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Is it adult acne or is it something else?

Woman looking in a mirror, cleaning her faceAcne is best known as the scourge of teens, and to a lesser degree adults.

But, it’s entirely possible that what you think is adult acne may actually be rosacea.

“It is a source of confusion,” said Dermatologist Dr. Erik Stratman. “Rosacea is often referred to as ‘adult acne’ but it is not true acne.”

What exactly is rosacea?

In general, rosacea causes redness and pimples in the central face. About 14 million Americans have it.

Rosacea (pronounced rose-AY-she-ah) occurs more often in women, most commonly among those ages 30-50.

Who’s most at risk for rosacea?

Dermatologists see it most frequently among those who are fair-skinned, from Celtic or Scandinavian descent and had bad acne as a teen. It also tends to run in families and in women who blush or flush easily.

“We don’t really know why flushing makes rosacea worse but I do have a theory,” said Stratman, who has seen plenty of acne and rosacea during his 32 years at the Clinic. “I think flushing increases the skin’s temperature. Germs that live naturally in the skin’s pores grow very well when the skin is warm. Rosacea may be a reaction to these germs.  Many treatments for rosacea are medications that suppress germs or decrease the reaction to germs.”

Because flushing is more likely after drinking a hot beverage or getting overheated, flushing can be avoided by sipping a cool beverage or sucking on ice chips, Stratman suggested.

Adult acne vs. rosacea

Acne results when the skin’s pores become plugged, which traps oil where acne germs live. Treatment leans toward self-care with over-the-counter cleansers, lotions, creams and other medications.

If self-care doesn’t work, consider seeing a dermatologist. The doctor can make or confirm a previous diagnosis, make sure nothing else is going on with the skin and prescribe a more powerful medication if needed.

Avoid picking or squeezing pimples, he added, since they can cause pores to break, form a pimple and potentially leave scars for life.

Can women get acne as they age? Watch this video to learn more:

Is it acne or rosacea?

This chart helps identify the differences between acne and rosacea.

Acne vs rosacea chart

Download the chart

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