If you have ever wondered why your face gets flushed when you drink alcohol, there is a real, medical reason for why that may happen to you. The medical term for this condition is called “alcohol flush reaction” caused by erythema that develops on the skin in the areas of the face, neck, shoulders, and with more extreme cases, the entire body when alcohol is consumed. Erythema occurs when hyperemia exposes the skin to redness and blotches, not from just simply blushing.
How the body digests alcohol can dictate whether face flushing will happen to somebody when they drink alcohol. Alcohol in the liver is broken down by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase that converts alcohol to into a toxic chemical known as acetaldehyde. Another enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase, changes the acetaldehyde into acetic acid.
Increases in blood pressure when the body attempts to change alcohol into acetaldehyde and then is unable to metabolize it fast enough, generates the capillaries in the face to dilate causing flushing. If there happens to be an aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency in someone that drinks, they will have a buildup of acetaldehyde that makes the face flush, as well as create other ailments. Too much acetaldehyde in the bloodstream is what causes the symptoms of a hangover such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and gastrointestinal problems, along with the alcohol flush reaction.
While Asians make up most of the people that experience face flushing, there are other races of people that are afflicted the same. Persons with fair skin seem to be more affected than those with darker skin tones. Women tend to contract face flushing more than men, especially within the ages of 30-60 years old. Dark spirits and red wines have also been shown to cause face flushing more so than the lighter cocktails.
There is no cure to alcohol flush reaction except abstinence from alcohol completely. Someone that has an aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency and continues to drink, can be more susceptible to alcohol-related cancers, specifically esophageal cancer. Face flushing can also indicate that someone with the defect can be more prone to high blood pressure later in life.
Face flushing can be embarrassing and annoying to someone that has must endure the uncomfortableness of it. The best way to control it is to not have alcohol at all, but with those that are connoisseurs of alcohol, moderation can also keep the flushing to a minimum.
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