Red, flushed skin can be attributed to a number of things, whether it's warm weather, an intense workout, or simply feeling excited or embarrassed. Sometimes redness can occur because of a skin condition, such as rosacea, or issues like endocrine disorders that we can't easily see. While some causes of redness are a bit easier to treat than others, and perhaps only require a pat-down with cool water or a calming mask, others require intensive treatments with the help of a skincare pro. Whatever the case, finding a way to calm red, flushed skin can be done once you identify the cause.
We spoke with board-certified dermatologists Anna Guanche, MD, and Gary Goldenberg, MD, to find out more. Like why some skin types commonly experience symptoms like redness and flushing, what you can do to calm your skin when this happens, and which signs may indicate an issue that may require more medical intervention.
Meet the Expert
- Anna Guanche, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon specializing in cosmetic procedures. She is the founder of Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, California, and was named a Southern California Super Doctor by Los Angeles magazine six years in a row.
- Gary Goldenberg, MD, is a board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist at Goldenberg Dermatology. He is also an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Keep reading to learn more about how to calm red, flushed skin.
Identify the Cause
Not all red, flushed skin can be attributed to the same cause, and not all treatments and remedies will address every issue as effectively as others. To start calming your skin, it will help if you can pinpoint the reason for the redness. “Red, flushed skin can be caused by a myriad of factors, such as heat, emotions—like blushing due to embarrassment—medications, alcohol, rosacea, endocrine disorders, menopause, and carcinoid syndrome,” Guanche says. “Even certain vitamins can lead to redness, like niacin, which can cause transient flushing.”
There are also several skin conditions that can cause facial redness. "These range from irritation to contact allergy to rosacea and acne," says Goldenberg. "If your facial redness is new and not getting better on its own or with over-the-counter products, see a board-certified dermatologist."
Use a Cool Compress to Calm Flushed Skin
If your red or flushed skin isn’t due to an underlying medical condition, treating it can be done by applying a cool compress to the affected area. In most cases, the skin becomes flushed as a result of the blood vessels widening in that area, which then allows for more blood to flow through. This is why some people experience redness during exercise, when they drink alcohol, or if they become embarrassed—which we'll get to in a minute. To calm flushed skin, place a clean washcloth in a plastic bag filled with ice cubes and leave it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Then, remove the cloth and gently apply it to the skin for about 20 minutes before removing.
Use Visine as a Color Corrector
For years, Visine has promised to “get the red out” of our eyes, and as it turns out, that same color-correcting magic can work on skin. Like ice or cold water, Visine constricts blood vessels to reduce redness by restricting blood flow to the area. Many people already know that a few drops of Visine on an inflamed pimple can offer temporary relief from redness, and Guanche recommends implementing this practice to any affected areas of the skin by combining “a little Visine mixed with moisturizer."
Use a Soothing Sheet Mask
If you don’t need to constrict your blood vessels but seek to calm red skin that’s caused by dryness or inflammation, sheet masks make for great at-home treatments when they contain the right ingredients. Rosewater is known for reducing redness and calming irritated skin and is naturally packed with vitamins A, C, and E, which will leave your skin looking and smelling fantastic in mere minutes.
Try out a DIY face mask if you're not into sheet masks. They're easy to make and also include common ingredients and household items. Look into avocado-based or oatmeal face mask recipes as well to help calm flushed skin.
Consult Your Dermatologist
Sometimes skin redness or flushing requires treatments and ingredients that at-home DIY solutions can’t offer. Calming red skin depends on its cause, especially when dealing with a skin condition with or without acne. Goldenberg says rosacea is the most common cause of facial redness they see at his practice. "The best approach to treating this is multifactorial – we call it functional," he says, "It includes a combination of nutrition and lifestyle modification, skincare, medications, and procedures, such as laser."
Procedures such as micro-needling with platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which are anti-inflammatory, can often help patients that have an acne/rosacea combination. Goldenberg says micro-needling works by resurfacing the skin and decreasing inflammation.
Try Certain Medications
If you know that the redness on your skin is caused by rosacea, you can also look to certain prescription medications to treat your symptoms. Guanche recommends talking to your doctor about Rhofade or Mirvaso, both of which are applied as topical creams that relieve redness temporarily. If your rosacea has you feeling especially dry, a calming lotion may also provide temporary relief. There are over-the-counter options available, too. Weleda Skin Food ($19) is a rich formula that’s thick enough for the hands yet gentle enough for the face, and it's a skincare fave for those looking to hydrate their dry skin.
Look into Lasers
Laser technology has been used by dermatologists for years to treat a number of skincare concerns, from reducing acne scarring, diminishing hyperpigmentation, and even lifting sagging skin without requiring patients to go under the knife. When it comes to relieving redness, there’s a laser therapy treatment for that, too. “V-Beam Laser is a non-ablative laser that produces an intense but gentle burst of light that selectively destroys the blood vessels of vascular lesions without damaging the surrounding skin and tissue,” Guanche explains. “This laser helps with flushing as well.”
The KTP laser is another option, which Goldenberg says, literally cauterizes the dilated vessels that cause redness in the first place. "Other lasers, such as laser genesis, help patients with rosacea and acne combination by destroying the bacteria that causes acne and helping the skin to heal itself," he says.
Avoid Irritating Products
Redness can be exacerbated by certain ingredients in our skincare—namely acids, which are commonly used to exfoliate the skin. “Steer clear of strong retinoids or retinols, as these products can further irritate sensitive skin, as well as harsh physical exfoliants and polishing scrubs,” says Guanche. “Some acne products can be drying and should be used with caution if you have sensitive skin, such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and glycolic acids.”
If you can’t part ways with your favorite acid-enhanced product, look to formulas that contain a low percentage of the good stuff. For example, many products containing glycolic acid may fall between 10-20 percent glycolic acid, although some, like The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution ($9) and The Magic Pads 2% Glycolic Acid Pads ($20) are formulated with a lesser amount, which may be ideal for skin that becomes red or irritated easily.
To ensure your red skin stays cared for, limit your use of acid-containing items to every other day or just a few times a week. Be sure to follow up with a moisturizer and SPF every day (even when it's cloudy!), as these skin-sloughing formulas can make complexions more prone to irritation when exposed to UV rays.
Even if you're not using harsh acids, Goldenberg says it's a good idea to use a gentle cleanser twice daily. Also, apply a moisturizer with SPF 30 or higher every morning, and use a nourishing moisturizer at night. He also suggests using a low-dose retinol as well.
Reduce Redness From Within
Underlying redness can simply be related to a few outside factors. This is, of course, if you're not dealing with a certified medical condition. If your redness is less medical and more environmental, sometimes it can be broken down into making simple changes in things like your diet.
"We often recommend an anti-inflammatory diet, which includes green leafy vegetables, fish, essential oils, and low-glycemic fruits," Goldenberg says. "Even more importantly it excludes simple sugars, grains, non-organic meats and dairy, and high-glycemic fruits. Pre- and probiotics are a must. Vitamin D supplements also help, even in those patients with “normal” vitamin D levels."
In the same way that certain skincare ingredients may trigger the outer layer of the skin, some foods and drinks can inflame and irritate skin from the inside. These foods tend to have high acidic content and can regularly produce flushed cheeks and persisting redness.
“If you are prone to redness or rosacea, then you can avoid triggers, such as spicy foods, citrus, tomato, chocolate, and cinnamon,” suggests Guanche. Additionally, she lists heat, extremes in temperatures (either hot or cold), wind exposure, alcohol, and some warm beverages as additional triggers that can lead to redness or may induce rosacea symptoms.
Make Additional Lifestyle Changes
While persisting redness can be a frustrating problem, and when it comes to rosacea, an actual skin condition, the cause is often more than skin deep. This can mean that the solution can require more than one step and can involve the medication, treatments, and dietary changes that we spoke about above.
As for the lifestyle modifications you can make, Goldenberg advises the following:
- Decrease sun/UV exposure
- Stop smoking
- Stop drinking hot beverages
- Drink cold water while exercising.
While this won't necessarily 'cure' redness, doing things like avoiding excessive sun exposure or using a cool compress can help reduce symptoms temporarily.
Talk to Your Doctor
If your other options have been exhausted and you still can’t find relief from redness or flushing, it is always a good idea to consult your physician, especially if redness is combined with additional symptoms.
“If the red, flushed skin is associated with a rapid heart rate, sweating, and/or diarrhea, that is something more concerning that warrants further workup,” Guanche warns. “Carcinoid tumors or pheochromocytomas are tumors that can cause flushing and a racing heart, for example. Most cases of flushing, however, are just a benign genetic tendency.”