Three experts break down the differences between these ailments.

By Lauren Wellbank
December 18, 2019

Many people believe that their experience with inflamed skin and blemishes will end as soon as their teenage years do, but unfortunately for some, that's just not the case. In fact, there are many skin conditions that can emerge and plague us well into adulthood—such as adult acne and rosacea. If you believe you may be suffering from one of these conditions, but are unsure of which one (after all, some of their symptoms do overlap), you'll want to hear what our three skin experts have to say on identifying the key signs of each.

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Related: Here's Why You Struggle with Adult Acne—Plus, How to Get Rid of It

Diagnosing Rosacea

There are a few common signs of rosacea, according to Dr. Sonia Batra, a board-certified dermatologist and co-host of The Doctors, like flushing or frequent blushing, persistent facial redness, small red bumps or pimples, and visible blood vessels. "Other symptoms can include eye irritation causing watery or bloodshot eyes, stinging or itchy skin, raised red patches, the appearance of dry skin, and skin thickening or swelling," she says. While there is no specific test to diagnose rosacea, if you suspect you are suffering from the condition you can speak with your doctor about having an exam done so that they can recommend the best course of treatment.

Treating Rosacea

Although treatment varies from case to case, common methods include oral and topical anti-inflammatory and antibiotic medications to get redness, bumps, pimples, and other symptoms under control. "There are also prescription creams to temporarily constrict blood vessels and decrease redness," Dr. Batra explains. "For more severe redness and visible veins, laser treatment, to clamp down blood vessels, can be effective." Dr. Jacob D. Steiger, a double board-certified plastic surgeon who specializes exclusively in plastic surgery of the face, agrees; he finds laser treatment to be "the most uniformly effective treatment for the appearance of rosacea." Most people he treats see major benefits from this option, especially when combined with other treatments that help reduce inflammation of the skin.

Batra also suggests limiting sun and wind exposure, emotional stress, extreme heat or cold, heavy exercise, alcohol, and hot baths. If you're looking for an over-the-counter fix, you should look for products with anti-inflammatory and calming ingredients like aloe vera, green tea extract, niacinamide, and chamomile.

Diagnosing Adult Acne

Pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads are all signs of adult acne, says Dr. Shari Sperling, a board-certified dermatologist. She recommends consulting with a board-certified dermatologist if you're unsure whether what you're experiencing can be considered adult acne—and to help determine the source. A cluster of painful cysts around your mouth, for example, couple be an indicator of a hormonal cause.

How to Treat Adult Acne

There are several over-the-counter products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid that can be used for acne, but if you're looking for a prescription medication, Dr. Sperling recommends speaking to your dermatologist to determine which option—whether that be an exfoliating topical, like tretinoin, an oral antibiotic, or a form of hormonal treatment, like spironolactone—is best for you.

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