her clinical skills across many continents.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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