Medical News Today: What causes rosy cheeks?

Many people associate rosy cheeks with good health, and cosmetic and fashion trends often encourage the use of makeup and other techniques to achieve this appearance. However, rosy cheeks are not necessarily a sign of health or vitality.

Rosy cheeks occur as a result of blood vessels widening near the surface of the skin. In many cases, the body will react like this for benign reasons, such as trying to warm the skin up in cold conditions.

However, rosy cheeks can sometimes signify a more severe condition. It is important for a person to know the potential causes of rosy cheeks and the other symptoms that may occur alongside them.

In this article, we take a look at nine possible causes of rosy cheeks. Most are benign, but some may benefit from a doctor’s attention.

Acne

Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. Acne is the result of pores in the skin becoming clogged, and it can cause redness in the areas that it affects, which may include the cheeks.

When the body sheds dead skin cells, these cells typically rise to the surface of the skin and fall away naturally.

Sebum, an oil that keeps the skin hydrated, can interrupt this process in some people. The dead skin cells and sebum can bind together and get stuck in the pores.

Acne can appear when the clogged pores also trap bacteria and an infection begins under the surface of the skin. The bacteria can multiply quickly and cause the skin to look red and swollen.

Management tips

People can often treat acne at home with over-the-counter (OTC) and homemade or natural remedies. Some recommendations from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) include:

  • washing twice a day with warm water
  • washing after sweating
  • using shampoo regularly, especially on oily hair
  • being gentle with the skin and avoiding scrubbing and harsh skin products
  • keeping hands away from the face
  • staying out of the sun when possible and avoiding tanning
  • allowing the skin to heal naturally when affected
  • avoiding popping pimples

Rosacea

Rosacea is a common and often unrecognized disorder. The National Rosacea Society estimate that over 16 million people in the U.S. have rosacea, with many being unaware.

Rosacea typically causes blushing reactions on a person’s face and small, red bumps that resemble acne. People may often mistake it for other conditions.

People with rosacea often report that the condition causes them embarrassment and a desire to avoid social occasions. According to National Rosacea Society surveys, over 90 percent of people with rosacea report having lower self-esteem and self-confidence due to the condition.

What to do

Rosacea has no known cure and will continue to get worse without treatment. However, people with rosacea can manage the condition.

A person who suspects that they have rosacea should contact a doctor or dermatologist to discuss the warning signs and start treatment as soon as possible.


Reactions to food

Spicy or hot foods can cause the facial skin to become red.

Compounds in these foods can trigger the central nervous system, which causes blood vessels in the skin to dilate as they would in the heat. The same reaction can also cause sweat to form.

Management tips

The best way to prevent flushing from spicy foods is to avoid eating the foods that cause a reaction. Hot chili peppers and foods at high temperatures, such as soup, can trigger the response.

Limiting the amount of spice in food and letting food cool down before eating can reduce the risk of flushing.


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Medication

person taking painkillers held in palm of hand while holding a glass of water in the other
A person may experience a facial flush after taking medication.

Specific medications can trigger facial flushing. This symptom is often due to histamine, a chemical that the immune system releases in reaction to the drug.

Several medications could cause flushing to occur. Some examples include:

  • opioids, such as morphine
  • niacin
  • nitroglycerin
  • amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite
  • calcium-channel blockers
  • sildenafil citrate, known as Viagra
  • oral triamcinolone
  • rifampin

Management tips

As histamine often causes the reaction, a person could counteract the effects with an antihistamine or allergy medication.

In other cases, a person may prefer not to take the medication that causes the flushing response. Talking to a doctor before stopping any medications is essential. The doctor will be able to provide advice on the individual’s options for dealing with the reactions.

Hot flashes

Hot flashes often occur when people transition to menopause. A hot flash is a sensation of intense heat that can last from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. During a hot flash, the face may become flushed or red.

Doctors are still unsure exactly what causes hot flashes. However, they believe that estrogen plays a part in affecting the body’s heat regulation. The brain senses that the body is too hot, which triggers a sweat reaction and flushing. A person’s levels of estrogen decline during menopause.

Management tips

To help prevent hot flashes, people can avoid known triggers. Some things that may trigger hot flashes can include:

  • smoking
  • hot showers or baths
  • hot weather
  • alcohol
  • spicy or hot foods
  • caffeine

Eating a diet rich in plant-based foods and making lifestyle changes to incorporate more relaxation and exercise could also be beneficial.

If these steps do not help, a person should ask their doctor about other treatment options.


Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that affects many of the body’s systems and organs, including the skin.

One of the disease’s early signs can be a butterfly-shaped reddish-brown rash across the cheeks and the bridge of the nose. When the disease flares up, the rash may look like sunburn on the face.

The technical term for this rash is malar rash.

What to do

Lupus is a condition that requires a doctor to diagnose and treat it. Although it is not possible to cure this disease, treatments can help minimize flare-ups and complications.

Learn more about malar rash.

Eczema

Eczema is the name for a number of rashes that may cause the skin to be red, itchy, and swollen. The condition often appears for the first time in young children under the age of 5 but can remain as a child gets older. Conversely, some adults develop eczema as they age.

Management tips

There is no cure for eczema. However, there are many creams and medications that people with eczema can use to reduce and relieve their symptoms.

Learn more about eczema.


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Sunburn

Overexposure to the sun can result in sunburned skin. Many people will experience sunburn at some point in their lives, especially on areas of the body that often get exposure to the sun, such as the face.

Management tips

man with sunburn and rosy cheeks
A person can experience rosy cheeks due to sunburn.

Wearing sunscreen and avoiding the sun during peak hours can help prevent sunburn.

If sunburn occurs, the following steps can aid healing and reduce discomfort:

  • taking a cool bath or shower
  • applying a moisturizer, but not one that contains petroleum
  • allowing any blisters to heal and not popping them
  • drinking extra water to prevent dehydration

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can also help minimize the redness, swelling, and pain of sunburn.

Petroleum-free moisturizers are available to buy online.


Alcohol

Although it is a less common cause, consuming alcohol can make the face turn red. When the body processes alcohol, it produces a compound called acetaldehyde. Some people are unable to process this compound, so it builds up in the blood, resulting in facial flushing.

Statistics have shown that facial flushing after drinking alcohol is more common among East Asian populations than Western populations.

Some studies have linked raised levels of acetaldehyde in the body with an increased risk of certain cancers. At present, however, research is inconclusive.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, people do not need to seek medical attention at the first sign of rosy cheeks. It is often possible to monitor and treat the condition at home.

However, people should seek medical attention if they experience any of the following:

  • redness that lasts for more than a week
  • persistent acne
  • redness that leads to problems with self-esteem or self-confidence
  • redness in the shape of a butterfly on the face

It is also vital to be aware of potential signs of imminent danger. If a red face occurs alongside some of the following symptoms, it is important to seek immediate medical attention:

  • wheezing
  • hives
  • trouble breathing
  • swelling in the mouth or throat
  • dizziness or lightheadedness

Takeaway

Some people can feel embarrassed by having rosy cheeks, but they are not often a cause for immediate concern.

A person with rosy cheeks should seek medical advice or attention if this condition causes anxiety, is accompanied by more severe symptoms, or does not go away after treatment.

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