A possible link between superoxide dismutase activity and malondialdehyde level with the clinical manifestations of rosacea was investigated. We found differences in superoxide dismutase activities between mild rosacea (stages I and II) and severe involvement (stage III) groups, as well as between disease and control groups that were statistically significant (P < 0.05). In the mild involvement group (stages I and II), the superoxide dismutase activity was higher than in the control group (P < 0.05), while the malondialdehyde levels did not differ from the control. In the severe involvement group (stage III), the superoxide dismutase activity was lower than in the control group (P < 0.05), and this was coupled to a raised level of malondialdehyde (P < 0.05). These findings clearly show that in the mild involvement phase of rosacea patients, superoxide dismutase activity was stimulated to protect the skin against reactive oxygen species so that the malondialdehyde levels were maintained. In contrast, in more severe disease, due to a decrease in the capacity of the antioxidant defence system, the malondialdehyde levels were increased. These findings support the 'antioxidant system defect hypothesis' in rosacea patients.