When you push through a tough workout, you expect to get a little sweaty; you expect to get a little red. Me, though? My face goes from normal to tomato in 10 minutes flat—and stays red for hours afterward. It’s been a thing since the mile-run in seventh-grade gym class, and I’ve grown more self-conscious of it over the years.
I love to exercise—but what I don’t love is people asking me if I’m okay in the middle of a workout class because my face looks like it’s on fire. Yes, I feel fine.
Through the years, I’ve met other people who experience the same mysterious reaction while they’re working out. In hopes of finally getting to the bottom of things, I asked a dermatologist what the redness really means—and if there’s anything to do about it.
Why Your Face Gets Red When You Work Out
There’s a pretty simple reason that people get red when they work out. “The physical demand of exercise increases blood flow to all of your blood vessels, including the many blood vessels in your face,” Janiene Luke, M.D., a dermatologist at Loma Linda University Health, told me. “The face, in particular, has a very rich blood supply, so when you’re exercising, the blood vessels rapidly fill with blood (a.k.a. dilate), which can make the face appear red.”
Why Some People Get Redder Than Others
Good to know, but this didn’t explain why my face turns a much brighter shade than everyone else’s.
According to Luke, it may have something to do with my complexion. Though everyone experiences the increased blood flow to the face during exercise, it’s typically more noticeable in people with lighter skin tones.
Read More: Why Do Some People Sweat More Than Others?
Finally, an answer! I am very, very fair—like practically transparent, especially in the winter—so this felt like a lightbulb moment. My Sicilian-skinned fiancé might be working just as hard as me, but his skin hides the flush better than mine.
That said, exposure to excessive heat and anxiety also cause the blood vessels in your face to dilate, Luke says. Though these factors certainly don’t apply to every workout I do, I understand now that they may certainly play a role.
When To See A Doc About Your Flushed Face
In some cases, redness can indicate that something else is going on beneath the surface.
Often, redness is associated with a common skin condition called rosacea, says Luke. “In this instance, underlying inflammation in the skin leads to abnormal vascular changes that contribute to more pronounced facial blood vessels and flushing.”
If you notice consistent redness—even when you’re not working out—check in with a dermatologist. They may be able to prescribe a medication that constricts blood vessels and lessens the appearance of facial redness.
Certain medications and hormonal imbalances can also contribute to facial flushing, so talk to your doctor if you think either might be making you tomato-faced.
How To Keep Your Face As Flush-Free As Possible
Though talking with an expert made me feel better about my red-face status during workouts, I still wanted to know if there was anything I could do—aside from just not working out—to keep my skin calm.
One option: focusing my workouts on intervals so my face had a chance to chill. “Taking short breaks allows for intermittent cooling and gives the body an opportunity to recover,” says Luke. Staying well-hydrated during a session can help, too.
After a good workout, Luke also recommends applying a cool towel to your face or behind your neck for a few minutes—something I can totally get on-board with, especially during the summer. Of course, drinking water after exercising can help here, too. As if I needed another reason to hydrate!
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