Rosacea is a common skin condition in adults over the age of 30. It can look like blushing, a sunburn, or “ruddiness.” This chronic condition typically affects the center of the face — the nose, cheeks, and chin. It can also affect the eyes, ears, neck, and chest.
The main symptoms of rosacea are:
- enlarged blood vessels
Eye symptoms include redness, tearing, grittiness, light sensitivity, and blurred vision. Rosacea can also cause burning, itching, and swelling. In severe cases, it can lead to thickened skin and an enlarged, “bulbous” nose and chin.
The cause of rosacea isn’t known. It’s thought to be a response to ongoing inflammation in the body. Immune system changes and gut bacteria imbalance may also be factors.
There are various treatments available for managing rosacea, but what you eat may also be able to help you reduce flare-ups.
Medical and dietary treatments
There is no cure for rosacea, but recommended treatments include:
- sun protection
- anti-inflammatory therapies such as steroids
- antibiotics such as doxycycline and tetracycline
Light and laser treatments may also help.
Recent studies show that certain foods may trigger rosacea flare-ups. In a survey by the National Rosacea Society, 78 percent of adults with rosacea reported making changes to their diet. Of this group, 95 percent said they experienced fewer symptoms as a result.
There may also be a link between gut health and rosacea. A large clinical study in Denmark found that a high number of adults with rosacea also had gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and bacterial overgrowth.
Foods that may reduce flare-ups
Certain foods help to reduce inflammation and balance the immune system. This is important for overall good health and may also help to reduce rosacea symptoms. Add these anti-inflammatory foods and spices to your daily diet:
- green beans
- leafy greens
- lean poultry meats
- sweet potatoes
Foods rich in healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids also help to reduce inflammation:
- flax seeds
- ghee (clarified butter)
Nutritional supplements that contain healthy fats and other nutrients may help calm redness and soothe dry and gritty eyes in adults with rosacea. These include:
- omega-3 fatty acids
- omega-6 fatty acids
- flaxseed oil
- zinc sulfate
Foods to balance gut biome
Foods that help promote good bacteria in the body may help to reduce rosacea symptoms. In some cases, rosacea is thought to be triggered by an imbalance in the microorganisms that live in our gut and on our skin.
These include fiber-rich foods, prebiotics, and probiotics. Prebiotic foods help keep the gut environment healthy for good bacteria. Probiotic foods help to add more good microorganisms to your body.
Healthy probiotic foods include:
- low-fat yogurt
- cultured nondairy cheeses
- soy cream cheese
- pickled vegetables and fruit
- beet juice
- unsweetened pineapple juice
- unsweetened grape juice
- cabbage juice
Prebiotic foods include fiber-rich food such as:
- raw or cooked onions
- raw leeks
- raw artichokes
- raw asparagus
- raw garlic
- chicory root
- dandelion greens
- whole grains (oats, barley, amaranth, sprouted wheat)
Foods that may trigger flare-ups
Trigger foods can worsen rosacea in some adults. These include foods that cause chronic inflammation in the body such as sugary and processed foods.
Avoid or limit these foods for overall good health and to help soothe rosacea symptoms:
- refined sugars
- sugary foods
- white flour
- processed vegetable oils
- fried foods
- processed meats
- sugary juices and carbonated drinks
- artificial sweeteners
- food preservatives and additives
According to clinical research, up to half of adults with rosacea reported that drinking alcohol worsened their symptoms. Even a small amount of alcohol can trigger symptoms such as flushing and redness. This includes wine, hard liquor, and other alcoholic beverages such as:
Hot drinks such as tea, coffee, hot cider, and hot cocoa may also trigger rosacea flare-ups. This is likely not due to caffeine, but because they increase body temperature.
Capsaicin affects the pain receptors in your skin that feel warmth. This may adversely affect rosacea. To limit capsaicin in your diet, avoid foods that contain:
- cayenne pepper
- red pepper
- chili pepper
- hot sauce
- tabasco pepper
- chili oils
- peppercorn or black pepper
- white pepper
Other spicy and warming foods that can trigger rosacea symptoms include:
Cinnamaldehyde gives cinnamon its familiar pungent flavor. This compound causes a warming sensation that can trigger rosacea symptoms. It’s found in a range of foods:
- citrus fruits
Histamine is a natural compound in your body that can cause skin flushing. In some adults with rosacea, certain foods can worsen histamine-related redness, swelling, and other symptoms. Some foods that contain histamine or cause your body to release more of it are:
- aged cheese
- cow’s milk
- cured meat (bacon, hot dogs, pepperoni, lunch meat)
- dried fruit (apricots, dates, prunes, figs, raisins)
- fermented foods
- goat cheese
- nuts (cashews, peanuts, walnuts)
- smoked fish
- sour cream
Medications that may trigger flare-ups
Some medications may trigger rosacea symptoms. This may occur because some drugs affect blood flow to the skin. Other medications upset the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut or hinder your immune system. They include:
- niacin (vitamin B-6)
- sympathomimetics (blood pressure drugs)
- pain and arthritis medications that contain capsaicin
- excess use of antibiotics or antacids
Your dietary choices may help calm rosacea symptoms because certain foods can affect inflammation, dilate blood vessels, or generate heat in the body.
You’ll mostly likely not need to avoid all trigger foods. Some foods may cause flare-ups in some people with rosacea, but not in others. Just as with food allergies and other conditions, it’s important to determine which foods impact your symptoms.
Figuring out which foods to eat and which to avoid may take time and careful observation. Keep a daily food and symptom journal. Log everything you eat and drink, as well as any changes to your rosacea. Remove foods one at a time to see your body’s response to it.
Speak to your doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist about the best diet for you. Ask about good food alternatives to help ensure that you’re eating a balanced daily diet.
It may take time and effort to make dietary changes a normal part of your daily lifestyle. Seek a community or online rosacea support group. Ask about easy recipes, meal ideas, and other tips for living with rosacea.