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Psoriasis vs. Rosacea: Pictures and Differences in Treatment

Medically reviewed by Steven Devos, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Sage Salvo
Updated on February 5, 2024

If discolored, inflamed patches develop on your face, you may automatically assume it’s due to your psoriasis. In some cases, however, you might actually be living with rosacea.

Both psoriasis and rosacea are chronic inflammatory conditions that cause patches of discolored, itchy skin to appear on the face. But beyond their most recognizable symptoms, the conditions are very different, diverging in their causes, features, and treatments.

What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes inflammation and the accelerated production of skin cells. For people with psoriasis, the skin builds up more quickly than it can shed, resulting in discolored patches of thick, scaly skin that can itch, crack, and bleed. Inflammation causes these patches, or plaques, to appear red on lighter skin tones. On darker skin tones, patches can appear purple, gray, or brown. Scales associated with psoriasis are commonly silver in color.

The severity and appearance of psoriasis can vary from person to person. While some might only see mild flaking in one or two areas, others may have hardened, scaly, and irritated patches across much of their body. Symptoms tend to occur in cycles, appearing during flare-ups, then fading after a few weeks or months during periods of remission.

A mild case of psoriasis affecting one’s face can look similar to rosacea. However, whereas rosacea is limited to the face, psoriasis is not: It often appears in other areas, including the elbows, knees, legs, feet, lower back, scalp, and palms.

What Is Rosacea?

Like psoriasis, rosacea is a relatively common chronic skin condition. However, people with rosacea typically only have symptoms on their face and don’t experience flaking or scaling. The condition causes discoloration and visible broken blood vessels — or spider veins — often on the center of a person’s face. In some cases, rosacea can cause breakouts of tiny, discolored pus-filled bumps resembling pimples in affected areas, which can be mistaken for acne or eczema.

Symptoms of Psoriasis and Rosacea

The characteristic symptoms of rosacea and psoriasis appear to overlap at first glance. After all, both can cause discoloration, itching, and discomfort. However, even these seemingly similar symptoms differ on close inspection.

Rosacea Symptoms

On lighter skin, rosacea typically causes redness in the center of the face covering the cheeks and nose. On darker skin, it can cause patches of brown, purple, or violet discoloration. This symptom may appear alongside these additional signs:

  • Couperose — Visible dilated blood vessels
  • Pus-filled bumps on the forehead, scalp, cheeks, chin, neck, and chest
  • Dry skin
  • Broken blood vessels
  • Rhinophyma — Thickened, bumpy, and discolored skin on the nose, a symptom more common among men than women, according to Mayo Clinic
  • Ocular rosacea — A burning or irritating sensation around the eyes

On lighter skin, rosacea causes redness in the center of the face, on the cheeks and nose. On darker skin, it can cause patches of brown, purple, or violet discoloration. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NZ/DermNet)

Psoriasis Symptoms

In psoriasis, that characteristic discoloration manifests differently, typically resulting in the following symptoms:

  • Plaques (thick, discolored patches of skin), which aren’t typically confined to the face
  • Itching or burning skin
  • Dry, cracked skin

Types of Psoriasis That Might Be Mistaken for Rosacea

Generally, there are two kinds of psoriasis that might be mistaken for rosacea: plaque psoriasis and guttate psoriasis.

Plaque Psoriasis

Plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis by a wide margin, affecting up to 90 percent of people with the condition. The plaques seen in this type of psoriasis can vary in size and intensity: Some people may only have a few mild, coin-sized plaques, while others might see individual plaques that connect and span to cover large patches of skin. Other symptoms of plaque psoriasis may include itching, stinging, burning, pain, or tightness.

Plaque psoriasis can cause discolored patches of skin on the face. Unlike rosacea, plaque psoriasis can extend beyond the cheeks to the ears and scalp, as well as other areas of the body. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NZ/DermNet)

Guttate Psoriasis

Like plaque psoriasis, guttate psoriasis can cause discoloration and itching. But, rather than appearing as hardened patches, this form of psoriasis presents as tiny pink bumps or teardrop-shaped lesions on the affected areas. Although symptoms most often appear on the torso, arms, and legs, guttate psoriasis can also affect the face, scalp, and ears.

Guttate psoriasis causes tiny lesions on the face, scalp, ears, and elsewhere on the body. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NZ/DermNet)

Causes of Psoriasis and Rosacea

Health experts are not entirely sure what causes psoriasis or rosacea, but rosacea is slightly more common. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, roughly 3 percent of people are living with psoriasis worldwide, while the British Journal of Dermatology reports that rosacea’s global prevalence is about 5 percent.

Certain factors may trigger or worsen the symptoms of both conditions.

What Causes Psoriasis?

Psoriasis occurs when the immune system mistakenly targets healthy skin cells. This leads the body to produce new skin cells in addition to the existing cells, resulting in the thick, scaly skin patches characteristic of psoriasis.

Scientists have identified a few risk factors that may trigger or worsen psoriasis flare-ups, including:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Skin injuries
  • Certain medications

If your psoriasis symptoms seem to be worsening from any of the above, you may want to ask your doctor for medical advice on how you can shift your lifestyle to help prevent flares. As one member of MyPsoriasisTeam advised, “Don’t forget what your triggers are; they’ll remind you in the worst ways. Don’t be your own worst critic about your skin; you and your doc will find a solution.”

Causes of Rosacea

Some research suggests that rosacea may be genetic or stem from Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacteria that causes intestinal infection. However, neither cause has been concretely proved.

That said, doctors have noted a few factors that can trigger rosacea symptoms, such as:

  • Sunlight and sunburn
  • Wind
  • Exercise
  • Cosmetics
  • Emotions, including stress or anxiety
  • Hot drinks
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol

Diagnosis and Treatments for Psoriasis and Rosacea

The type of treatment you receive will depend on whether you are diagnosed with psoriasis or rosacea.

There is no specific test used to diagnose rosacea; rather, a doctor will use your signs and symptoms, as well as a skin exam, to determine whether you have the condition. The doctor may order testing if they suspect that another condition, such as psoriasis, may be behind your symptoms. A skin biopsy (an analysis of a small skin sample) is usually not performed, and blood work may be ordered to rule out autoimmune disease.

Psoriasis may be diagnosed using skin, scalp, and nail examinations. A doctor may also perform a biopsy to rule out other conditions and determine the type of psoriasis you have.

Psoriasis Treatments

The treatment you receive for your psoriasis will depend on the severity of your symptoms and circumstances. You may need to work with your dermatologists for weeks or months to find the right fit for you.

“Different drugs or treatments work for different people. Keep searching for the right one. I went from topicals all the way through different biologics,” recommended a MyPsoriasisTeam member.

Psoriasis treatments generally fall into three categories: topical, phototherapy, and systemic.

Topical Treatments for Psoriasis

Topical treatments refer to medications applied to the affected skin in forms such as creams or ointments. Corticosteroids — which can be found in the forms of medicated ointments, lotions, gels, shampoos, sprays, and creams — are often recommended for mild to moderate cases of psoriasis. Vitamin D and vitamin A analogs may also be used topically, along with coal tar.

Phototherapy for Psoriasis

During phototherapy, a dermatologist will expose affected areas of skin to specific types of natural or artificial light over multiple sessions. Generally, doctors recommend this approach for people whose skin does not respond well (or at all) to topical creams.

Systemic Treatments for Psoriasis

Systemic (whole-body) treatments are injected or oral medications that are typically used only in moderate to severe cases when topicals or phototherapy haven’t provided relief. Systemic treatments include steroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. Newer biologics are very effective at clearing the skin.

Rosacea Treatments

Treatments used for rosacea vary across cases. Some people might find that topical creams or gels that constrict blood vessels are enough to reduce facial discoloration. Creams with metronidazole, ivermectin, or azelaic acid are commonly used. Topical tretinoin cream can also help. Other people may need oral antibiotics or acne drugs, such as isotretinoin, to address severe rosacea pustules.

As with psoriasis, people with rosacea who don’t find relief through topical means may benefit from repeated laser-therapy sessions to reduce enlarged blood vessels.

Find Your Community

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 125,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Do you have questions about what’s causing your skin symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on February 5, 2024
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Steven Devos, M.D., Ph.D. received his medical degree and completed residency training in dermatology at the University of Ghent, Belgium. Learn more about him here
Sage Salvo is a content creator who specializes in developing savvy, SEO-aware content strategies and top notch ghostwritten articles for a wide variety of industry niches. Learn more about her here

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