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Facial Redness Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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Last updated March 16, 2021

Facial redness quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your redness.

Facial redness can be characterized by spidery blood vessels, thickened uneven skin around the nose, or flushed skin across the cheeks. These appearances are caused by dilated facial blood vessels due to an allergic reaction, aging, sun damage, long term dry skin, or infection. Read below on major categories of causes for facial redness, including rare causes and treatment options for a red face. We also prepared a free digital checker for you to narrow down possibilities.

Facial redness quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your redness.

Take facial redness quiz

Symptoms of facial redness

Persistent redness across the face may seem, at first, to be merely a blush of embarrassment or a touch of sunburn. But if the "blush" does not fade and the "sunburn" does not heal, it may actually be a form of autoimmune disorder that is causing inflammation of the head and face. Facial redness and skin thickening is also called rosacea, facial telangiectasia, or rhinophyma.

Common characteristics of facial redness

If you're experiencing facial redness, it's likely that it can be described by the following.

  • Redness across the face: Especially on the cheeks and the bridge of the nose
  • Small, spidery blood vessels: Likely visible on the cheeks and nose
  • Roughness, bumps, and pimples: These will likely occur along with a burning or stinging sensation.
  • Thickened, damaged, uneven skin, especially around the nose
  • Watery, irritated, bloodshot eyes

Who is most often affected?

People who are most likely to experience facial redness include the following.

  • Fair-skinned individuals
  • Women are more commonly affected
  • Men seem to be more severely affected
  • Anyone with a history of blushing easily and frequently: Especially if the person has the sensation of heat in the face at the same time
  • Anyone who is an alcoholic

When is facial redness most likely to occur?

You are most likely to experience facial redness due to the following environmental conditions or activities.

  • During the summer: This is because heat dilates blood vessels and extended sun and wind exposure can dry, irritate, or burn the skin.
  • During exercise: This is due to increases in circulation.
  • During stress: This is due to increased blood pressure.
  • During sudden temperature swings: Such as when going from a warm building to outdoor cold

Is facial redness serious?

The severity of facial redness ultimately depends on the cause.

  • Not serious: Mild redness is rarely serious in itself. However, it can cause serious social and professional consequences due to embarrassment, self-consciousness, and loss of confidence.
  • Moderately serious: Persistent facial redness should not be ignored since it can be a warning sign of a more serious condition.
  • Serious: If the redness is accompanied by eye pain and irritation, or by thickening of the skin around the nose, it may lead to vision loss, facial disfigurement, and blocking of normal airflow. More than half of people with rosacea will also develop eye problems at some point.

Causes of facial redness

Dilation of the facial blood vessels (flushing)

Blood vessels can dilate in the face due to the following, resulting in redness.

  • Allergies: Sensitivity to certain foods and medications will cause flushing. A contact allergy to soap, cosmetics, sunblock, and anything else put on the face will cause stinging, burning, and redness.
  • Sunlight: Especially when it comes to flare-ups of the redness
  • Emotional stress: Such as from embarrassment, worry, or anger
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Alcoholism
  • Caffeine

Skin diseases

Diseases of the skin can cause damage to the surface of the skin and its underlying structure and result in permanent redness and unevenness. These diseases may specifically result in the following.

  • Redness with bumps: This may appear on the nose, cheeks, chin, and forehead, along with sore, burning eyes. This is essentially caused by blood vessels in the face dilating and expanding.
  • Red, dry, scaly patches of skin: These may appear on the forehead, hairline, neck, ears, and face, as well as on other parts of the body.
  • Reddened, thickened, uneven skin with pimples

Damage to blood vessels in the face

Damage can occur due to the following:

  • Aging, obesity, and/or poor circulation
  • Broken blood vessels, often from sun damage

Rare and unusual cause types

Less common causes of facial redness include the following.

  • Heredity: A tendency toward facial redness, sometimes severe, may run in families.
  • Microscopic skin mites: These are normally found on human skin but are far more numerous in people with certain forms of facial redness and inflammation.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Facial redness quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your redness.

Take facial redness quiz

Solar (actinic) keratosis

Actinic keratosis, also known as solar keratosis, is the most common skin condition caused by sun damage over many years. It appears as small, rough, raised growths that may be hard and warty.

You should visit your primary care physician to have the affected skin evaluated. There are several treatments for actinic keratosis, including freezing the keratosis with liquid nitrogen, or applying a cream or gel. Some keratoses will disappear on their own within a year.

Non-specific facial rash

Nonspecific facial rash means a rash without fever or other symptoms. There are many possible causes for this:

  • Contact dermatitis, which means direct facial contact with a substance that causes an allergic rash.
  • Noncontact (atopic) dermatitis, which means an inhaled substance such as dust or pollen is causing an itchy facial rash.
  • Fifth disease, or erythema infectiosum, is a viral illness that causes cold symptoms followed by a lingering red rash on both cheeks.
  • Sun exposure and/or pregnancy can trigger melasma, which causes brown or grey-brown freckled patches on the face.
  • Alcoholism can cause a persistent, rash-like redness of the face due to dilated blood vessels.

Facial rash without fever is rarely serious, but a medical provider can make a definite diagnosis and help with easing any symptoms.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination, and sometimes skin testing.

Treatment involves removing any substances that are provoking a reaction; moisturizing the skin; using prescribed antihistamines or corticosteroid ointments; and strengthening the immune system through improved diet, sleep, and exercise.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: facial redness

Symptoms that always occur with non-specific facial rash: facial redness

Symptoms that never occur with non-specific facial rash: fever

Urgency: Wait and watch

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, dermatitis, atopic eczema, or AD, is a chronic skin condition with an itchy rash.

AD is not contagious. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens.

AD is most often seen in infants and young children. Most susceptible are those with a family history of AD, asthma, or hay fever.

Infants will have a dry, scaly, itchy rash on the scalp, forehead, and cheeks. Older children will have the rash in the creases of elbows, knees, and buttocks.

Without treatment, a child may have trouble sleeping due to the intense itching. Constant scratching may cause skin infections and the skin may turn thickened and leathery.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, patient history, and allergen skin tests.

AD cannot be cured, but can be controlled through prescribed medications, skin care, stress management, and treatment of food allergies. Those with AD often have allergies to milk, nuts, and shellfish. Keeping the skin clean and moisturized helps prevent flareups.

Cellulitis

Crohn's disease is an inflammation of the bowel. It is caused by a faulty immune system response which makes the body attack the lining of the intestines.

The disease usually appears before age thirty and can affect anyone. Those with a family history may be most susceptible. Smoking is a known risk factor.

Aggravating factors include stress, poor diet, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

Early symptoms usually develop gradually, but can appear suddenly. These include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, mouth sores, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and blood in stool.

Untreated Crohn's disease can cause ulcers throughout the digestive tract as well as bowel obstruction, malnutrition, and deteriorating general health.

Diagnosis is made through blood test and stool sample test. Colonoscopy, CT scan, MRI, endoscopy, and/or enteroscopy may also be used.

Crohn's disease cannot be cured, but can be managed through reducing the inflammation. Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and immune system suppressors may be tried. Excellent nutrition, vitamin supplements, smoking cessation, and reduction in stress can be helpful.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Carcinoid syndrome

Carcinoid syndrome is a group of symptoms associated with carcinoid tumors - abnormal growths of the small intestine, colon, appendix, and bronchial tubes in the lungs. Carcinoid syndrome is a condition that is seen in people with tumors that are advanced, meaning that they have been developing for a long time. The symptoms of this condition include skin flushing, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and a rapid heartbeat.

You should visit your primary care physician who will be able to coordinate your care with a specialist. Treating this condition involves treating the cancer with surgery or chemotherapy, and also using medications to control individual symptoms.

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common kind of skin cancer. It can develop almost anywhere on the body. It appears as abnormal spots or bumps on the skin. These bumps are often pink, red, or skin-colored and sometimes have a shiny surface. The main risk factor for developing this condition is prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sun exposure and tanning beds are both sources of UV radiation. People with a history of sunburns, previous skin cancer, and a weakened immune system are at higher risk for this condition.

Most cases of BCC can be easily treated because they grow slowly. Though if not treated, it can spread inside the body. Your provider will do a skin exam and possibly skin sample test, known as a biopsy. Treatment will depend on where the cancer is, its size, and your medical history. Some treatment options include cutting out the bump, freezing it, or using medicated skin cream.

Allergic contact dermatitis of the face

Allergic contact dermatitis means the skin has touched something that provoked an allergic reaction, causing inflammation and irritation.

"Contact" means the allergic reaction came from touching something, not from consuming something. The first exposure to the substance sensitizes the immune system, and then the second exposure actually causes the symptoms.

The most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis are:

  • Nickel, a metal often used in belt buckles, the buttons on pants, and jewelry, including piercing jewelry.
  • Poison ivy.
  • Various types of perfumes, including those founds in soaps, fabric softeners, and detergents.
  • Of course, there are many more.

Symptoms include red, itching, scaling, flaking skin that may be painful due to the irritation and inflammation.

Diagnosis is made through first avoiding contact with any suspected substance, to see if the dermatitis clears. Patch testing can be done if the results are not certain.

Treatment involves fully avoiding the allergy-provoking substance and using topical steroid cream as prescribed. Cool compresses and calamine lotion can help to ease the discomfort.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: facial redness, face itch, scabbed area of the face

Symptoms that always occur with allergic contact dermatitis of the face: facial redness

Urgency: Self-treatment

Acne rosacea

Rosacea is a long-term disease that affects the skin and sometimes the eyes. It causes redness and breakouts. Acne rosacea is the type of Rosacea that causes pimples. Rosacea is most common in women and people with fair skin. It most often affects middle-aged and older adults.

You should visit your primary care physician, who could help with a treatment plan (no diagnostic testing necessary). Treatment can't cure you, but helps the symptoms and includes brimonide gel, laser therapy, and even an antibiotic.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: facial redness, rough skin on the face, pink or red facial bump, nose redness, raised rash

Symptoms that always occur with acne rosacea: facial redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Facial redness quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your redness.

Take facial redness quiz

Facial redness treatments and relief

At-home treatment

Facial redness remedies that you can try at home include the following.

  • Be mindful of sun exposure: Protect the skin of your face from the sun. Always use sunscreen and wear hats when outdoors.
  • Maintain a skincare routine: Keep your face very clean, using only cool water and mild cleansers, and do not let your skin become too dry and manage oil production.
  • Use gentle or recommended products: Try over-the-counter treatments made for the skin condition that you have.
  • Address your overall health: Make changes in diet, sleep, and exercise that will improve overall health.
  • Keep stress low: Make lifestyle adjustments that will help you reduce and manage stress.

When to see a doctor

You should schedule an appointment with your physician in order to be evaluated for the following.

  • Ongoing or concerning facial redness: The earlier the treatment begins, the more effective it will be.
  • Burning and irritation around your eyes: Vision can be affected — even long-term — if this is not treated.
  • Facial redness flare-ups: This way your condition can be managed before it becomes more severe.
  • Testing and treatment of any contact allergies
  • Discussion of laser treatment: This can help fade permanent redness or visible blood vessels.

When it is an emergency

If your facial redness is associated with a worsening or ongoing fever you should seek medical care as this is a sign of an infection.

If you feel faint, lose consciousness, vomit, have nausea, or you stop sweating after exercising, you should seek medical care immediately as this may be a sign of heatstroke.

Prevention

While blushing is normal in many situations, such as due to exertion or the fact that you're warmer than usual, facial redness can be better prevented via a few strategies.

  • Keep your face clean and limit irritants: Use gentle products and consult a dermatologist if necessary.
  • Protect your skin from the sun: Find a sunscreen that works for you or keep a hat with you when you're outdoors. You can get a sunburn — even a bad one — in cold temperatures or if there are clouds in the sky. Up to 80 percent of the sun's rays can still penetrate clouds.
  • Wear natural, breathable fabrics: This can help you stay cooler. Wear layers during colder months that can be removed indoors.
  • Drink water: This can help keep you cool and your skin hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids is especially important when working or playing outside in warmer temperatures.

Questions your doctor may ask about facial redness

  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Did you possibly brush into poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac?
  • Is the red area flaky and rough to the touch?
  • Do you have skin changes anywhere that skin touches or rubs other skin (such as the back of the knee, inside of the elbow or wrist, or the armpit)?
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Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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References

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