Why Does My Face Turn Red - All Possible Causes

Why Does My Face Turn Red - All Possible Causes
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Flushing and blushing are two closely related conditions where redness in the face occurs. While there is only one letter difference, the causes are quite separate. Flushing is a physiological condition where redness appears due to a physical change in the body, usually presenting itself in the cheeks. Blushing has psychological causes at its root and is often linked to stress and embarrassment. However, there are lots of factors to consider when being red in the face. This article from oneHOWTO details all possible causes why your face turns red, but we are not talking about permanent redness in the face. This is more likely to a specific condition such as rosacea or varicose veins.

Background on flushing and blushing

We associate redness with heat and for good reason. Not only do we see the color in high temperature objects like hot coals, but they are linked together in the cardinal signs of inflammation (redness, heat, swelling, pain and loss of function)[1]. Physiologically, it would make sense that when we overheat, redness might occur. However, we also see redness or flushing in the face when we are cold, so there must be more to it.

When we blush, we might also feel a heat, but since the origin is psychological, the cause must be psychosomatic (our emotions causing a physical reaction in the body). Human communication is very complicated, but it is true that facial recognition is incredibly important. In 2016, a report in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that they could pinpoint the part of the brain where facial recognition occurred[2]. This helps to show that we do process faces neurologically and looking at different ones can have very specific reactions. Even slight changes in our eyebrows can completely change the signal we are making.

When our face turns red, it is a signal from our body that something is happening. It doesn't mean it is something wrong necessarily, it can be for amazing reasons. If someone we like smiles at us, we might blush because we are experiencing attraction. If our face turns flush as we exercise, it is because our body is compensating for the exertion.

We only really blush in the face, whereas flushing can happen in other parts of the body also. (although primarily the face). The reason for the increase in redness in the face specifically is because we have more ability to turn red in the face. Capillaries are small blood vessels and we have a greater percentage of them in our face than we do in other areas of the body.

Again, this is most likely an evolutionary trait to help us signal to other people. This could be fear, excitement, agitation or simple change in body temperature. The causes of redness in the face are almost unlimited, but we know that all possible reasons come from either physiological or psychological.

Here are some of the main culprits in your face turning red:

Eating spicy food

This is one of the obvious ones for anyone who has eaten a spicy curry next to a mirror. You may feel sweat dripping from your temples and become hot under the collar. If you catch a glimpse, you will likely see your cheeks turn red also. This is because the piquancy of spicy food affects our pain receptors in a similar way as heat or other stimuli.

It is not just the face where this redness may occur, but the face is the area closest to the mouth. This is, according to Dr. Barry Green, because the chemical in spicy peppers (capsaicin) "stimulates the nerves that respond only to mild increases in temperature"[3]. Essentially, our brain is tricked into thinking we are hot. This is why we can spicy food "hot" even if it is actually cold in temperature.

Exercise causing redness in the face

One way we might be able to create a fire outdoors is by rubbing two sticks together. This is because the physical exertion causes friction, resulting in heat and then flame. A similar thing happens to out body. Instead of fire occurring, however, our face and body often becomes red. Exercising makes our body generate heat, so our skin needs to cool down. It does this by opening up skin pores and blood vessels.

As we have more blood vessels in our face, these are often some of the first to open. Our core temperature is heated, so our blood moves away from it to the skin in order for it to cool. This results in our face turning red. The amount it turns red can vary according to the condition of our skin, overall health and, especially, our level of fitness[4]. This is why some people might look as fresh as a peach after a marathon, while others like a sack of offal just from climbing the stairs.

Alcohol and face redness

While some may see a person like W.C. Fields, who was notorious for his alcohol consumption, we might think that alcohol is a cause of face redness when it is not. It could be the aforementioned rosacea or even a change in temperature.

You don't need to be an alcoholic to become red in the face. This is because alcohol imbibing causes "alcohol flush reaction". This is when our body starts to break down the alcohol. As it does so, our blood pressure rises and the capillaries dilate. It is merely a sign that our body is doing its job in breaking down the alcohol. Similar redness in the face can occur with drug use such as amphetamines or cocaine.

Oddly, your racial heritage might have a bearing on how red you might be. People of Asian descent are at greater risk of certain disease like esophageal cancer because of a particular enzyme deficiency[5]. This deficiency can also cause alcohol flush in parts all over the body.

Redness and allergic reaction

Redness in the face is a common symptom of an allergic reaction. If you have seen a before and after picture from an antihistamine advertisement, you will notice the before picture often has a dribbling nose and pained expression, but there is also a redness in the face. This isn't just from the amount of sneezing a person does.

Redness occurs because of the allergens attacking the cells in our skin. Our body tries to fight it which can often lead to redness, with or without inflammation. These allergies could be due to anything from touching a certain type of metal or eating a particular food. Stopping the redness involves going to a dermatologist to ascertain what is the allergen causing the redness in your skin.

Side effect of medication

Similar to an allergic reaction, but not the same, we often see people get redness in the face as a side effect to a particular medication. Certain drugs will act on a cellular level to fight infection or to counteract some other problem in the blood. Because of this, redness in the face can increase as the drugs work on your body.

Steroids in particular can cause redness in the face or body. This is often from steroid withdrawal if a topical steroid cream has been used daily for an extended period of time. It is known as red burning skin or steroid dermatitis and it can be quite nasty.

Stress causing redness in the face

Being stressed or anxious is a common cause of redness in the face. We can get agitated and when we do, we might change our behavior. Turning red in the face signals that we are upset, that we need something, whether it be consolation or something stronger like a sedative. The link between skin condition and psychology has some debate[6], but this is more over the exact reaction. It is evident to anyone who has made a public embarrassment of themselves that becoming red in the face is a symptom.

Anger, nervousness or other emotional stress can cause redness in the face. It is often a 'tell' we have to other people that we should be avoided or treated more calmly than usual. It goes to show that become red in the face can be very helpful when we are in trouble.

High blood pressure

This is a very common cause of redness in the face. It can be apparent in those who have pre-existing blood pressure issues. It can also happen if our blood pressure rises for any other reason such as reaction to medication or emotional stimulus.

Red face and sexual intercourse

When we say redness in the face, we don't mean because your roommate has accidentally stepped in on you in the middle of something personal. Out of the many signals our bodies send to each other, sexual stimulation is one of the most important. It is partly how our species has survived this long.

We might get red in the face from sheer exertion during sex, but there is a specific condition for sexual flush. It is known as vasocongestion and it is due to the increased blood flow during sexual stimulation. Some people only get it a little, with light apple cheeks. Others get it all over their body. It can even involve inflammation of areas like the nipples in all sexes.

It might seem like our face turns red for no reason, but this is not the case. It is important to know that it is usually for very good reason. Whether it is as a response to stimuli like medication or exercise or as a psychological response to stress, it is a sign we are working normally. If it is persistent or accompanied by other severe symptoms, it is likely you will need to seek a physician's advice for diagnosis.

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Does My Face Turn Red - All Possible Causes, we recommend you visit our Family health category.

References

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4378297/

2 http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/16/4434

3 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-is-it-that-eating-spi/

4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3063159/

5 https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/alcohol-flush-signals-increased-cancer-risk-among-east-asians

6 http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/02/cover-skin.aspx