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Why does my face get so flushed after I workout and why does this seem to happen to some people (me!) more than others? Is there anything I can do about it?
-- Sarah, 29, Brooklyn, NY
The first thing you can do about it is relax! There’s nothing wrong with getting red -- or even fuschia -- in the face.
When you exercise, capillaries in your face and throughout your body dilate and blood flows through them in an effort to move the heat your body is generating to the skin's surface, where it can be radiated off. This effort helps to keep you cool while you work out, but it can also make your skin look flushed -- especially in the face.
“Patients who get pink in the face following exercise usually have more superficial blood vessels in the skin of the cheeks and chin,” Dr. James Marotta, a dual board certified facial plastic surgeon in practice in Long Island, NY tells HuffPost Healthy Living. “The result is that temporarily more blood is flowing through these superficial vessels resulting in a pink or ruddy complexion.”
But Dr. Naila Malik, a dermatologist in practice in Southlake, Texas and the creator of the Naila MD Skincare line disagrees. "It is less likely that the 'red blushers' have more capillaries under the skin of their faces than their 'pinkish glower' counterparts in the physiologic range of blushing."
Instead, she offers this explanation to:
"Some people blush more than others and this is more likely due to the fact that these people have a more significant dilatation of the capillaries than the ones who merely get a pinkish glow; Plus the dilatation is more prolonged in these 'blushers' hence they stay redder for longer periods of time."
Dr. Bobby Buka, a dermatologist based in New York City says that both Malik and Marotta are right; while some people -- often those of Anglo-Saxon heritage -- have more capillaries in their faces to begin with, others may have one of several conditions that can cause more blood to flow through the same number of capillaries.
If you have more capillaries in your face to begin with (i.e. those of Anglo-Saxon heritage), then exercising will cause them to fill (how we shunt heat from our bodies by redistributing blood closer to the skin’s surface) and give you a flush-face. On the other hand, several conditions can cause more blood to flow through the same number of capillaries.
"If you suffer from rosacea or other 'vasomotor' dysfunction (i.e. the way your skin’s nerve fibers are wired to your blood vessels), then even though you may have the same number of capillaries as your neighbor, those caps will inappropriately dilate to give you a flushed face," Buka wrote in an email to HuffPost Healthy Living. "Which is more common? Probably the former."
Of course, if you’re exercising in extreme heat, a red face could indicate the onset of heatstroke. Other symptoms of heatstroke include excessive sweating, nausea and lightheadedness, according to the Mayo Clinic. Heatstroke requires immediate medical attention, as it causes your body's temperature to exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit and can lead to brain, heart, kidney and muscle damage.
But if the cause is simply exertion, there is little you can do without surgical intervention. “Intense pulsed light or laser treatments can diminish the overall number of blood vessels, rid patients of unwanted spider veins, and diminish overly ruddy or reactive facial skin,” says Marotta.
Or you can just enjoy a temporary rosy glow -- and a face that announces to the world that you've been living healthfully.