Acne and Rosacea


Acne is considered to be a disease of the hair follicles (or pilosebaceious units – PSUs) which results in inflammation and then rupturing of the skin.  While rosacea does not involve a rupture in the skin, it does result in chronic redness of the cheeks, nose, chin and forehead because of widening of the small blood vessels in the face.  Both conditions can be significant enough to mar the appearance of the individual suffering from acne or rosacea.

Acne occurs when the PSUs become plugged and the oil or sebum which is produced by the sebaceous glands has nowhere to go to “escape” and, as a result, pimples erupt. Although the sebaceous (or oil-secreting) glands in PSUs are found over most of the human body, acne is usually confined to the face in simple cases, but can also be seen in severe instances on the neck, upper chest, and back area. 

In the case of rosacea, in its earliest stages it has a “spider web” type of appearance, which is caused by dilated blood vessels under the skin’s surface.  If the condition goes untreated and persists, small pimples can develop.  In some of the worst cases of rosacea, the individual’s nose can become bulbous and red.


While it is sometimes found in children and adults, most individuals afflicted with acne are teenagers.  Acne is typically caused by an increase in the sex hormones called androgens, which are known to stimulate the sebaceous glands and create oil under the hair follicles.  Pimples are made up of plugs of skin cells, dried oil and bacteria.  Stress and corticosteroid medications can also cause acne.

Outbreaks of rosacea can be brought on by environmental factors, emotions and certain foods which increase blood flow and cause blood vessels in the face to expand.  Consumption of alcohol and hot beverages can cause rosacea, as well as spicy foods.   Anger and stress can cause rosacea outbreaks, as well as exposure to sun, very cold or very hot temperatures, and extremely vigorous exercise. 

The chemicals in some topical products are also known to cause rosacea in certain individuals.  They include facial scrubs, hydrocortisone cream, alpha-hydroxy acid lotions, and some cosmetics.


Acne comes in a few different forms.  Blackheads are very small, darkened spots that are made up of skin cells and dried oil and are found mainly on the chin, cheeks and nose.  Whiteheads are clogged pores which are infected and pus filled.  As their name suggests, they have a white top. 

As mentioned above, symptoms of rosacea are the “spider web” effect of broken blood vessels on the chin, forehead, cheeks and/or nose.  If left untreated, the symptoms of rosacea can continue to worsen.


Most doctors and health care practitioners are able to accurately diagnose acne or rosacea based on the skin’s appearance, as well as the individual’s medical history.


While acne and rosacea are quite different in causes and symptoms, some of the same treatments work for both conditions.  Frequently, a combination of treatments can provide the best results for patients with either condition.  The goal for both should be to begin treatment immediately before there is long-term scarring.

Topical treatments for acne usually contain one or more of the following ingredients:  resorcinol, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid or sulphur.  Some of these compounds reduce inflammation and others kill bacteria. 

An acne preparation consisting of azelaic acid cream can also relieve moderate rosacea symptoms.  Herbal preparations can also be very effective and include tea tree oil, distilled from Melaleuc abernifolia.   In some cases, antibiotics are taken orally or applied topically to the skin to kill the bacteria that causes inflammation.  Retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, can also be effective in helping to control both rosacea and acne.

Based on numerous studies, including some which involve Asians who emigrate to the United States, it would seem diet plays a radical part in the development of acne.  When eating traditional Asian foods, very little cases of acne are known.  However, when the diets contain lots of fried foods and chocolate, acne seems to flare up.  Eat plenty of foods with cooling properties such as string beans, tangerines, lettuce, spinach, celery and tangerines.

Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can help, as well as vitamin E.  Raw almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds are good sources of vitamin E.  Mix 2 tbsp of ground flaxseed in a glass of water to ensure adequate amounts of fiber are being ingested. 

Some studies suggest that zinc supplements can cause improvements which are similar to those of the antibiotic tetracycline.  One naturopathic detoxification method for treating acne and rosacea consists of drinking lots of water and making use of a liver flush made of lemon juice and olive oil.  B-complex vitamins may help lessen the effects of rosacea. 


It is possible to reduce both the severity and occurrence of rosacea and acne.  Trying to control stress can help to lessen or prevent both of these conditions of the skin. 

To help control acne, use only oil-free lotions and cosmetics and wash the face and other areas which may be affected (such as the neck, chest, or back) twice daily with a very mild cleanser.  Washing the hair on a regular and frequent basis keeps hair oil from spreading to the face.  Pimples caused by acne should never be touched or squeezed to avoid spreading and scarring.

To prevent flare-ups of rosacea, avoid environmental and food triggers which damage or dilate the blood vessels.  When spending time in the sunshine, use sunscreen and wear a hat to shade the face.  As harsh cleaners and chemical can irritate skin and cause rosacea to worsen, only use mild cleansers and avoid astringents and other strong compounds.

Who is at Risk

Teenagers are especially prone to acne as a large surge in the production of sex hormones which cause acne  is quite common during the onset of puberty.  This surge is also experienced by women just before menstruation each month. 

Rosacea is commonly found in women who are in their 30s and 40s.


  1. Bratman, S. The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions, Prima Health A Division of Prima Publishing (1998)
  2. Brown, L. Alternative Medicine, NTC/Contemporary Publishing (1999)
  3. Deepak Chopra, M.D. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Celestial Arts (2002)
  4. Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs,Rodale Limited (2003)
  5. Nancy Allison. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines, The Rosen Publishing Group (1999)
  6. Servan-Schreiber, D. The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages, Rodale International Limited (2006)

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