“Alcohol-related facial flushing happens most commonly in two populations: those with deficiency in an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, frequently found in Asian populations, and those who suffer from rosacea, frequently found in lighter-skinned people of Northern European background,” explains Pooja Amy Shah, MD.
“This enzyme’s ability to break down acetaldehyde in alcohol causes the red face reaction,” adds registered dietitian Kelly Springer, RD. Alcohol dehydrogenase helps break down alcohol in the liver quickly, so if you have a deficiency alcohol isn’t broken down as quickly. “Alcohol makes blood vessels dilate to some extent in all people,” Dr. Shah says. “This is due to alcohol’s toxic effect on cells.” She adds that having a red flush isn’t dangerous, but it does indicate that the alcohol’s toxic effects are happening.
If you have rosacea, Dr. Shah says flushing can also be caused by chocolate, spicy foods, and hot beverages—not just alcohol. This is because people with rosacea have skin vessels that work hyperactively or unstably, and these are all foods or drinks that affect blood flow.
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do to prevent it, but there are ways to tone down the redness, such as with a green-tinted moisturizer. Oh, and that old trick of drinking a glass of water between each drink to give your liver some assistance. In any case, a red face from alcohol might be a sign that it’s time to call it a night.
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