Stress or embarrassment can cause some people’s cheeks to turn pink or reddish, an occurrence known as blushing.
Blushing is a natural bodily response that is triggered by the sympathetic nervous system — a complex network of nerves that activate “fight or flight” mode.
This article addresses the causes of blushing and lists 12 ways to prevent it.
Fast facts on blushing:
- Blushing is primarily caused by the activation of the “fight or flight” mode.
- Blushing is a normal bodily reaction that happens to most people, at least occasionally.
- Blushing mainly arises from psychological causes.
- The key to stopping blushing is to gain control over the “fight or flight” response.
This natural reaction occurs in the face of a perceived threat, and it can also be triggered by the onset of a powerful emotion such as stress, shame, or embarrassment.
Blood vessels in the face get wider and increase blood flow to the skin, which leads to the characteristic redness of blushing.
In fact, some research has found that just by telling someone they are blushing is enough to induce it.
However, there are other causes of blushing, which include:
- hot foods or drinks
- medical conditions, including rosacea, hyperhidrosis, and mastocytosis (a rare histamine-related condition)
- medications such as calcium-channel blockers, calcitonin, and some cancer treatment drugs (including tamoxifen and buserelin)
- spicy foods
- sudden changes in bodily or room temperatures
- vigorous exercise
Here are some ways to stop severe or frequent blushing:
Breathing deeply and slowly will tell the brain to relax. Once relaxed, the body will stop releasing stress hormones, the heartbeat will slow to normal levels, and blood pressure will return to normal.
These events will reduce the level of blood rushing to the face, thereby preventing blushing.
2. Accept the blushing
Sometimes, blushing in response to a stressful situation can be another a source of stress, thereby worsening the facial redness. By acknowledging and accepting the blushing, it may stop this cycle.
Interestingly, research suggests that most people overestimate the impact that blushing has on them.
In fact, blushing may not be such a bad thing. Some research has found that those who blush are more likely to be forgiven by other people, which can help avert a conflict.
3. Smile and laugh
Research suggests that smiling may reduce stress levels and regulate the body’s natural stress responses.
According to a 2012 study, people who carry out stressful tasks while smiling have lower heart rates following the task than people who do not smile while carrying out the same chores. Participants who smile also report feeling better during the activity than those who maintain a neutral expression.
4. Regulate the temperature
Blushing is often more severe in warmer temperatures. To reduce facial redness, move to a cooler area, switch on the air conditioning, or remove some layers of clothing. Sipping cold water can also be effective.
5. Avoid eye contact
Calm down by avoiding eye contact with anyone who may be contributing to the stress or embarrassment. Some people may simply need to avert their gaze for a moment while others may need to close their eyes momentarily.
6. Wear makeup
Using a green-tinted, color-correcting makeup can mask blushing because the green neutralizes the redness of the cheeks.
This makeup may be especially beneficial for those who experience regular or severe blushing only in certain situations, such as during a school presentation or a work meeting.
7. Avoid triggers
People who have specific blush triggers may wish to avoid them. For example, those who are bothered by blushing that arises from consuming spicy foods, alcohol, or hot drinks should try to avoid eating or drinking these items.
8. Stay out of the limelight
It may not always be feasible — or socially desirable — but staying out of the limelight can help limit blushing. The reason for this is because being the center of attention can cause blushing.
For example, when participants were asked to sing out loud while someone observed one side of their face, researchers found that the side of the face being watched got hotter and redder than the other side.
9. Treat anxiety disorders
Severe blushing that is linked to an anxiety disorder or social phobia may be treated through medication or therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment for many anxiety-related conditions.
CBT works by challenging any negative and unrealistic thoughts that cause unhelpful feelings, bodily responses, and behaviors.
10. Ask a doctor about changing medication
Because some medications can increase the frequency or severity of blushing, it may be helpful to speak with a doctor about switching to an alternative drug which does not cause blushing.
11. Address medical conditions
If blushing is caused by the skin condition rosacea, an excessive sweating disorder known as hyperhidrosis, or another medical condition, a doctor may be able to prescribe a treatment to address the underlying disorder and alleviate blushing.
Some people who experience severe blushing that impacts their quality of life and interpersonal relationships may wish to consider surgery.
Endoscopic thoracic surgery (ETS) is the most commonly used surgery for excessive blushing. It involves severing nerves to keep facial blood vessels closed.
Most people who undergo ETS for blushing are satisfied with the outcome, according to some research. However, complications can occur, including infection and eyelid drooping. The probability of experiencing complications increases with age, while satisfaction with the surgery decreases with age.
If blushing is frequent and severe enough to impact a person’s quality of life and their relationships with others, then it may need to be addressed.
The most effective steps that a person can take include staying calm and changing their thinking around blushing and the situations that lead to blushing.
If these steps do not sufficiently reduce blushing, it may be helpful to discuss other options — such as therapy, medication, or surgery — with a doctor.