What Causes Blushing?

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on February 20, 2023
5 min read

Blushing is triggered by emotions that send blood to your face, causing your cheeks to turn red. There are several conditions that may make you look like you are blushing when you are not. Cold weather can turn your cheeks red, but so can lupus or an allergic reaction.

Learn about what's making you blush and when to see your doctor about it.

Intense feelings like stress, anger, or embarrassment can cause the blood vessels in your face to widen. This is a normal reaction of your nervous system but can be severe if you have anxiety.

If your emotions make you feel flushed, you could also notice:

  • Sweating
  • Feeling of heat in your face

If blushing is a frequent and embarrassing problem for you, you can get help for it. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches you to be more aware of your thoughts and feelings, can help control this type of blushing. Your doctor could also prescribe medicine that improves your body's response to stress.

Around the time that a woman's periods stop for good, they can have hot flashes. These sudden rushes of heat happen because of changes in hormones and in the part of the brain that controls body temperature.

Hot flashes are often most intense on your face, neck, and chest. You could also have:

  • A faster heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Red, blotchy skin
  • Chills once the hot flash ends

You can try to sip a cool drink, take deep breaths, or dress in layers that you can remove when you get warm. If that doesn't help, talk to your doctor about hormone therapy or other drugs that could offer relief.

Also known as atopic dermatitis, this skin condition can cause an angry-looking rash on your cheeks. While this may look like blushing sometimes, it isn't. It has nothing to do with dilated blood vessels. If you have darker skin, eczema can cause darker brown, purple, or gray patches instead of red ones.Eczema doesn't come and go within minutes like blushing. It is a rash. You most often see this in infants.

Other signs can include:

While there's no cure for eczema, your doctor can prescribe medicines that soothe your skin and ease any swelling. In babies, it sometimes goes away on its own. If not, it can get milder as you age.

A common condition called rosacea makes the blood vessels in your face swell and become more visible. Rosacea itself isn't blushing, but can be complicated by "flushing" which comes and goes and can be linked to sweating. Anyone can have rosacea, but it happens most often in middle-aged women with fair skin.

If you have rosacea, you might also notice:

  • Red bumps that could be filled with pus
  • Dry eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Thickened skin on your nose

Rosacea doesn't have a cure, but your doctor can prescribe different medicines that lessen blushing and relieve the other symptoms.

Some people are born with a gene that makes it hard for their liver to break down alcohol. It's a condition called "alcohol intolerance." This doesn't mean you get drunk faster, but it will cause your face, neck, and chest to redden as toxins from the alcohol build up in your body.

If alcohol makes you blush when you drink, you could also have:

  • Hives
  • Stuffy nose
  • Upset stomach
  • Fast heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

There's no cure for alcohol intolerance. Many people who have it simply don't drink. If your symptoms are severe or you're in pain, call your doctor right away.

Although it's rare, alcohol intolerance can narrow your throat and make it hard to breathe. If so, you'll need emergency medical care.

If your skin touches something that irritates it or that you're allergic to, you might get a red rash. Doctors call this dermatitis. Many different things, like cosmetics, dyes, detergents, and cleaners, can cause it.

If dermatitis is the reason you have a red rash, you could also have:

  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Scaly skin
  • Painful bumps

Once you stop touching or using whatever inflamed your skin, the redness should go away over time. If not, a dermatologist can help.

The same bacteria that cause strep throat can lead to scarlet fever. Although it spreads easily between any people who are in close contact, children between the ages of 5 and 15 years old are most likely to get it.

If scarlet fever is the reason why you have a flushed face, look for other symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Sunburn-like rash all over your body
  • Red, bumpy tongue that might also have a white coating

You need to take antibiotics for scarlet fever. If not, the bacteria can spread to your blood and organs, including your kidneys and lungs.

Some medicines, like calcium channel blockers and chemotherapy drugs, relax the blood vessels in your face and make you look flushed. Others cause your skin to react to the sun, so after being outside, you have what looks like a sunburn. Your face can also turn red if you use too much of a medicine, such as a steroid cream.

If your cheeks are red because of a drug, other symptoms may be:

  • Acne-like bumps
  • Skin that looks discolored or bruised
  • Peeling
  • Painful skin

Review all the medicines you take, including supplements and over-the-counter drugs, with your doctor. You may need to stop or switch to a different kind. Your doctor might also suggest you change your skin care routine and take more care when you're out in the sun. You could need antibiotics to clear up your skin.

This lifelong disease causes your immune system – your body's defense against germs – to attack your tissues and organs. As a result, your skin gets inflamed. A common symptom of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash that spreads across your nose and cheeks.

If lupus is the reason you look flushed, you might also have:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Joint pain or stiffness
  • Headaches

Lupus is a serious condition that requires medical treatment. If you think you have it, see a doctor. Lupus doesn't have a cure, but medicines can ease your symptoms and prevent serious damage to your organs and joints.

When you have Cushing’s syndrome, your body makes very high amounts of a hormone called cortisol. Sometimes it's caused by excessive use of steroids. In other cases, a tumor in your adrenal glands, which make cortisol, is to blame.

If Cushing’s syndrome is the reason you're flushing and blushing, you could also have:

  • Weight gain
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Crankiness
  • Extra fat around your neck
  • A round face

Cushing’s syndrome is fairly rare. It's important to see a doctor for treatment. Depending on the cause, you might need medicine, surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation to treat it.