Interventions for rosacea

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Apr 28;2015(4):CD003262. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003262.pub5.


Background: Rosacea is a common chronic skin condition affecting the face, characterised by flushing, redness, pimples, pustules and dilated blood vessels. The eyes are often involved and thickening of the skin with enlargement (phymas), especially of the nose, can occur in some people. A range of treatment options are available but it is unclear which are most effective.

Objectives: To assess the efficacy and safety of treatments for rosacea.

Search methods: We updated our searches, to July 2014, of: the Cochrane Skin Group Specialised Register, CENTRAL in The Cochrane Library (2014, Issue 6), MEDLINE (from 1946), EMBASE (from 1974) and Science Citation Index (from 1988). We searched five trials registers and checked reference lists for further relevant studies.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials in people with moderate to severe rosacea.

Data collection and analysis: Study selection, data extraction, risk of bias assessment and analyses were carried out independently by two authors.

Main results: We included 106 studies, comprising 13,631 participants. Sample sizes of 30-100 and study duration of two to three months were most common. More women than men were included, mean age of 48.6 years, and the majority had papulopustular rosacea, followed by erythematotelangiectatic rosacea.A wide range of comparisons (67) were evaluated. Topical interventions: metronidazole, azelaic acid, ivermectin, brimonidine or other topical treatments. Systemic interventions: oral antibiotics, combinations with topical treatments or other systemic treatments, i.e. isotretinoin. Several studies evaluated laser or light-based treatment.The majority of studies (57/106) were assessed as 'unclear risk of bias', 37 'high risk ' and 12 'low risk'. Twenty-two studies provided no usable or retrievable data i.e. none of our outcomes were addressed, no separate data reported for rosacea or limited data in abstracts.Eleven studies assessed our primary outcome 'change in quality of life', 52 studies participant-assessed changes in rosacea severity and almost all studies addressed adverse events, although often only limited data were provided. In most comparisons there were no statistically significant differences in number of adverse events, most were mild and transient. Physician assessments including investigators' global assessments, lesion counts and erythema were evaluated in three-quarters of the studies, but time needed for improvement and duration of remission were incompletely or not reported.The quality of the body of evidence was rated moderate to high for most outcomes, but for some outcomes low to very low.Data for several outcomes could only be pooled for topical metronidazole and azelaic acid. Both were shown to be more effective than placebo in papulopustular rosacea (moderate quality evidence for metronidazole and high for azelaic acid). Pooled data from physician assessments in three trials demonstrated that metronidazole was more effective compared to placebo (risk ratio (RR) 1.98, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.29 to 3.02). Four trials provided data on participants' assessments, illustrating that azelaic acid was more effective than placebo (RR 1.46, 95% CI 1.30 to 1.63). The results from three studies were contradictory on which of these two treatments was most effective.Two studies showed a statistically significant and clinically important improvement in favour of topical ivermectin when compared to placebo (high quality evidence). Participants' assessments in these studies showed a RR of 1.78 (95% CI 1.50 to 2.11) and RR of 1.92 (95% CI 1.59 to 2.32),which were supported by physicians' assessments. Topical ivermectin appeared to be slightly more effective than topical metronidazole for papulopustular rosacea, based on one study, for improving quality of life and participant and physician assessed outcomes (high quality evidence for these outcomes).Topical brimonidine in two studies was more effective than vehicle in reducing erythema in rosacea at all time points over 12 hours (high quality evidence). At three hours the participants' assessments had a RR of 2.21 (95% CI 1.52 to 3.22) and RR of 2.00 (95% CI 1.33 to 3.01) in favour of brimonidine. Physicians' assessments confirmed these data. There was no rebound or worsening of erythema after treatment cessation.Topical clindamycin phosphate combined with tretinoin was not considered to be effective compared to placebo (moderate quality evidence).Topical ciclosporin ophthalmic emulsion demonstrated effectiveness and improved quality of life for people with ocular rosacea (low quality evidence).Of the comparisons assessing oral treatments for papulopustular rosacea there was moderate quality evidence that tetracycline was effective but this was based on two old studies of short duration. Physician-based assessments in two trials indicated that doxycycline appeared to be significantly more effective than placebo (RR 1.59, 95% CI 1.02 to 2.47 and RR 2.37, 95% CI 1.12 to 4.99) (high quality evidence). There was no statistically significant difference in effectiveness between 100 mg and 40 mg doxycycline, but there was evidence of fewer adverse effects with the lower dose (RR 0.25, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.54) (low quality evidence). There was very low quality evidence from one study (assessed at high risk of bias) that doxycycline 100 mg was as effective as azithromycin. Low dose minocycline (45 mg) was effective for papulopustular rosacea (low quality evidence).Oral tetracycline was compared with topical metronidazole in four studies and showed no statistically significant difference between the two treatments for any outcome (low to moderate quality evidence).Low dose isotretinoin was considered by both the participants (RR 1.23, 95% CI 1.05 to 1.43) and physicians (RR 1.18, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.36) to be slightly more effective than doxycycline 50-100 mg (high quality evidence).Pulsed dye laser was more effective than yttrium-aluminium-garnet (Nd:YAG) laser based on one study, and it appeared to be as effective as intense pulsed light therapy (both low quality evidence).

Authors' conclusions: There was high quality evidence to support the effectiveness of topical azelaic acid, topical ivermectin, brimonidine, doxycycline and isotretinoin for rosacea. Moderate quality evidence was available for topical metronidazole and oral tetracycline. There was low quality evidence for low dose minocycline, laser and intense pulsed light therapy and ciclosporin ophthalmic emulsion for ocular rosacea. Time needed to response and response duration should be addressed more completely, with more rigorous reporting of adverse events. Further studies on treatment of ocular rosacea are warranted.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use
  • Brimonidine Tartrate
  • Cyclosporine / therapeutic use
  • Dermatologic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Dicarboxylic Acids / therapeutic use
  • Doxycycline / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ivermectin / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Metronidazole / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • Ophthalmic Solutions / therapeutic use
  • Quinoxalines / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Rosacea / drug therapy*
  • Tetracycline / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Dicarboxylic Acids
  • Ophthalmic Solutions
  • Quinoxalines
  • Metronidazole
  • Brimonidine Tartrate
  • Ivermectin
  • Cyclosporine
  • azelaic acid
  • Tetracycline
  • Doxycycline