Why Does My Face Turn Red When I Run?

Man resting after a run
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If you are red-faced after running, you are not alone. This is a common issue, especially in women and people with fair skin. When you're running, your body is producing heat. Sweating helps cool you down. Your body also increases blood supply to your skin to help regulate your temperature. Your capillaries dilate so more blood can flow through them and radiate extra heat out through your skin. The diameter of the capillaries in the cheeks is wider than elsewhere, and they are closer to the surface. So when they dilate, there is more red blood coming close to the surface, giving you that rosy red color.

Many runners get red-faced no matter how much their fitness improves (in fact, some research shows that endurance athletes get more flushed, earlier in their workouts, than less fit people). Everyone handles the heat differently, and just as some runners sweat more than others, some get red faces and others don't. Some people naturally have more capillaries. Others may have capillaries that naturally carry more blood to the face during exertion. Either way, they are more prone to having a red face from exercise.

Running in Hot Weather

You may find that you get more red if you're doing an intense run or running in hot or humid weather. During warm weather, try to run early in the morning or later in the evening (or indoors if it's really bad). Also, make sure you're staying hydrated during your runs and drinking when you're thirsty. Try pouring water on your head, neck, and under your arms to cool off.

If you're experiencing other symptoms besides a red face, like dizziness or nausea, you may be suffering from a heat-related illness, such as dehydration or heat exhaustion. Stop running immediately, sip some water and get in the shade.

How Long Will My Face Be Red?

Most flushing caused by exertion will last no more than 15 to 20 minutes. There is not much you can do to speed the process, but you can try:

  • Spritzing or dabbing cold water on your face during your workout
  • Cooling down adequately to reduce your heart rate
  • Taking a cold shower, washing your face with cold water, or using a face wipe (some contain aloe to soothe your skin and caffeine to constrict blood vessels) post-workout
  • Moisturizing your face after you wash it; try an anti-redness or sensitive skin formula
  • Applying green color-correcting primer followed by a tinted moisturizer

When to Talk to Your Doctor

Although a red face while running is usually harmless, you should still mention it to your doctor, especially if you're brand-new to running. If you have other symptoms such as diarrhea, wheezing, hives or difficulty breathing, it could be the sign of a more serious condition. Note whether you are experiencing flushing in other circumstances. Is it worse with certain foods, or when you drink alcohol? Discuss any connections you've noticed with your doctor.

If the flushing last for more than half an hour after you exercise, or goes away and comes back later in the day, it could be a sign of rosacea. If that's the case, treatment is available.

Some medications, including acne creams like benzoyl peroxide and some antibiotics and high-blood pressure medicines, may cause flushing or make it worse. You can talk to your doctor about this side effect. It also may help to avoid topical treatments that irritate skin (like retinol or chemical peels) the night before you have a long run or intense workout planned.

If you've been assured you are healthy and you still have that red glow, wear it with pride. Yes, it can be annoying when passersby keep asking if you are all right when you feel like a superhero. But at least you know you'll be able to get help someday if you really need it. And for now, you have proof that you worked hard. It's worth it!

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