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Ask Curology: why is my face red?

A dermatology expert explains the potential causes of facial redness and what you can do about them.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jan 23, 2024 • 13 min read
Medically reviewed by Maria Borowiec, NB-BC
Person removing red top with purple background
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jan 23, 2024 • 13 min read
Medically reviewed by Maria Borowiec, NB-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What causes redness on the face?
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Summary

  • Facial redness has many possible causes, from common conditions such as sunburns or rosacea to less common ones like lupus.

  • It may even be caused by skincare products or how you use them.

  • Consulting with a licensed dermatology provider can help you figure out what’s causing your redness and the best way to treat it. 

  • For redness caused by acne or rosacea, Curology’s telehealth services can help.

Welcome to Ask Curology, a series on the Curology blog where one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers answers your questions about all things skincare. Today, we’re talking about skin redness, specifically, face redness. We’ll go over how to tell if red splotches on your face are being caused by irritating ingredients in your skincare products—like alcohol, for example—or whether it’s the result of a skin condition such as rosacea. Read on for expert advice!

What causes redness on the face?

Red skin usually indicates that your skin is inflamed or irritated, which we know from experience can be really uncomfortable. There are many different reasons that you could be experiencing facial redness. Here are some of its top causes and how they’re generally treated. 

Rosacea

Rosacea is a common chronic inflammatory skin condition that can cause skin redness on the nose, chin, cheeks, and forehead.¹ How can you tell if you have rosacea? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your skin flush easily (from strong emotions, spicy foods, alcoholic drinks, etc.)?

  • Does your skin easily get red after exercise or minimal sun exposure?

If you answered yes to either, you could have a mild rosacea tendency—which is very common! 

While there is no cure for rosacea, it can be managed by avoiding triggers and regularly using moisturizer and sunscreen.* For rosacea flare-ups, your healthcare provider can prescribe topical or oral medications.²

Unfortunately, we can’t stop facial redness due to dilated capillaries without certain in-office dermatology treatments, such as laser therapy or pulsed light. However, ingredients such as ivermectin, metronidazole, and azelaic acid can improve temporary redness.³

You’ll find all three of these proven-effective rosacea fighters as possible ingredients in Curology’s custom formula for rosacea.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common inflammatory skin disorder.⁴ It affects areas of the skin rich in sebaceous glands, particularly the scalp, face, and body folds, causing redness, inflammation, and plaques. There is currently no cure for adult seborrheic dermatitis, but you can manage it with recommended skincare practices and topical treatments.⁵

Acne and post-inflammatory erythema

Acne is a common skin condition that may start in adolescence and continue into adulthood. It is characterized by open and closed comedones, papules, pustules, and cysts (nodules).⁶ Redness and inflammation are common. Acne can be treated with topical treatments and oral medications.⁷

If your skin is prone to acne breakouts, the redness on your face might also be from post-inflammatory erythema (PIE).⁸ This means the inflammation in your skin from acne flare-ups is causing your capillaries (tiny blood vessels just beneath the skin’s surface) to dilate, leading to facial redness.⁹

Interested in a customized skincare formula to help treat acne and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation? Curology’s Custom Formulaᴿˣfor acne can help you fight acne and post-acne redness with proven ingredients such as tretinoin, niacinamide, and azelaic acid.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is skin inflammation caused by contact with chemicals or certain metals.¹⁰ It can result in people experiencing redness, burning, itchiness, or pain. The best way to treat contact dermatitis is to have an evaluation by a healthcare provider to identify and avoid the offending allergens. Topical corticosteroids or oral antihistamines can be used to help with the symptoms of contact dermatitis.¹¹

Eczema

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition that triggers dry, itchy skin.¹² This often results in discomfort that can impact a person’s daily life. A cornerstone of managing eczema is following a diligent daily skin moisturizing regimen.¹³ This keeps the skin hydrated, which reduces symptoms. In addition, healthcare providers may prescribe topical anti-inflammatory medications to manage severe flare-ups,¹⁴ bringing relief and helping the skin heal.

Spider veins

Spider veins, or telangiectasias, result from small superficial blood vessels in the skin becoming damaged.¹⁵ They appear as thin purple, red, or blue lines. You’ll often find them on the legs, but they may also occur elsewhere, particularly on the face.¹⁶ The good news is that spider veins usually don’t cause any health issues and don’t need to be medically treated. For cosmetic treatment, there are in-office options, such as lasers, that a licensed dermatology provider may suggest.¹⁷

Overusing skin care products

When you overuse skincare products or exfoliate your face too much, it’s like constantly scrubbing your skin with a rough sponge. Your skin doesn’t get a chance to recover, causing it to become irritated and vulnerable to breakouts. This irritation generally manifests as facial redness. 

Using chemical exfoliants, such as AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), on sensitive or rosacea-prone skin could cause some irritation and redness.¹⁸ So, it’s important to use these products as directed to maintain a healthy balance and help prevent irritation.

The ingredients in your skincare or beauty products

Even if you’re using your skincare products as directed, they still might contain ingredients that can irritate your skin. Alcohol is unfortunately common in skincare products, even though it can irritate sensitive skin.¹⁹ If your skin gets red and irritated or dries out after using a certain product, look for alcohol, “denatured alcohol,” or “alcohol denat.” on the ingredients list. If alcohol is found toward the end of an ingredients list, there might not be enough of it in the product to bother your skin.

Other ingredients can also cause redness, irritation, hives, or an allergic reaction, so always checking the ingredients is important. We’ve got a quick and easy guide to checking products for irritating ingredients.

Alcohol flush reaction

Some people are deficient in the enzyme that allows the body to metabolize alcohol effectively, so when they drink alcohol, it can cause facial flushing and other symptoms.²⁰ This is most common in people of East Asian descent but can also happen in people of different ethnicities.²¹ It can also be triggered by certain medications that alter alcohol metabolism; as you may assume, it is best treated by avoiding alcohol.²²

Sunburn

Sunburns result from too much UV or artificial tanning light exposure.²³ But you don’t have to spend all day outdoors to get a sunburn; even when you’re in a car or indoors by a window, your skin is exposed to the sun’s damaging rays. This can lead to skin redness and pain if you don’t use proper skin protection. 

It’s important to know that certain medications or skincare products can make you more susceptible to sunburn.²⁴ Fortunately, sunburns typically go away with time and over-the-counter  anti-inflammatories. However, multiple sunburns can increase your risk for skin cancer and damage,²⁵ so it’s always a good idea to cover up with sunscreen.

Pro tip: The Everyday Sunscreen by Curology is a mineral-based SPF 30 formula with a silky, non-greasy texture that minimizes white cast—a great choice for everyday wear. And it’s designed for both acne-prone and sensitive skin!

Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that involves the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking parts of the body, including the skin.²⁶ Some forms of lupus can result in a “butterfly rash,” a red, raised rash across the nose and cheeks that can resemble a butterfly. Lupus needs to be treated by a healthcare provider. Skin symptoms are generally treated with topical corticosteroids or oral medications.²⁷

How do you prevent facial redness?

Before diving into tips and tricks to prevent facial redness, remember: Your skin is as unique as you are. The root cause of facial redness can vary from person to person, so it’s always a good idea to chat with a licensed dermatology provider to get tailored advice.

Here are some general tips to keep unwanted redness at bay: 

First, it’s all about using skincare products as directed. You don’t want to apply them whenever, wherever. Stick to the instructions so your products can do their magic.

Next up, sunscreen—your everyday armor against the sun’s harsh rays. Opt for an SPF of 30 or higher, like with Curology’s The Sunscreen, and don’t forget to reapply as you go about your day. 

Additionally, regular cleansing and moisturizing are like serving your face a balanced diet. These habits help keep your skin happy, healthy, and less prone to unwanted redness. Consider moisturizers that work easily into your skin and routine, like Curology’s Gel Moisturizer.

Lastly, dodge those triggers like you would a swarm of bees! If you know that certain foods, drinks, or situations make your face flush like a tomato, steering clear of them is your best bet.

How to help prevent rosacea flare-ups

If rosacea is the cause of your redness, you’ll want to do your best to avoid the common triggers of facial flushing. Minimize exposure to hot or spicy foods and alcohol, and try to stay cool. Most importantly, protect yourself from the sun.²⁸

Studies show that changing what you eat may play a role in helping to prevent rosacea symptoms, too. Here are some simple tips:²⁹ 

  • Avoid hot drinks and foods

  • Avoid spicy foods that contain capsaicin

  • If you drink alcohol, try cutting back

  • Avoid cinnamaldehyde-related foods like tomatoes, citrus, cinnamon, and chocolate

How to reduce redness on your face: pro tips

Resist the urge to exfoliate dry, flaky skin

If your skin is both red and dry, exfoliating often makes matters worse. Cut back on anything that tends to dry or irritate your skin, such as exfoliation (physical or chemical), over-the-counter retinol products, or any prescription topicals containing retinoids. This is also not the best time for microdermabrasion or chemical peels.

Use a gentle, hydrating cleanser

Consider using a gentle, hydrating cleanser, such as the Curology Gentle Cleanser. Avoid harsh cleansers and scrubs. If your cleanser leaves your skin feeling tight, shiny, or dried out, it’s not doing you any favors.

Choose your moisturizer wisely

If your skin is red and dry, try applying a moisturizer for sensitive skin. To replenish, protect, and repair irritated or damaged skin, look for moisturizers with the following ingredients:³⁰

(We explain these more in our Moisturizer Guide!)

The Curology Cream Moisturizer contains a combination of emollient, humectant, and occlusive moisturizing ingredients, which makes it an excellent option for soothing and protecting sensitive skin prone to redness.

Ceramides are your skin’s best friend

Ceramides are naturally occurring lipids (fats) in the skin that can also be found in some moisturizers and skincare products. They can help repair and strengthen the skin’s protective barrier, so adding a product with ceramides to your skincare routine may help.³¹

Use a thicker moisturizer when the temperature drops

Heavier, richer moisturizers can help lock in moisture and provide a defensive barrier to shield your skin against cold wind. A thick cream containing hyaluronic acid or glycerin—which helps the skin draw in and retain moisture—can also be helpful.³²

We use both of these ingredients (plus additional moisturizing heavy-hitters aloe, shea butter, and squalane) in Curology’s Cream Moisturizer.

5 Dermatologist Approved Tips To Reduce Facial Redness

When to see a healthcare provider

There are many possible causes for facial redness, so how do you know when it’s time to call in the professionals? Seeing a healthcare provider is a good idea if your facial redness sticks around longer than a few days without a clear reason. 

What if your cheeks are flushed, and you think a deeper medical condition might be at play? That’s another good time to consult with a healthcare provider. They’ll be able to unravel the mystery and, if necessary, connect you with the appropriate specialist for further care.

Facial redness accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever or a high heart rate, should be addressed promptly, too. It’s like a neon sign saying, “Hey, it’s time for a check-up!” This could be a sign that your body is dealing with more than just surface-level issues.

So, when in doubt, reach out! No one knows your body better than you do, but healthcare providers are there to guide you, help interpret the signs your body sends, and provide treatment when necessary.

Curology can treat rosacea and acne

There are many causes of facial redness, and they each have their own potential treatment. Here at Curology, we can treat acne and rosacea. You’ll have to see an in-person provider for the other conditions we discussed.

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Curology was founded by a board-certified dermatologist who believes everyone should have access to skincare products that work. Our team of licensed dermatology providers will work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide customized treatment options tailored to your skin concerns. 

Getting started is easy.** All you need to do is answer a few questions about your skin, snap some selfies, and wait to be put in touch with one of our licensed dermatology providers. Start your trial** today!

FAQs

What causes redness in the face?

Facial redness has many possible causes, from common conditions like sunburns³³ or rosacea³⁴ to less common ones like lupus.³⁵ It might even be your skin waving a little red flag at a new face cream. But, if your cheeks are persistently rosy and you’re unsure why, it might be time to bring in a healthcare provider to help crack the case.

How can I reduce redness on my face?

The right solution for reducing facial redness depends on its cause. A licensed dermatology provider can help you find that missing piece since every face is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. For the occasional cover-up, cosmetics with green pigment can be handy for masking redness.³⁶

Is red face due to stress?

Stress can indeed play a role in causing facial redness.³⁷ Both stressors in your environment, like air pollution or UV exposure, and internal stressors, like psychological stress, lack of sleep, or an unhealthy diet, can affect your skin. Stress can contribute to flare-ups of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and pigmentation disorders.³⁸ So, it’s true that if you’re feeling frazzled, your skin might be feeling it too.

What’s causing face redness?

There are several possible causes of facial redness.  A few of the common causes of facial redness or red blotches include leftover redness from acne,³⁹ excessive exfoliation, washing your face with hot water, sunburn,⁴⁰ or rosacea.⁴¹ In some cases, redness may be caused by certain ingredients in your skincare products.

What is the disease that turns your face red?

There are several medical conditions with facial redness as a symptom. These include rosacea,⁴² seborrheic dermatitis,⁴³ or some types of lupus.⁴⁴ If you’re concerned you have a medical condition causing your symptoms, you should see a healthcare provider to confirm the diagnosis.

Is it possible to get rid of my red face?

Generally speaking, yes! There are many different treatments available that can help you reduce or eliminate redness, depending on the cause. The right therapies to try depend on the underlying cause of your symptoms. Seeing a healthcare provider or dermatology provider to help determine the cause is a good first step.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Farshchian, M. and Daveluy, S. Rosacea. StatPearls. (2023, August 8).

  2. Farshchian, M. and Daveluy, S. Rosacea. StatPearls. Ibid.

  3. Farshchian, M. and Daveluy, S. Rosacea. StatPearls. Ibid.

  4. Tucker, D. and Masood, S. Seborrheic Dermatitis. StatPearls. (2023, February 16).

  5. Tucker, D. and Masood, S. Seborrheic Dermatitis. StatPearls. Ibid.

  6. Sutaria, A.H., et al. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. (2023, August 17).

  7. Sutaria, A.H., et al. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. Ibid.

  8. Bae-Harboe, Y.S., Graber, E.M. Easy as PIE (Postinflammatory Erythema). J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (September 2013).

  9. Bae-Harboe, Y.S., Graber, E.M. Easy as PIE (Postinflammatory Erythema). J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  10. Litchman, G., et al. Contact Dermatitis. StatPearls. (2023, September 4).

  11. Litchman, G., et al. Contact Dermatitis. StatPearls. Ibid.

  12. Nemeth, V. and Evans, J. Eczema. StatPearls. (2022, August 8).

  13. Nemeth, V. and Evans, J. Eczema. StatPearls. Ibid.

  14. Nemeth, V. and Evans, J. Eczema. StatPearls. Ibid.

  15. Sandean, D.P. and Winters, R. Spider Veins. StatPearls. (2023, July 4). 

  16. Sandean, D.P. and Winters, R. Spider Veins. StatPearls. Ibid. 

  17. Sandean, D.P. and Winters, R. Spider Veins. StatPearls. Ibid. 

  18. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 6 Rosacea Skin Care Tips Dermatologists Give Their Patients. (n.d.).

  19. Duarte, I., et al. Sensitive skin: review of an ascending concept. Anais brasileiros de dermatologia. (July-August 2017).

  20. Chartier, K.G., et al. College students' use of strategies to hide facial flushing: A target for alcohol education. J Am Coll Health. (November-December 2020).

  21. Chartier, K.G., et al. College students' use of strategies to hide facial flushing: A target for alcohol education. J Am Coll Health. Ibid.

  22. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Flush Reaction. (September 2022).

  23. Guerra, K.C. and Crane, J.S. Sunburn. StatPearls. (2023, October 29).

  24. Guerra, K.C. and Crane, J.S. Sunburn. StatPearls. Ibid.

  25. Guerra, K.C. and Crane, J.S. Sunburn. StatPearls. Ibid.

  26. Justiz Vaillant, A.A., et al. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. StatPearls. (2023, August 4).

  27. Justiz Vaillant, A.A., et al. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. StatPearls. Ibid.

  28. Weiss, E. and Katta, R. Diet and rosacea: the role of dietary change in the management of rosacea. Dermatology practical & conceptual. (October 2017).

  29. Weiss, E. and Katta, R. Diet and rosacea: the role of dietary change in the management of rosacea. Dermatology practical & conceptual. Ibid.

  30. Harwood. A, et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls. (2022, August 21).

  31. Harwood. A, et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls. Ibid.

  32. Harwood. A, et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls. Ibid.

  33. Guerra, K.C. and Crane, J.S. Sunburn. StatPearls. Ibid.

  34. Farshchian, M. and Daveluy, S. Rosacea. StatPearls. Ibid.

  35. Justiz Vaillant, A.A., et al. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. StatPearls. Ibid.

  36. Farshchian, M. and Daveluy, S. Rosacea. StatPearls. Ibid.

  37. Passeron, T., et al. Adult skin acute stress responses to short-term environmental and internal aggression from exposome factors. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. (2021, June 24).

  38. Passeron, T., et al. Adult skin acute stress responses to short-term environmental and internal aggression from exposome factors. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. Ibid.

  39. Sutaria, A.H., et al. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. Ibid.

  40. Guerra, K.C. and Crane, J.S. Sunburn. StatPearls. Ibid.

  41. Farshchian, M. and Daveluy, S. Rosacea. StatPearls. Ibid.

  42. Farshchian, M. and Daveluy, S. Rosacea. StatPearls. Ibid.

  43. Tucker, D. and Masood, S. Seborrheic Dermatitis. StatPearls. Ibid.

  44. Justiz Vaillant, A.A, et al. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. StatPearls. Ibid.

Maria Borowiec is a certified Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She received her Master in Nursing from University of California, Los Angeles in Los Angeles, CA.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
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