Red Face

Reddening of face is a very common problem that is usually completely harmless and associated with emotions. Less known is the fact that face redness may be caused by some pathological conditions.



Emotions are associated with increased activity of the autonomic nervous (vegetative) system that is uncontrolled by our will. It results in visible extension of subcutaneous blood vessels and increased blood flow causing face redness. People suffering from more labile vegetative system are prone to frequent facial flushing when they are angry or ashamed.


Alcohol and its metabolic products cause temporary extension of facial subcutaneous blood vessels (especially in the nose) that is related to flushing cheeks of drunken people. Higher probability of occurrence is by people with worse alcohol metabolic degradation capabilities such as Asians.

Heat effect

Increased temperature (staying in warm environment, physical exertion, fever) forces our body to use some defense cooling mechanisms. These include sweating and dilation of skin blood vessels to increase heat transfer into surroundings. Skin redness is again a typical symptom.

Allergic reactions

Allergies may also manifest with redness and swelling of the face. These are signs of immune body reaction to the allergen.


Many medications can cause dilation of blood vessels and cause skin redness. It is typical for example for nitrates, thyroid medication and many more.


This is a skin disease that occurs approximately in 10% of the population. It affects the face, where it causes redness that may appear as flushing after alcohol consumption (see above). People with rosacea and may be therefore mistaken for alcoholics.


This is quite a special and relatively rare tumor that occurs in intestines, pancreas and lungs. Its pulmonary forms have often malignant character, intestinal forms tend to be benign (i.e. do not form metastases). Regardless of malignant or benign nature of carcinoid cells, however, these tumors are usually able to create a number of substances influencing organism and causing symptoms such as facial flushing, abdominal pain, diarrhea, palpitations and attacks of shortness of breath. Read more information in the relevant article.

Systemic lupus erythematosus

This insidious autoimmune disease can attack virtually any organ or tissue in the body. Skin is usually affected in facial area, where erythema occurs. This erythema is also known as “butterfly erythema” thanks to its shape. Red “butterfly wings” on cheeks are interconnected in nasal area.


These benign tumors consist of hyperplasic blood vessels. They can be present in the majority of tissues; facial hemangiomas are typical for child's age. They look like reddish or violet skin stains. This condition is usually self-limiting and hemangiomas tend to disappear. Problematic forms of hemangiomas can be cured by laser.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Poisoning by this gas blocks transmission of oxygen to the tissues. Cherry red color of face occurs because of local subcutaneous blood vessels dilation resulting in congestion of the face. That is why faces of people poisoned by carbon monoxide have often paradoxically “healthy” color.

Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources