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There’s nothing like the feeling of getting all hot and sweaty from a good cardio workout. You feel amazing, full of energy, and all revved up on endorphins, so why do people keep asking if you’re OK? You catch a glimpse of your sweaty self in the bathroom mirror, and the unnaturally, brilliantly beet-red face staring back takes you by surprise, too. Wait—are you OK?
Your scarlet skin on its own is no cause for alarm. It’s actually just a sign that you’re working hard and building up heat. Here’s how it works.
Why Does Your Face Get Red When You Run?
When your body temperature begins to climb, you perspire to keep cool, but it also dilates the blood vessels in your skin to reduce your overall body temp and deliver necessary oxygen to your muscles. Your face turns red because warm, oxygenated blood rushes to the surface of your skin, which helps heat radiate off of it and prevents you from overheating.
Some complexions make that blood flow more visible than others. “The darker our natural skin tone, the more the red is camouflaged,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Brandith Irwin. Effort can also impact how red you get. “If our heart rate is at 110 bpm for 15 minutes, we won’t have as much dilation of the blood vessels. If our heart rate is at 165 bpm for 30 minutes, the blood vessels dilate more,” says Dr. Irwin.
Go ahead and continue exercising as long as you feel good and have no other symptoms. If you find that your flushed face is accompanied by fatigue, dizziness, sweating more than usual, or nausea, then it could be a sign of heat exhaustion, which is more likely to happen outside on hot and humid days. Working out in a hot room or in higher temps is definitely a risk, so if you experience these symptoms, stop exercising immediately, get inside where it’s cooler, loosen up tight clothing (or remove it altogether), and drink plenty of cool water.
To prevent heat exhaustion, make sure to drink plenty of fluids before and during your run. If you love outdoor workouts, try to exercise during a time of day when temperatures are the lowest, like in the early morning. It also helps to run on shady trails in the woods or on a breezy path near a lake or beach.
It’s also important to pay attention if you are hypertensive and experience redness. “All runners should know their blood pressure and work with their doctors if it’s high,” says Dr. Irwin. “Redness should not be associated with chest pain or unusual shortness of breath.”
How to Help Your Facial Redness
Dr. Irwin offers the following tips to help ease the flushed face feeling:
- Run in cooler environments, especially if you’re doing high-intensity exercise like sprint intervals. Early morning and evenings are best in the hotter months. Or opt for an air-conditioned gym.
- Use a zinc oxide sunscreen to avoid sunburns. “UV damages skin which causes more blood vessels over time, wrinkles, brown spots, and blotchiness,” she says.
- Keep your core temperature lower by staying hydrated with cool water or a sports drink.
- See a dermatologist if you think you have rosacea, which can cause flushing. “Rosacea can often be treated with just a prescription cream,” says Dr. Irwin.
- Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), a cousin to laser treatments, can reduce flushing on the face, neck, and chest.
“To return to normal faster, hydrate with cool water, get your core temp down, and use a cool washcloth on the face if needed,” says Dr. Irwin. While it might not always be comfortable, remember that beet-red face means that your body is working for you.