Treating Rosacea: Combination Therapy, Benzoyl Peroxide, and the 'STOP' Mnemonic

Doug Brunk

February 28, 2023

HONOLULU – More often than not, patients with rosacea require a combination of treatments to optimize the management of the disease, according to Julie C. Harper, MD.

Dr Julie Harper

"We've been more comfortable with the idea of combination therapy for acne than we have been for rosacea," Dr. Harper, who practices in Birmingham, Ala., said at the Hawaii Dermatology Seminar provided by MedscapeLIVE! "If patients are doing great on one treatment, then don't change it. But if there's room for improvement, think about combinations."

For patients with rosacea, options that work well for papules and pustules aren't effective for redness. Similarly, products that work for redness don't work for telangiectasia. Treatment options for papules and pustules include ivermectin, metronidazole, azelaic acid, sodium sulfacetamide/sulfur, modified release doxycycline, minocycline foam, and microencapsulated benzoyl peroxide, 5%. Options for persistent background erythema include brimonidine and oxymetazoline, as well as device-based treatments, which include the pulsed dye laser, the KTP laser, intense pulsed light, and electrosurgery.

Dr. Harper said that she has been especially surprised by the effectiveness of one of these options, microencapsulated benzoyl peroxide cream, 5% (Epsolay), which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating inflammatory lesions of rosacea in adults. In two identical, phase 3 randomized clinical trials of patients with inflammatory rosacea lesions, those treated with microencapsulated benzoyl peroxide achieved a 68.8% reduction in inflammatory lesions at 12 weeks (including 42.5% at week 2), compared with 38%-46% of those on the vehicle, according to the April 2022 announcement of the approval from the manufacturers, Sol-Gel Technologies and Galderma.

"A common drug is playing a key role," Dr. Harper said. "What's the mechanism of action? I have no idea. I wonder if there may be a bacterial pathogen after all," possibly Staphylococcus epidermidis, she added. However, she noted, "it does appear that benzoyl peroxide has an impact on Demodex, so maybe that's the primary way it's working."

In her opinion, a key standout from the clinical trial data is the drug's rapid onset of action, with a 42.5% reduction of lesions at week 2. "What makes this different is that the 5% microencapsulated benzoyl peroxide cream is wrapped up in a silica shell," said Dr. Harper, a past president of the American Acne and Rosacea Society. "The silica shell kind of acts like a speed bump that slows the release of drug onto the skin. We think that's what may be giving us this better tolerability."

In an interview at the meeting, Linda Stein Gold, MD, director of clinical research and division head of dermatology at the Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, said that prior to the approval of Epsolay, benzoyl peroxide was never considered a first-line treatment for rosacea. "The problem is, the conventional formulation is irritating to the skin," said Dr. Stein Gold, who was involved in clinical trials of Epsolay.

"The benzoyl peroxide encapsulated in the silica shell allows for a slow and steady delivery of medication to the skin in a very controlled manner. It is exceptionally good at getting rosacea under control. In the clinical trials, when we looked at the baseline irritation of the skin and followed those patients when they used the benzoyl 5% microencapsulated benzoyl peroxide cream, the irritation improved."

"STOP" mnemonic

When treating her patients with rosacea, Dr. Harper incorporates the mnemonic "STOP" to these patient visits:

S: Identify signs and symptoms of rosacea.

T: Discuss triggers. "We cannot make this disease triggerless, so when you're talking to your patients, you need to find out what's triggering their rosacea," she said.

O: Agree on a treatment outcome. "What is it that's important to the patient?" she said. "They may tell you, 'I want to be able to not be so red,' or 'I want to get rid of the bumps,' or 'I want my eyes to not feel so dry.' "

P: Develop a plan that helps achieve that desired outcome with patients.

Dr. Harper disclosed ties with Almirall, Cassiopeia, Cutera, Galderma, EPI, L'Oréal, Ortho Dermatologics, Sol Gel, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, and Vyne.

Dr. Stein Gold disclosed ties with Almirall, Cutera, Dermata, Galderma, Novartis, Ortho Dermatologics, and Sun Pharmaceutical Industries.

Medscape and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.