It takes careful curation to build a skincare routine for red, reactive skin and rosacea — a chronic condition in which skin is overly sensitive, often with visible blood vessels and raised bumps on the face. That’s because, frustratingly, virtually “anything that makes the face flush can cause a rosacea flare,” says dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. Some of those triggers may seem obvious — stress, extreme temperatures, spicy foods, fragrance, alcohol in skin care, and alcoholic drinks (especially wine) — but something as simple as a hot shower or friction from wearing a mask can cause a flare-up, says dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman, an assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine.
Another potential trigger, say dermatologists Dr. Kenneth Mark and Dr. David Kim, is retinol. “It really needs to be used with caution in those with red, sensitive rosacea-like skin — and the same goes with vitamin C,” says Mark. “These can be very irritating ingredients.” Kim, a board-certified dermatologist at IDRISS Dermatology in New York City, agrees and says that during a flare-up it’s important to resist the temptation to add a bunch of new products to your routine. “This often makes things worse, not better,” he says. “During an active flare, it’s best to minimize the skin-care routine and use the bare essentials. Less is more. Always.”
To find out what to use during a flare-up, and which products might help prevent additional redness, I asked dermatologists and aestheticians for their advice. And while no over-the- counter product can truly claim to treat rosacea, “there are plenty that can help,” says Dr. Shereene Idriss, a board-certified dermatologist also known as the Pillow Talk Derm.
What we’re looking for
Having rosacea classifies you as a sensitive-skin type, so I’m looking for soothing, calming ingredients that won’t inflame your skin. The key word here is gentle. That means avoiding products with fragrances or alcohols and being careful with potential irritants such as acids and physical exfoliants. Instead, stock up on skin care that contains hyaluronic acid, azelaic acid, and niacinamide, which hydrate and brighten skin without making matters worse.
Skin care is available at a range of price points, so I noted how much you get with each bottle, jar, and tube as well as how much it costs per ounce.
Best cleansers for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Glycolic and salicylic acid | Price point: 6 ounces ($7.5 / ounce)
It’s common for people with rosacea to also deal with acne, but it can be difficult to find a cleanser that’ll clear out pores without further irritating or drying out the skin. If you’re hoping to deal with both simultaneously, look for something that gently exfoliates like this cleanser, which comes recommended by aesthetician Candace Marino. “This cleanser does an excellent deep clean without foaming up and drying out the skin,” she says. It uses botanical-derived lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acid, which work together to gently exfoliate without further irritating the skin. “It’s so gentle it’s recommended for clients post-laser or peel,” she says.
Best less-expensive cleanser for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Feverfew | Price point: 6 ounces ($6.10 / ounce)
This foaming cleanser from Aveeno comes recommended by Zeichner because it contains feverfew, a calming ingredient associated with chamomile, which has been clinically proven to reduce redness and irritation. Other perks: It’s free of fragrances and hypoallergenic.
Best creamy cleanser for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, ceramides | Price: 16 ounces ($1 / ounce)
If you’re familiar with our site, you won’t be surprised to see this hydrating, non-foaming cleanser here; we’ve already recommended it for dry skin, accutane users, overexfoliated skin. It’s a great choice because it’s non-comedogenic, so shouldn’t clog pores or exacerbate acne. Dr Anjali Mahto, dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible, says the cleanser is one of her staples. “It’s fragrance-free, and is very gentle on the skin,” she says. She likes that it’s packed with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, both “great for helping to maintain the skin’s barrier function.”
Best soap for redness and rosacea
Ingredients: Goat milk, oats, honey | Price point: 3 bars ($8.33)
After developing rosacea “almost overnight,” Strategist contributor Jacqueline Neber tried anything to soothe her skin, including this scent-free goat’s milk soap. “Immediately after I rinsed the soap off my face, my skin felt moisturized, supple, and … chilled out,” she says. “The goat rumors were true.” As well as goat’s milk, the soap contains soothing ingredients like oats, clay, and honey to gently cleanse and moisturize the skin. After over four years of use, Neber says that her rosacea is now hardly noticeable. “It’s quite literally changed my skin,” she says.
Best less-expensive soap for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Glycerin | Price point: 6 bars ($1.16/bar)
Certain ingredients found in cleansers (specifically menthol or eucalyptol) can throw off the skin’s pH level, says Zeichner, making rosacea worse. His go-to recommendation is Dove’s Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar. It’s also a favorite of dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. It’s a simple, skin-barrier-supporting, ultra-affordable option you can use to cleanse both your face and body. “It uses a gentle cleansing agent and is particularly moisturizing,” Zeichner says.
Best toner for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Sodium hyaluronate | Price point: 6 ounces ($6.60 / ounce)
SkinSpirit aesthetic nurse practitioner Shawna Jones likes this pH-balanced toner from Zo Skin Health, which she says will help soothe the skin and support the skin-barrier function. The formula has allantoin, which Dr. Farhaad Riyaz, a board-certified dermatologist and Docent’s medical adviser, says is an “anti-inflammatory that soothes, calms, heals, and reduces the irritation, redness, and sensitivity seen with rosacea.” It also has sodium hyaluronate to improve hydration, which is key for people with rosacea as they tend to have a dehydrated, compromised skin barrier.
Best serums for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Azelaic acid, tea extracts | Price point: 1 ounce ($95 / ounce)
“This is by far the most compelling rosacea product I have ever worked with,” says Marino of this serum, a favorite of her clients with rosacea. The anti-redness treatment uses ingredients such as azelaic acid and white- and red-tea extracts, which calm and soothe skin while also helping to improve rosacea symptoms over time.
Best less-expensive serum for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Ambophenol | Price point: 1.35 ounces ($30.71 / ounce)
For some additional soothing after you tone, Jaliman suggests this serum specifically formulated for rosacea-prone skin from La Roche-Posay. “This visible redness-reducing serum does what it says. What’s nice about it is that it’s free of parabens, it’s oil-free and fragrance-free, so it’s really good for sensitive skin. It’s made with an ingredient called ambophenol, which soothes skin.”
Best nighttime serum for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Centella asiatica | Price point: 1.69 ounces ($20.07 / ounce)
Marino recommends this skin treatment from No7, which has a similar consistency to a mask. “This is the 911 product that every rosacea client should have on hand at all times, especially during the winter months,” says Marino. This overnight treatment should be the last step in your nighttime skin-care routine and uses ingredients such as centella asiatica (known for its calming properties) and ophiopogon japonicus, which helps to reinforce and maintain the skin’s barrier. Be aware, too, that this product is currently low in stock.
Best serum for acne if you have redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Azelaic acid | Price point: 1 ounce ($10 / ounce)
If you’re dealing with other skin issues like hyperpigmentation and acne, Hartman recommends this serum from the Ordinary that will address those issues and reduce redness too. “It helps to improve brightness and reduce the appearance of blemishes and also acts as an antioxidant,” he says.
Best retinol alternative for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Bakuchiol | Price point: 1 ounce ($156.75 / ounce)
Retinols can be tricky if you have rosacea because it tends to exacerbate irritation and redness, which is why Hartman recommends bakuchiol instead. Dubbed “nature’s retinol,” bakuchiol offers the same benefits (increased cell turnover, helps with fine lines and wrinkles) without the negative side effects. “Isdin Melatonik is my go-to bakuchiol product,” he says. “It contains vitamin E, a direct antioxidant, and melatonin, an indirect antioxidant — includes two of my holy-trinity skin-care basics. It repairs oxidative damage at night and, as a bonus, reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Best moisturizers for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Spring water, peptides | Price point: 1.6 ounces ($20.81 / ounce)
For chronic redness, a more concentrated moisturizer can also be helpful. “Thermal spring water and calming peptides help reduce facial redness,” says Zeichner of this mask from Avène’s Antirougeurs (or anti-redness) line.
Best less-expensive moisturizer for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Hyaluronic acid | Price point: 1.7 ounces ($11.05 / ounce)
For a less pricey option, Dr. David Lortscher, a board-certified dermatologist and the CEO of Curology, suggests this gel cream from Neutrogena: It’s hydrating (boosted with hyaluronic acid) yet fragrance free and noncomedogenic.
Best moisturizer for rosacea flare-ups
Active ingredients: Shea butter, glycerin | Price point: 1.35 ounces ($22.14 / ounce)
Dr. Mahto recommends this moisturizer to her patients with redness, rosacea, and highly sensitive skin. “This is a good one to have for when rosacea flare-ups become sore and hot,” she says. “It helps cool flare-ups down and provides good hydration.”
Best cream for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Azelaic acid and salicylic acid | Price point: 1 ounce ($39 / ounce)
“Azelaic acid is my number one ingredient for tackling rosacea,” says Dr Idriss. “If you can get it prescribed, around 15 percent is the sweet spot, but if you don’t have access to prescriptions, Paula’s Choice is a great over-the-counter substitute.” As well as a 10 percent concentration of azelaic acid, the cream is enriched with salicylic acid, which is a gentle acid that penetrates the pores to smoothen away any bumpy texture. The cream also includes licorice root, which Dr Idriss says will “further soothe redness.”
Best blemish cream for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Centella asiatica | Price point: 2.36 ounces ($13.75 / ounce)
Kim recommends incorporating calming ingredients like centella asiatica, a herb that’s used to treat scarring and redness, into your skin-care routine. “For calming the skin, the K-beauty brand Dr. G has a great soothing cream that’s Über-popular in Korea,” he says. “As well as centella asiatica, it has a very gentle, light, supple texture.” Kim says it’s important for those with redness and rosacea to focus on having a healthy skin barrier and to use products like this that restore and repair the skin, “especially as the weather gets colder and dryer, and our skin barrier is constantly compromised.”
Best sunscreens for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Niacinamide | Price point: 1 ounce ($155 / ounce)
Jones recommends ditching chemical-based sunscreens for physical ones as they could trigger a rosacea flare-up. This is her favorite. “It neutralizes the appearance of redness while providing sun protection,” she says. Of the ones recommended on this list, it has the highest SPF count, a green tint to neutralize redness, and niacinamide, which not only helps with inflammation but “also helps restore the skin barrier, which helps protect the skin from temperature changes and free radicals — both big rosacea triggers,” says Riyaz.
Best less-expensive sunscreen for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Niacinamide | Price point: 1.7 ounces ($24.11 / ounce)
“Even on a cloudy day, UVA rays penetrate the clouds and can trigger rosacea flares,” says Jaliman, which is why she suggests wearing sunscreen every day if you have rosacea or sensitive skin. “I always recommend a physical sunscreen with a high concentration of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. It’s what’s used for diaper rash.”
Here’s one that Jaliman and other derms have recommended to us in the past, containing anti-inflammatory niacinamide.
Best primers for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Niacinamide, tiger-grass | Price point: 0.5 ounces ($42/ounce)
Idriss recommends the color-correcting power of this cream from Dr. Jart for fairer skin tones. “What’s especially nice is its green tint, which helps mask and neutralize skin redness.” Along with soothing the skin visually, the cream also does good: It contains healing centella asiatica, a herb that “calms inflamed skin.”
Best less-expensive primer for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients: Hyaluronic acid | Price point: 0.47 ounces ($12.17 / ounce)
“Green tint bases can help mask the pink color of irritated or flushed skin,” says Lortscher, which is why he recommends using primers or color-correcting fluids with a green tint. He suggests this one from E.l.f., which is mineral-based and inexpensive.
Best cooling spray for redness and rosacea
Active ingredients Spring water | Price point 10 ounces ($1.90 / ounce)
If working out tends to trigger a flare-up, Idriss recommends slipping a bottle of Avène’s mist into your gym bag for some quick “post-workout relief.” The spray has both “calming and anti-irritation” properties and can soothe itchiness, redness, and other forms of skin discomfort (including eczema).
Best skin-care device for redness and rosacea
• Dr. Joshua Zeichner, dermatologist
• Dr. Corey L. Hartman, dermatologist
• Dr. Debra Jaliman, dermatologist
• Dr. David Lortscher, a board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology
• Dr. Hadley King, dermatologist
• Dr. Anjali Mahto, dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible
• Dr. Kenneth Mark, cosmetic dermatology expert
• Candace Marino, aesthetician
• Dr. Farhaad Riyaz, dermatologist and Docent medical adviser
• Shawna Jones, SkinSpirit aesthetic nurse practitioner
• Dr. David Kim, board-certified dermatologist at IDRISS Dermatology in New York City
• Dr. Roberta Del Campo, dermatologist at the Del Campo Dermatology and Laser Institute
• Dr. Shereene Idriss, board-certified dermatologist
Additional reporting by Tembe Denton-Hurst, Lori Keong, and Jenna Milliner-Waddell.
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