Flushed Skin: Everything You Need to Know
For most people, flushed skin is not typically a cause for concern. However, for some individuals, it may indicate an underlying health condition — particularly if they experience other symptoms at the same time.
Read on to learn more about flushed skin, including what can cause it and how to treat it.
Flushed skin, also known as flushing or blushed skin, occurs when the skin becomes red and sometimes hot to the touch. This typically affects the face, neck, and upper trunk. Most cases of flushed skin or facial flushing are not a cause for concern and occur due to exercise, certain foods, alcohol, or particular medications.
Flushing can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as rosacea or carcinoid syndrome. Depending on the cause of your flushed skin, you can manage it by avoiding certain triggers or taking prescribed medications.
People tend to use the terms “skin flushing” and “blushing” interchangeably. Both refer to warmth and redness of the skin, typically in the face and neck area.
“Physiological flushing” is also a term that people use to describe blushing. This particularly refers to flushing that happens as a result of social anxiety or embarrassment.
Vs. facial rashes
Facial flushing occurs when the surface of the skin becomes hot and red. This is due to changes in the blood vessels beneath the skin.
Contrastingly, a rash appears on the surface of the skin as a result of a breakout of skin lesions. A rash can be dry, itchy, scaly, or bumpy.
Some conditions, such as rosacea, may present both facial flushing and a face rash.
Flushing of the skin occurs when the blood vessels beneath the skin’s surface become dilated for any reason. This process can occur as a response to intense emotions, as a result of exercise or high temperatures, or due to an underlying medical condition.
Lifestyle and environmental causes of flushed skin can include:
- Hot or spicy foods: Certain hot or spicy foods can trigger flushed skin. This is because they can affect the way the body regulates temperature.
- Alcohol consumption: If your skin becomes flushed when you drink alcohol, it can be a symptom of alcohol intolerance.
- Drugs and medications: Certain medications can also cause flushed skin, including:
- calcium channel blockers
- morphine and other opiates
- cholinergic drugs
- gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs
- thyrotropin-releasing hormone
- sildenafil citrate
- nicotinic acid (excluding nicotinamide)
- amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite
- cyproterone acetate
- Sunburn: With sunburn, your skin will be hot to the touch and usually painful. A pharmacist will be able to recommend soothing gels or creams that can help alleviate these symptoms.
- Exercise: Following a workout, your skin may become flushed due to an increase in body temperature. This flushing should fade as your body cools down.
Medical causes of flushed skin can include:
- An overactive thyroid: If you have an overactive thyroid, you may experience flushing. This can accompany neck swelling, anxiety, mood shifts, and difficulty sleeping.
- Rosacea: Rosacea typically begins with skin flushing or blushing easily. Over time, this redness in the face can last longer, and it may not fade at all. Rosacea is a common condition, affecting around 16 million people in the United States.
- Menopause: During menopause, flushing can accompany sweating. Each hot flash typically lasts 1–5 minutes.
- Headaches: Facial flushing is an autonomic symptom of headaches. It can help determine the type of headache you are experiencing, such as a cluster headache or migraine episode.
- Red skin syndrome: Topical corticosteroids can cause red skin syndrome if not used correctly. Tingling, itching, and swelling may accompany a flushed face, which exposure to the sun can make worse.
- Carcinoid syndrome: Carcinoid syndrome refers to a set of symptoms that indicate a carcinoid tumor. Paroxysmal flushing, which refers to flushing that comes on suddenly out of nowhere, is present in most cases.
- Harlequin syndrome: With Harlequin syndrome, flushing occurs on one side of the face. It may be brought on by exercise.
- Frey’s syndrome: Also known as auriculotemporal nerve syndrome, Frey’s syndrome manifests as flushing and sweating on either side or on both sides of the face when an individual eats or thinks about food.
- Fifth disease: Fifth disease is also known as “slapped cheek” disease, as an affected child has a rash on the cheek. The skin can feel hot and flushed.
- Medullary thyroid carcinoma: This is a type of cancer of the thyroid. Flushing is the most common symptom after diarrhea.
- Scarlet fever: Scarlet fever typically begins with a fever and a sore throat. The cheeks can look flushed or rosy, though there may be a pale area around the mouth.
- Yellow fever: The viral disease yellow fever is spread by mosquitos. Alongside flushed skin, symptoms can include fever, nausea, constipation, muscle pain, restlessness, and irritability.
Flushing of the face may accompany other symptoms affecting the facial skin. For example, symptoms of rosacea also include spots and visible blood vessels on the face.
If you experience other symptoms alongside flushed skin, there may be a specific underlying cause or condition. Symptoms to look out for include:
- sweating, which can indicate menopause if it accompanies flushing episodes of around 1–5 minutes
- spots and visible blood vessels, which might indicate rosacea
- acne-like pimples, itchiness, and swelling, which may be a result of red skin syndrome
- eyelid drooping and eye redness, which may be symptoms of migraine
- diarrhea, which is a frequent symptom of carcinoid syndrome
Contact your doctor if you experience any other symptoms alongside flushed skin, particularly if you are unable to identify the cause of any of the symptoms.
Depending on the cause of your flushed skin, you may be able to manage or treat the issue. Doing so may involve avoiding triggers, taking medications, or undergoing surgery.
The following advice and treatment options may help reduce your flushed skin:
- Avoid any triggers that you know cause facial flushing. These triggers can include certain foods and alcohol.
- If a medication is causing flushed skin, contact your doctor to discuss this side effect. They may be able to alter the dosage or suggest a different prescription.
- Beta-blockers can help reduce anxiety, which can otherwise cause flushing. They can also help reduce anxiety that occurs as a result of flushed skin.
- Clonidine is a medication that changes the body’s response to naturally occurring chemicals that contribute to flushed skin.
- Botox injections can temporarily paralyze the nerves in the skin that cause blushing. This effect can last up to 6 months.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help reduce facial flushing when it occurs due to anxiety or social discomfort.
- Vascular laser treatment can remove the small blood vessels that contribute to facial flushing.
- Your doctor may recommend endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy for severe facial flushing. A healthcare professional will perform this procedure while you are under general anesthesia. It is generally a last resort.
If your flushed skin occurs as a result of a specific condition, your doctor will be able to recommend a condition-specific treatment. For example, treatment could include hormone replacement therapy or medication for menopause, or moisturizing treatments for rosacea.
Contact a doctor if you experience frequent flushed skin that occurs alongside pain or other facial symptoms, such as spots or rashes. A doctor will be able to rule out possible causes before identifying any underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms.
If you experience flushing or blushing due to anxiety or social fears, or if this symptom is affecting your everyday life, contact your doctor to discuss this. They will be able to refer you to a psychologist or another mental health specialist, who will be able to provide you with advice on overcoming your symptoms.
To diagnose an underlying condition that is causing your flushed skin, your doctor will look into your medical history and carry out some tests as necessary. These can include blood tests, urine tests, and chest X-rays.
If the doctor suspects that flushing is due to a specific condition, they may refer you to a specialist. For example, a dermatologist will be able to determine whether or not you are experiencing symptoms of rosacea.
Questions your doctor may ask
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or skin specialist will ask you several questions related to your flushing. These questions may include the following:
- How long has your flushing been present?
- Are you experiencing any other symptoms?
- How often do you experience flushing?
- Is the flushing worse after you consume alcohol or specific foods?
- Is your flushing becoming worse or more frequent?
If you have any questions you would like to ask your doctor, write them down before your appointment. This way, you will be able to prepare, which may help you feel more at ease during the appointment.
Once you know what is causing your facial flushing, it may be possible to prevent it from occurring. This will depend on the underlying cause of the flushed skin, but some steps you may be able to take include:
- avoiding any known triggers, such as spicy foods or alcohol
- taking beta-blockers your doctor may prescribe, as this can help reduce anxiety
- not taking any medications that cause flushing, which you can discuss with your doctor
- taking clonidine, which can change the way your blood vessels behave, reducing the likelihood of facial flushing
- trying CBT, which can help you manage situations that may lead to anxiety-induced flushing
These steps may help prevent flushed skin from occurring, but if there is an underlying condition that causes flushing, more specific treatments may be required.
Do not take any medication for flushed skin that your doctor or pharmacist does not recommend.
Flushed skin is a temporary reddening of the skin that can occur suddenly. This typically affects the face and neck as well as the chest.
Flushing may happen as a result of eating spicy foods, exercising, or experiencing an increase in temperature. However, it may also be a symptom of an underlying syndrome or condition. For example, it might indicate rosacea, menopause, or an overactive thyroid.
Treatment options will depend on the cause of the flushing, but they can include medications such as beta-blockers, therapy options such as CBT, moisturizing treatments, and laser therapy. Surgery may be an option as a last resort for severe cases of flushing.
Contact your doctor if you experience flushed skin alongside other symptoms or find that flushing is affecting your everyday life. The doctor will be able to conduct tests or refer you to a specialist, such as a dermatologist, to determine the cause of the flushing.