Rosacea Causes

Over thirteen million Americans exhibit signs of rosacea, but the exact causes of the disorder are a mystery. People who flush and blush easily are more likely to develop rosacea, but whether this causes the disease, or is simply a symptom of its early stages, is as yet unknown.

While the causes of rosacea are unclear, the triggers that cause rosacea flare-ups are well documented. Foods, additives such as MSG, certain medical conditions and even emotional reactions can aggravate it.


A staggeringly long list of foods can trigger a rosacea outbreak. Dietary reactions vary depending on the individual: what affects one person adversely may have no effect on someone else. If you suspect that certain foods are a problem, keeping a food diary, and monitoring the condition of your skin may help you identify foods that cause flushing. Some of the more common food triggers include:

  • dairy products
  • citrus foods
  • cured meats
  • beans and peas
  • soy sauce.

Food Additives

Food additives can also aggravate rosacea. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food flavor enhancer, is a common culprit. Excess amounts of MSG can cause “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” a group of symptoms that includes headache, palpitations and flushing. Large amounts of MSG can cause anyone to flush, so its effect on people with rosacea tends to be even more pronounced.

Sodium nitrate, nitrites and sulfites, common food preservatives, are other common triggers. Cured meats usually contain sodium nitrate or nitrites. Frankfurters, cured hams and bacon all contain enough sodium nitrate to trigger an outbreak in susceptible individuals. Sulfites are common in beer and wine, frozen vegetables and shellfish, fruit juices, cider, and desserts.


Alcohol can cause facial flushing, especially in people of Asian descent. Caffeine also dilates blood vessels, so coffee, tea and many soft drinks may spark a flare-up. Recent research indicates that while caffeine does indeed dilate blood vessels, the temperature of hot coffee or tea may be more to blame than the caffeine.

Emotional States

Embarrassment often causes a red flush: after all, we blush when we’re embarrassed. Blushing’s link to rosacea is well documented. Anxiety and stress can also trigger rosacea outbreaks.

Drugs and Medical Conditions

Certain drugs cause blood vessel dilation, which can trigger an outbreak. If you have rosacea, check with your health professional before starting any medication, whether prescription or over-the-counter. The full list of rosacea-aggravating medications is too extensive to list here, but a few categories are given below:

  • steroids
  • thyroid medications
  • morphine
  • vasodilators
  • calcium channel blockers.

Facial flushing known as “hot flashes” or “hot flushes” commonly occur during menopause, so women find that rosacea symptoms tend to become worse during the menopausal years.

A relatively rare medical condition known as dumping syndrome can also trigger rosacea. Food is “dumped” from the stomach into the small intestine before it has been properly digested. While other conditions can cause it, dumping syndrome often develops after gastric surgery, and with certain cancer treatments.

If your flushing occurs after eating and is accompanied by sweating, generalized weakness or abdominal cramping, dumping syndrome may be to blame. A carcinoid tumor is one of the more serious rosacea triggers. Most often found in the colon, small intestine and bronchial tubes, a carcinoid tumor excretes large amounts of the hormone serotonin. Excess serotonin dilates blood vessels, causing flushing.

Flushing accompanied by abdominal pain, low blood pressure, wheezing or heart palpitations should be reported to your health professional: a carcinoid tumor may be the cause.

Weather and Temperature

Environmental temperature changes and weather conditions can affect rosacea. Blood vessels dilate or contract depending on exposure to heat and harsh weather. If you have rosacea, you may find that your condition is aggravated in the following settings:

  • saunas
  • overheated rooms
  • hot weather
  • humid weather
  • cold temperatures
  • high winds
  • hot tubs
  • hot baths.

Also, your skin may be particularly sensitive to heat and cold, so you should wear plenty of sunscreen in the summer months and be particularly careful to guard against frostbite and windburn during the colder seasons.


Bass and Boney Inc. (updated 2002). What is rosacea? Retrieved July 27, 2002, from

National Library of Medicine. (updated 2001). Rosacea. Retrieved July 27, 2002, from

National Rosacea Society. (nd). What is rosacea? Retrieved July 27, 2002, from

New Zealand Dermatological Society. (updated 2002). Rosacea. Retrieved July 27, 2002, from

OHSU Health. (nd). Rosacea. Retrieved July 27, 2002, from