The number of different options to treat rosacea can be confusing and overwhelming. You can choose from prescription medications, therapies like laser treatment, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.
While OTC products may not come to mind as the first line of defense against rosacea, these topical products can help to repair the skin’s natural protective barrier and improve symptoms of rosacea — independent of drug or laser treatments.
OTC Products vs. Prescriptions and/or Laser Treatment
Over-the-counter products have been highly overlooked when considering treatment for rosacea. Many dermatologists and healthcare providers will prescribe medications like vasoconstrictors, that help prevent the dilation of blood vessels, and oral antibiotics. For pesky, treatment-resistant rosacea, doctors may recommend the next level of treatment: laser therapy.
Laser treatment can help reduce redness and thickened skin but is most effective against visible blood vessels. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, many patients see 50–70% reduction in the appearance of blood vessels after one to three laser treatments. Some people, however, will see a 100% reduction in visible blood vessels.
These results tend to last for three to five years, and treated blood vessels will never reappear. If you have visible blood vessels that show up after this time period, they’re new blood vessels that have formed.
When thinking about the visible blood vessels associated with rosacea, these are pretty impressive results. However, they’re not permanent… and they’re also very costly. Because this procedure is technically considered “cosmetic,” insurance companies don’t typically cover its cost.
For many, laser treatment is cost prohibitive. Luckily, there are OTC options. Just because they don’t require a prescription doesn’t mean that over-the-counter treatment options can’t be effective — and they’re typically very cost effective, too. Even better, they can often be used on their own or in tandem with other rosacea treatment options to maximize results.
So, what OTC skin care product options do you have to help treat rosacea?
Types of OTC Rosacea Skincare Products
Over-the-counter products for rosacea range from cleansers to moisturizers, creams to gels, and even sunscreens. Some popular OTC products for rosacea include:
Ceramide-Containing Cleansers and Moisturizers
Ceramides are lipids (or fatty acids) that help to hold skin cells together. This process helps to moisturize and strengthen the natural protective barrier of the skin. Ceramides lock in moisture while blocking out dirt and impurities. These processes can help to improve rosacea but also the overall health of the skin.
You can find out if a cleanser or moisturizer contains ceramides by checking the ingredients label and looking for ceramide NS, ceramide NP, ceramide EOP, ceramide EOS, or ceramide AP. Many skincare products will also advertise ceramides on the front of the bottle as well.
Mineral sunscreen plays an important role in the treatment of rosacea. Why? Sun exposure is one of the most common and pervasive triggers of rosacea flare-ups. In fact, 61% of people with rosacea consider sun exposure their biggest rosacea trigger.
Traditional sunscreens often contain chemical filters that may be irritating to those with rosacea, so be sure to look for a sunscreen without oxybenzone and octocrylene. Instead, choose a mineral sunscreen made from zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.
When using mineral sunscreen as part of your rosacea treatment plan, it’s important to apply it every single day — whether or not the sun is shining or you’re spending time outdoors. The UV rays can still affect you through clouds and windows.
Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a form of B3 that has a close relationship with ceramides. Research shows that the topical application of niacinamide increases ceramide and free fatty acid levels in the outer layer of skin. Its topical application also decreased water loss in dry skin.
Niacinamide also has a direct effect on the inflammation associated with rosacea. That’s why many rosacea patients who use niacinamide-containing lotions see relief from rosacea flare-ups.
Azelaic Acid 10%
Azelaic acid is found naturally in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. The acid can be applied topically in cream, gel, or foam form and is known to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Research shows that the use of azelaic acid 15% can improve the appearance of redness associated with rosacea because of its anti-inflammatory effects.
Azelaic acid is available in prescription form at 15% but as an over-the-counter topical product at 10%. Both the prescription and over-the-counter concentrations of azelaic acid can be beneficial for rosacea sufferers.
While azelaic acid offers many benefits, it’s important to note that azelaic acid can cause side effects in some people, including burning or tingling, peeling, dryness, and even redness of the skin.
One other powerhouse rosacea treatment option you may not have thought of? Addressing an unbalanced skin microbiome. The skin microbiome refers to the ecosystem of billions of microorganisms, including fungi, bacteria, viruses, and protozoa, that live on our skin's surface. Some research has linked rosacea-prone skin to bad bacteria-carrying skin mites. While more research is still be conducted, scientists are uncovering an increasingly strong correlation between the skin microbiome and the overall health of the skin.
Gladskin products are the first and only OTC products available in the US that address an imbalance in the skin microbiome. Our Gladskin Redness Relief Cream for rosacea-prone skin calms the appearance of facial redness, while our Face Wash for Rosacea-Prone Skin and Makeup Remover for Rosacea-Prone Skin support the work of the cream, giving you a microbiome-friendly skin care routine.
How OTC Products Can Supplement Rosacea Therapy Plans
Based on where you’re at on your skincare journey, OTC products can play a different role in your rosacea treatment plan. Several different therapy options you have when using over-the-counter products (or any treatment method) include:
Monotherapy means that you’re only using one type of therapy method. You could be using laser treatment (and only laser treatment), or only a vasoconstricting cream, or only azelaic acid cream.
Adjunct therapy means you’re using another form of therapy in addition to your primary form of therapy. For example, you could primarily be using laser treatment to target blood vessels, while augmenting your treatment plan with niacinamide-containing lotion for it’s anti-inflammatory benefits and overall positive effect on your skin barrier.
Maintenance therapy, on the other hand, refers to the upkeep you perform to keep your skin healthy and happy even when you’re not having an active flare-up. At this point you have your rosacea pretty well under control and are taking preventative measures, because we know there is no true cure to rosacea. You may continue to use rosacea-friendly moisturizers and cleansers even when you’re experiencing healthy and happy skin to help protect your skin from future flare-ups.
Over-the-counter skin care products, when fragrance-free and preservative-free, can help to improve your rosacea-prone skin. So, when considering your rosacea treatment, you may want to think twice before overlooking the power of these OTC products when used solo or in conjunction with other rosacea treatments.