Reddening skin: sunburn or rosacea?

Posted on 9 May 2017

Rosacea is a facial skin condition that looks like a furious blush or bad sunburn. A Mediclinic dermatologist explains the causes and treatment of this chronic, inflammatory disorder.

At first blush

Facial redness and a flushed appearance is a common occurrence when our body temperature rises, usually due to fever, physical exertion or an emotional trigger such as stress, embarrassment or anger. Since the symptoms of rosacea can easily be mistaken for one of these bodily reactions, it is often under diagnosed as many people don’t associate their periodic hot flushes with a medical condition.

For those who suffer from rosacea, this flushed appearance is actually due to inflammation. What starts with facial flushing can then be followed by the appearance of small broken veins mostly on the nose, cheeks and chin. In more serious cases, it can result in red inflammatory spots that look similar to acne.


In essence, rosacea is a dilation of the facial veins. No definitive underlying cause has been found yet, though it is thought to be hereditary. Approximately three out of 10 patients with rosacea have a history of someone in their family with a similar condition.

According to the US National Rosacea Society, 99% of sufferers reported having a fair to medium complexion. While rosacea can affect people of all nationalities and ethnicities, fair-skinned people are more prone. Men with the condition are more susceptible to developing skin thickening, especially on the nose.

‘The redness and bumpy skin symptomatic of rosacea sufferers can sometimes be misperceived as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. This social stigma makes it essential to treat the condition,’ says Dr Sian Hartshorne, a dermatologist at Mediclinic Plettenberg Bay.


There are many environmental trigger factors that could cause the facial veins to dilate. These include heat, sunlight, stress, hot drinks such as coffee, spicy food and alcohol. The first line of treatment therefore includes avoidance of any trigger factors.

‘Topical treatment includes avoiding cosmetic products that may irritate skin,’ says Dr Hartshorne. ‘Metronidazole gel used twice daily can help decrease the redness and spots of rosacea, but if the skin is too inflamed then antibiotic tablets for one to three months will help calm and heal the skin.’

New treatments that should be available in the next few years include creams that can help inhibit the vasodilation of the facial veins, thereby hopefully preventing the development of rosacea, Dr Hartshorne adds.

Tips for sufferers:

  • Get correct treatment from a dermatologist
  • Avoid any skin products that irritate your skin
  • Avoid trigger factors

Published in Dermatology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.