I'm not one to share post-workout selfies on social media, because the one time I did, I got a ton of people commenting, "What's up with your face?" and "Are you OK?" My face gets incredibly red, and it stays like that for a while after I've been working out, especially in the Summer. It's super fun to go somewhere like the grocery store after an intense CrossFit workout and have people do a double take. I did have a fellow mom say, "My face gets like that, too," which made me feel better. So what's the deal? Is it bad if your face turns beet red after exercising?
What Causes a Red Face When Exercising?
Dermatologist Rick Woodin, MD, from ZO Skin Health UK, assured me that "if your face turns bright or dark red when you exercise, it is a normal response to physical activity." He explained that when you work out, your lungs work harder to give your bloodstream more oxygen, and your heart rate quickens to increase your blood flow to the muscles. "Vasodilation occurs, which is when your blood vessels and skin pores widen in order to deliver oxygen to the muscles, and this causes your face to redden as more blood is being carried by the capillaries beneath your skin," Dr. Woodin said.
Simply put, when you get hot, you body is redirecting the heat to the skin, explained Daniel Atkinson, a general practitioner in the UK. Your blood vessels are dilating, and there is more blood travelling through the vessels in the face, he added. It's just a way of helping to regulate your body temperature, added Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, who's board-certified in both dermatology and dermatopathology (diseases of the skin).
Is It Bad If Your Face Turns Bright Red When Exercising?
Your face may look super flushed, but it's just a natural side effect of your body's internal cooling system. So it's a good thing! Dr. Woodin said facial redness isn't a cause for concern, unless it's accompanied by other symptoms that may be worrying to your health such as dehydration, nausea, infrequent breathing, and a rapid heart rate, which may be additional signs that you're overexerting yourself during exercise.
"Everyone should be careful of heat exhaustion when exercising in the heat," warned Gretchen Frieling, MD, a dermatopathologist in Boston. She said to make sure you ensure proper hydration before, during, and after workouts to prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Why Doesn't Everyone Get a Super-Red Face When Exercising?
If your skin tone is fair, congratulations — you're more likely to experience redness in the face, Dr. Woodin said. That's because your skin pigmentation isn't dark enough to cover the redness. Or for some people who have a high fitness level, their body may not need to cool itself as much at the surface. Kate Huether, MD, founder of The ReKovery MD, added that you may be more prone to a strawberry-red complexion if you have more capillaries in your face or if you suffer from a skin condition such as rosacea, which is worsened by increased body temperature.
However, Dr. Woodin wants to make it clear that "having a red face does not mean you're unfit. It simply means that you have more of a blood supply to your face." Everyone's body is different, and this is an "involuntary and uncontrollable reaction that should be embraced." So next time you're self-conscious after a tough workout, don't be! Take that sweaty selfie and show off that beet-red face with pride.