Working out is a sweaty business, but it can leave some people red in the face. To answer this reader’s question, we turned to a board certified physician for information and advice.
Dear Dr. Sugar,
I still have to take PE in school this year and next, and I turn beet red. It’s really embarrassing; no one else seems to get as red as I do. It makes me sad to be teased about it . . . Is there any way to get less red?
— Feeling Rosie
We all worry about red faces (blushing, rashes, acne, etc.), but when it comes to exercise and a red face, there really shouldn’t be too much worry, as it typically represents your body’s normal reaction to the physical demands of exercise! I suffer from a seriously red face after vigorous exercise, and sometimes it lasts for hours after I’ve cooled down! Most of my fair-skinned family reacts the same way, and we’ve learned to just accept it. To learn more about exercise and a red face, keep reading!
When you exercise, many changes happen in your body. You will breathe faster to maximize the amount of oxygen in your blood. Your heart will beat faster, which increases blood flow to your muscles. Your small blood vessels (capillaries) will widen (vasodilation) to deliver more oxygen to your muscles and carry away waste products that build up. It is this vasodilation, or widening, of the capillaries that causes the flushing of your skin (and yes, your face), during exercise!
Also, when you exercise, your body temperature increases, and as WebMD states, blood vessels dilate and carry more blood to the skin’s surface, causing one to sweat and cool off. Both of these mechanisms can lead to a flushed, red face, which can be especially more noticeable in fair-skinned individuals.
Medline Plus states other causes of facial redness, including: extreme emotions, hot or spicy foods, rosacea, alcohol use, carcinoid syndrome (a group of symptoms associated with carcinoid tumors), certain medications to treat diabetes or high cholesterol, high fever, menopause, and rapid changes in temperature. Rosacea, acne, allergic reactions/hives, lupus, and perimenopause can also be causes.
Most facial redness during exercise can be considered normal; however, if you are concerned or worried that the redness represents something more than just the normal cooling-down process, or if it is accompanied by other symptoms including diarrhea, shortness of breath, palpitations, low blood pressure, or light-headedness, you should consider being evaluated by your primary care physician in order to rule out any medical condition. Also, read up on heat exhaustion and heat stroke in order to be aware of symptoms that these conditions cause, and seek immediate treatment if they occur.
While the redness that you are experiencing likely cannot be “cured” or “fixed”, you can take certain preventative measures to try and reduce the redness. Try exercising in a cool environment and wearing light-colored and loose fitting clothing. Avoiding exercise during early and midafternoon may reduce your heat exposure. Also, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water will help in keeping your body temperature stable and may help with redness. Scaling down the intensity of the workout may also help a little with the redness as will taking some time to cool down.