How to Tell the Difference Between Acne and Rosacea

Dermatologist checking woman's face

Acne and rosacea are equally frustrating for patients who suffer from their symptoms. With similar symptoms that can be difficult to treat and hard to hide behind makeup, it is understandable why men and women will do almost anything to treat these bothersome skin conditions. We often encounter patients who are confused as to whether their skin condition is acne or rosacea. It is important to be properly diagnosed because treatments for acne and rosacea are vastly different. 

Why Rosacea and Acne Look Similar 

Even though acne and rosacea are entirely different skin conditions, they manifest in similar fashions. The main symptoms they share are redness and bumps, however, these symptoms do have their own unique nuances. Ultimately, acne and rosacea can look similar because they are both linked to inflammation. This inflammation beneath the skin makes its way to the skin’s surface which causes bumps, redness and irritation. When the underlying cause of inflammation is addressed, acne and rosacea symptoms typically subside. 

Key Differences Between Acne and Rosacea 

For starters, keep in mind that acne most commonly affects teenagers and some adults. Rosacea most commonly affects adults beyond the age of 30. 


Redness stemming from rosacea is typically widespread across the face and can appear after eating spicy foods, consuming alcohol, exercising or other triggers that cause the skin to flush and feel warm. When related to acne, redness is more limited in size and appears only surrounding the breakout.  


Acne can appear as whiteheads, blackheads and hard, cystic bumps. Bumps from rosacea are limited to white, pus-filled bumps. These bumps are always small, whereas acne bumps can become quite large and are more painful. Bumps from rosacea tend to come and go with flare ups, whereas acne bumps tend to be more chronic. 


Rosacea nearly always only affects the face and can occasionally affect the neck. Acne, on the other hand, can appear almost anywhere on the body and most commonly affects the face, back, shoulders and chest. 

Long-Term Side Effects

If left untreated, acne can leave behind significant scarring that is extremely difficult to fade. Rosacea also has unpleasant long-term side effects—skin thickening which can lead to an enlarged nose. These lasting effects are entirely avoidable when treated early. 

Treatment Strategies

While there are some treatments that work to remedy both acne and rosacea, such as BroadBand Light™ therapy, most topical treatments for at-home use should be chosen carefully. Acne tends to respond better to treatments that contain aggressive ingredients like salicylic acid that would be highly irritating to rosacea. Rosacea reacts better to calming ingredients such as aloe vera and cucumber extract. 

Acne Treatments Offered by Harmony Healing 

At Harmony Healing, we care for total body health. We spend ample time with patients who struggle with acne to uncover the underlying cause of their acne. If a hormone imbalance is involved, we may prescribe bioidentical hormones. We also suggest PCA SKIN® products for use at home which are clinically backed and use ingredients found naturally in the body to ensure optimal results without unnecessary side effects. Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments may also be beneficial for clearing up acne. 

Rosacea Treatments Offered by Harmony Healing

Rosacea can be treated beneath the skin’s surface, where it forms, through BroadBand Light™ therapy. BBL™ prevents redness caused by rosacea from forming in the first place by shrinking the blood vessels causing redness. It bypasses the top layer of skin which prevents the skin from becoming inflamed. This is an ideal way to treat rosacea because it makes possible the deeply restorative benefits of new cell growth beneath the skin’s surface without triggering a rosacea flareup. 

If you are unsure whether your redness and bumps are linked to acne or rosacea, schedule an appointment today by calling 575.639.9305.