What’s Making Your Skin Red: What’s Normal and What’s a Concern

When you’ve suffered from red skin for a long time, it can really take a toll on your self esteem and mental health. Unfortunately for your Googling efforts, there can be a lot of different causes of redness.

There are however some telltale differences between run-of-the-mill redness and the most common conditions like eczema, rosacea and dermatitis. So let’s delve a little further into what these are, so you can find out what your redness might be caused by after all.

What makes skin look red?

Skin appears red in any case simply because there is excess blood in the surface capillaries. Your skin isn’t opaque, but rather slightly transparent, so you can see the blood underneath the surface.

Simple redness can be brought on by exercise or leftover acne marks. In these cases it’s a sign of good blood flow and imminent healing.

In other cases, it’s a sign of sun damage or irritation from a new or strong product – your skin is letting you know that it doesn’t like something you’ve done recently, so listen to it.

For others, slight pinkness can just be a natural feature of the skin.

But when red skin appears unexpectedly and without cause, causes you pain or lasts a long time, there may be deeper causes, like autoimmune conditions, infection, or irritation from internal sources.

Below are some of the most common skin conditions that lead to redness which comes and goes but rarely clears entirely.


Rosacea is a skin disorder caused by an inflammatory response in the skin which brings excess blood to the surface capillaries in the presence of triggers. Triggers are stimuli from everyday life that are unique to each individual, and can include sunlight, alcohol, exercise, and stress just to name a few. In unaffected people, some of these things might make the skin a little pink, but with rosacea, the rush of blood is intense. Over time, this amount of blood may permanently enlarge the blood vessels leading to chronic skin redness. It’s non contagious and is a chronic condition, meaning you can’t catch it or cure it, but it can be managed with the right products, medication and care.

What does rosacea look/feel like?

There are a few unique features of rosacea that will help you differentiate it from regular red skin.

  • Most common across the nose and cheeks
  • Feels extremely hot to the touch, and the sufferer’s face will often feel uncomfortably stuffy, even to the point of pain.
  • Flares up in ‘flushes’ which can wax and wane throughout the day, suddenly getting far worse at the drop of a hat.
  • Can be also be accompanied by irregular skin texture in the form of shallow acne-like eruptions (specifically papules and pustules), often referred to as adult acne.


Doctors don’t know exactly what causes eczema, aka. atopic dermatitis, but it’s thought it could be from a lack of natural moisturizing factors in the skin. These factors – like oils and waxes – lubricate the skin cells and keep water in the lower layers where it belongs. Without the right balance of these protective oils, the skin is prone to drying out. Itching the dry area will trigger release of histamine and an inflammatory response, only making the problem worse.

What does eczema look/feel like?

  • Most common on areas of folds like elbows and backs of knees
  • Highly itchy
  • Dry, flaky scaly appearance
  • Small raised red bumps
  • Will sting on application of many products, even water

Seborrhoeic dermatitis

Though it shares a similar name to atopic dermatitis, seborrhoeic dermatitis has a big difference – it occurs in the oilier areas of the body. Think your face, check and back. It’s the least well known of the common causes of redness. Unlike eczema, it’s not a lack of lubricating oils, but rather an abundance of them that is the problem. This oil feeds the natural fungi that live on the skin, and can lead to their overproduction. These well-fed yeast produce fatty acids as waste, which trigger an inflammatory response in the skin. Seborrhoeic dermatitis is the cause behind dandruff.

What does seborrhoeic dermatitis look/feel like?

  • Oily skin
  • Pink, patchy rash that is rough to the touch
  • Small flakes, sometimes yellow
  • Inflamed hair follicles (tiny red dots, often on chest)

Keratosis Pilaris Rubra Faceii aka. KPRF

This is a condition related to ‘chicken skin’ on the back of the arms. Both are caused by a genetic predisposition to keratin buildup. Chronic excess keratin – a main component of skin and hair cells – can become stuck in the pores of the face which leads to tiny blockages.

What does KPRF look/feel like?

  • Chronically red, slightly bumpy skin
  • Can be speckled or diffuse
  • Mostly affects sides of cheeks, rarely elsewhere
  • Fluctuates only minorly, but leaves a constant redness
  • Non-painful, but can be itchy
  • Occasionally dry
  • Usually paired with bumpy skin on the arms

How to treat redness

Regardless of your suspicions, if you’re showing the telltale signs of any of these conditions, you need to be diagnosed by a dermatologist to know for sure. They will be able to rule out other less common problems, causes or comorbid conditions. After that, it’s just a matter of medication and choosing the right products and ingredients to calm your skin down.



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