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Here's Why Your Face Turns So Red After Working Out—and How to Prevent It From Happening

Real Simple logo Real Simple 7/29/2021 Jaclyn Smock
Getty Images © Provided by Real Simple Getty Images

There's nothing quite like the feeling of being all hot and sweaty after you just dominated a workout, and the cherry on top is supposed to be that coveted post-workout glow. But for some people, their reward is a brilliantly beet-red complexion, which can make a person feel self-conscious after hitting the gym. To make sure you never have to say no to your favorite spin class or running trail, we decided to get to the bottom of post-workout scarlet skin by asking dermatologists if there's a reason for alarm.

Keep reading to find out exactly what's happening under your face and exactly what you need to do to manage post-workout redness.

Why Your Face Gets Red When Working Out

The good news: Experiencing a red face after a workout is a totally normal response to physical activity. As we heat up, everyone knows we sweat to cool down, but our bodies also experience vascular changes because of increased blood flow, manifesting as flushing or a red face. "The flushing that occurs post-workout is due to the vasodilation of superficial blood vessels in facial skin," says Blair Murphy, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. 

Essentially, this cutaneous flushing occurs in some people after exercising because they have more capillaries. Your blood is being pumped through faster to maximize oxygen intake, so the capillaries widen to allow more oxygen to pass through to the active muscles while also pushing heat to the surface to prevent overheating. 

"We all flush when we workout, but it's more evident in those with fair complexions as the skin pigment in darker skin tones can sometimes mask more mild flushing," says Arash Akhavan, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. That being said, he adds that some people also "genetically have a more robust network of tiny blood vessels feeding their capillaries, making the redness more pronounced."

When Redness Is a Reason for Concern


Gallery: 15 Best Moisturizers for Oily, Acne-Prone Skin (Reader's Digest)

Exercise causes flushing that goes away after a while—however, the difference is, rosacea won't subside. According to Dr. Hartman, it's rosacea "if you stay flushed on the cheeks, chins, nose, and forehead for prolonged periods without any stimulus for flushing." Since rosacea is a chronic flushing disorder, along with redness, you'll notice "small broken capillaries on your cheeks and nose or pimples similar to acne, except they're without the blackheads or whiteheads we commonly see," he notes. If you're experiencing this, it's essential to consult a dermatologist. 

How to Prevent Post-Workout Redness

While the redness you experience during exercise cannot be completely circumvented, you can take measures to try and reduce the redness. For starters, try exercising in a cool environment and wear light-colored and loose fitting clothing.

If you're someone who already experiences increased flushing, the last thing you should do is drink alcohol before exercising. "Alcohol consumption dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow and the redness of the face," says Corey L. Hartman, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology. While you're skipping that happy hour cocktail, try limiting spicy foods, caffeine, chocolate, and sun exposure because they all cause inflammation and make the capillaries look more pronounced. 

People who flush excessively should also avoid using irritating ingredients on their skin that would further inflammation, such as alcohol-based products, creams with high acidic content, or harsh retinoids. "Instead, use products with anti-inflammatory ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and niacinamide, like Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream ($15; amazon.com) or creams such as CeraVe PM ($17; ulta.com)," shares Dr. Akhavan. Vitamin C is especially crucial because it's an antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress on the skin and provides an extra layer of protection against UVA and UVB rays (sunlight can exacerbate the redness). 

Plus, when your flush becomes a reason for concern. © Getty Images Plus, when your flush becomes a reason for concern.

How to Reduce Face Redness After Workout

While there is no true prevention method for flushing, it can be managed by decreasing symptoms and preventing flare-ups through laser treatments. "Pulsed dye laser treatment can destroy the superficial cutaneous blood vessels, which significantly reduce the redness experienced post-workout," notes Dr. Murphy. 

If you're more committed to keeping your skincare routine simple, try this quick fix prior to seeking laser therapy. Before heading to a workout, make sure to pack a cool water bottle to sip on during class to keep your core temperature lower and bring anti-inflammatory skincare products like cooling mists, says Shuting Hu, PhD, a cosmetic chemist and founder of Acaderma. Spritzing your face during and after your workout will reduce the redness and work to restore the skin to a balanced state after physical activity. 

You can also apply a cold, damp washcloth to your face after exercising to alleviate tightness around the skin. Follow this up with a gel moisturizer that will help cool your complexion and soothe inflammation. If your facial redness really won't budge, you can also add a dab of hydrocortisone cream to treat the inflammation; just be cautious with how much you apply since it is a topical steroid.

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