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Why is my face red?

Reddening of the face can have a number of causes, the most common being blushing and rosacea.

Blushing, or flushing, is when your face, ears, neck, and occasionally your upper chest, becomes red in colour. This is sometimes accompanied by a hot feeling in the area. Your skin contains a network of small blood vessels which have tiny muscles inside the walls. Normal blushing happens when a strong emotional trigger stimulates the nervous system to widen the blood vessels in the face. This increases the flow of blood into the blood vessels just underneath the skin, causing your face to turn red.

Blushing affects both men and women, but is more common in teenagers due to anxiety, feeling nervous, or hormonal activity. Women having hot flushes during the menopause may find that these make their face go red.

The small muscles in the blood vessels are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which is the network of nerves in the body that produce automatic reactions. You have no control over this. Some people blush more easily than others. For example, after eating spicy food, one person's face may become only a little flushed while someone else's may become very red. It's the same with exercise. Some people go very red, while others don't.

Drinking alcohol can cause the face to go red for some people. This flushing of the face may be a sign of alcohol intolerance or a reaction to an ingredient in the drink.

Rosacea

Redness of the face can also be caused by a condition called rosacea. The cause of rosacea is not fully understood, but many think that the defect lies in the blood vessels in the skin of the face, which dilate too easily.

Rosacea starts with a tendency to blush and flush easily. After a while, the central areas of the face become a deeper shade of red and end up staying this colour all the time. The area can become studded with small red bumps (papules) and pus spots, which come and go in crops. Small dilated blood vessels may appear, looking like thin red streaks. Scarring is seldom a problem.

Rosacea appears to be quite common, with some estimates suggesting up to 1 in 10 people may have it. Around 1 in every 600 people in the UK is diagnosed with the condition each year. It most commonly affects people with fair skin, but can also occur in people of Asian and African origin.

Triggers

Rosacea can be triggered by:

  • Certain foods and drinks, such as spicy food, alcohol and hot drinks.
  • Weather conditions, such as hot, cold, or humid weather, wind or sunshine. You should protect your skin with a high SPF sunscreen.
  • Emotional states, such as stress, anxiety, embarrassment, anger, or a sudden burst of laugher.
  • The menopause.
  • Skin products.
  • Some medications, such as topical steroids, some blood pressure medicines and opiate pain killers.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on July 03, 2015

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