In the clinical experience of Emmy Graber, MD, MBA, rosacea is in the eye of the beholder.

Dr. Emmy Graber

Dr. Emmy Graber

“It’s not really up to us as the providers as to what’s important to the patient or how bad their rosacea is,” she said during MedscapeLive’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar. “It really is up to the patient,” added Dr. Graber, president of The Dermatology Institute of Boston, who recommends asking patients about how severe they consider their rosacea to be, and what about rosacea bothers them most. Their responses may be surprising.

A study published in 2017 showed that complete resolution of even mild rosacea prolongs remission of rosacea, and most importantly, improves the quality of life for patients. “So, don’t discount what you consider to be mild rosacea in patients,” she said.

Skin care recommendations

“And don’t forget about basic skin care,” she advised. A recently published Chinese study of 999 rosacea patients and 1,010 controls with healthy skin found that a high frequency of cleansing and expansive use of cleansers were positively correlated with rosacea occurrence, suggesting that overcleansing can be a risk factor for rosacea. “Ask your patient, ‘how often are you cleaning your face?’ ” Dr. Graber suggested. “You might find that they’re overdoing it by washing three or four times a day. Several studies have shown that basic skin care alone improves rosacea.”

Skin care recommendations for patients with rosacea include avoiding chemical or physical exfoliants and alcohol-based topical products, and moisturizing and washing their faces with mild, synthetic detergent-based products rather than traditional soaps, which may further alkalinize and irritate the skin. “Patients should also be counseled to use physical-based sunscreens rather than chemical-based sunscreens,” she said.

Treating erythema

For treating erythema with topicals, a systematic review published in 2019 found the most evidence for brimonidine 0.33% gel, an alpha2-adrenergic agonist, and oxymetazoline 1% cream, an alpha1-adrenergic agonist. “Both of these products functionally constrict facial blood vessels,” and are Food and Drug Administration approved for treating persistent erythema, Dr. Graber said. “These products improve erythema within 3 hours of and up to 12 hours after application and overall, they are well tolerated.”

Subtype 1: Facial redness: Flushing and persistent redness. Visible blood vessels may also appear.

Based on clinical trial results, about 15% of patients on brimonidine report adverse reactions such as dermatitis, burning, pruritus, and erythema, compared with 8% of patients on oxymetazoline. At the same time, up to 20% of individuals on brimonidine report rebound erythema, compared with fewer than 1% of those using oxymetazoline. Laser and light therapies such as pulse-dye lasers, potassium-titanyl-phosphate lasers, and intense-pulse light devices are also effective in treating persistent erythema but are less effective for transient flushing.

Treatment of papules and pustules

For treating papules and pustules, the 2019 systemic review also found high-certainty evidence for using azelaic acid and topical ivermectin, and moderate-certainty evidence for using topical metronidazole and topical minocycline. “Topical ivermectin was demonstrated to be the most effective topical treatment for papulopustular rosacea and to provide the greatest psychological benefit to these patients,” Dr. Graber said.

In a double-blind, multicenter 15-week trial comparing azelaic acid 15% gel with metronidazole 0.75% gel in patients with papulopustular rosacea, both agents were found to be effective. But those treated with azelaic acid 15% gel had a greater reduction in lesion counts and erythema, and improvement in global assessments, compared with metronidazole 0.75% gel. However, the azelaic acid 15% gel was associated with more stinging compared with metronidazole 0.75% gel, although it was usually transient.

Another study, a double-blind, single-center, 15-week trial, compared the efficacy of azelaic acid 20% cream with metronidazole 0.75% cream. Both agents were found to be effective and had similar levels of reductions in papules and pustules. However, patients in the azelaic acid 20% cream arm had significantly higher physician ratings of global improvement, as well as overall higher patient satisfaction.

More recently, a phase 3 study of 962 patients found that ivermectin 1% cream once daily improved quality of life slightly more than metronidazole 0.75% cream twice daily. No difference in adverse events were noted between the two agents.

Other options for treating papules and pustules include topical minocycline 1.5% foam, which is FDA approved for rosacea, as well as second-line agents topical sodium sulfacetamide with sulfur cleanser (cream or lotion), and permethrin, Dr. Graber said.

As for treating papules and pustules with oral agents, the strongest evidence favors oral tetracyclines and isotretinoin, she noted.

Doxycycline, minocycline, tetracycline, and sarecycline can be used as monotherapy or coadministered with topical agents. “The addition of topical agents may also help to shorten the duration of antibiotic use, which is very important,” Dr. Graber said.

She noted that oral beta-blockers might be useful to treat persistent erythema and flushing because they antagonize the effects of sympathetic nerve stimulation and circulating catecholamines at b-adrenoceptors. Carvedilol and propranolol have been the most studied. The most common potential side effects are hypotension and bradycardia.

Dr. Graber disclosed that she is a consultant/adviser for Digital Diagnostics, Almirall, Hovione, Keratin Biosciences, La Roche Posay, Ortho Dermatologics, Sebacia, Sol-Gel, Verrica, and WebMD. She is also a research investigator for Hovione, Ortho Dermatologics, Sebacia, and she receives royalties from Wolters Kluwer Health.

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