In this article, we are going to cover everything you need to know about Asian glow, also referred to as Asian flush.
If your face flushes red when you drink alcohol, this may very well be the condition plaguing you. You may also hear this condition referred to as an alcohol flush reaction. Whatever you call it, it often gets in the way of living a full and fun social life.
The purpose of this article is to help people who flush red from alcohol learn more about what Asian flush in general along with symptoms, causes, and remedies. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- What is Asian Flush?
- What Causes the Asian Flush?
- Does Asian Flush Only Affect Asians?
- How Do You Know If You Have Asian Flush?
- Can Some Types of Alcohol Make Asian Flush Worse?
- Is Asian Flush an Allergy to Alcohol?
- Is Asian Flush Dangerous?
- Is it Safe to Take Antacids Like Pepcid for Asian Flush?
- What Do People Think About Asian Flush?
- Want to Learn More About Asian Flush?
What is Asian Flush?
Asian flush is when you go red after drinking alcohol. It can happen after as little as one standard drink.
The red face is also accompanied by other symptoms such as:
... and a generally bad feeling overall. We'll cover more Asian flush symptoms later on.
Below is an example of a girl experiencing Asian flush:
Image credits: What is Asian Glow? by CBC Radio
There's nothing quite like turning bright red on a hot dinner date or during after-work drinks at your brand new job. I'm sure you agree, it is embarrassing.
Image credits: Asian flush, explained by Vox
If you get a red face like this after alcohol, you'll understand why a lot of people say that drinking alcohol with Asian glow is not fun.
In fact, many people feel that it is embarrassing and can sometimes make it hard to have a full and fun social life.
According to Amitava Dasgupta, PhD and professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center, the effects are often so uncomfortable that people with Asian flush may stop drinking altogether.
You're not alone. Almost 30% of Asians and about 10% of non-Asians experience flushing from alcohol, including the social awkwardness that goes along with it.
Yet, alcohol is a part of how we socialise. Whether it be to celebrate, party or 'wine and dine' a hot date, the pressure to drink is real.
The good news is, a little bit of knowledge is all it takes to begin taking control of your Asian glow and living a full and fun social life.
Understanding why the reaction happens is the first step in knowing how to control it.
In the next section, we will go into a little bit of the biology behind why this happens.
Don't gloss over this part, it's important!
Asian Flush Causes & Origin
While you may suspect the only Asian flush cause is alcohol, that isn’t necessarily the case.
Specifically, this issue is caused by an enzyme deficiency, sometimes called ALDH2 deficiency. This deficiency stops the liver from being able to properly break-down alcohol.
As the graphic above depicts, people with Asian glow don't have the enzymes to break-down a toxin called acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde is highly toxic and our bodies react very negatively when exposed to it.
Not having the enzymes to break-down this nasty toxin is the real reason why Asian flush happens.
Therefore, understanding how to break down acetaldehyde is a key step to knowing how to live with this condition in a healthy and sustainable way.
Other Asian Flush Causes Aside From Alcohol
Since the reactions are very similar, many times (especially when alcohol is involved) people mistake a certain reaction, caused by something completely different than alcohol, for the Asian flush syndrome, when it is obviously not the case.
Therefore, if you would like to differentiate one from the other, you’ve come to the right place, so let’s take a look at what other things, besides alcohol, induce red flashes known as Asian glow.
Certain Medication May Cause Similar Symptoms To Asian Flush
Red flushes can be caused by various medications, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s due to an allergic reaction.
Opioids, like oxycodone, as well as doxorubicin and Viagra are reported to induce the Asian glow-like redness in a fraction of patients who medicate themselves with these drugs.
The cause for this skin reaction is uncertain, so if you experience red flushes after using some of the previously-mentioned medication, make sure to consult with your doctor to see if there is a suitable alternative.
Niacin, more commonly known as Vitamin B3, can also cause this reaction, but not when taken in moderate amounts.
Overdosing is the only way which can cause redness in your upper body due to increased blood flow. If you are concerned about what is the proper amount of niacin that should be taken and how often, again, it’s best that you talk to your doctor or consult with a medical professional.
Don’t Confuse Alcohol Allergy & Alcohol Intolerance
Alcohol-induced flushing and alcohol allergy are not to be confused. While the former is preventable with the usage of certain products, like our Sunset pills, the latter is not.
This happens when the immune system regards the alcohol as a threat, so in order to “help us,” it produces immunoglobulin.
The production of these antibodies is the cause for the allergic reaction that resembles Asian glow, which is less common than alcohol intolerance.
The steroid hormone cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”, serves us by keeping our immune system in check, regulating our blood sugar, managing our blood pressure, turning food into energy, and reducing inflammation.
When this hormone’s levels are too high, many negative consequences can occur, red flushing being one of them. This results in the condition known as the Cushing syndrome, which can also occur due to excessive use of cortisol-like drugs, also known as steroids.
Certain tumors can also cause an overproduction of cortisol, so if you have doubts that this is the cause of your Asian glow, make sure to let your doctor know.
Certain spicy foods, especially those which contain chili pepper, can be a trigger enough for the appearance of the Asian glow-like redness on your face and neck, especially if you don’t consume these kinds of foods that often and/or if you have fair skin.
This occurs due to increased blood flow, which causes dilation of the facial blood vessels, hence more blood flow rises to the surface of the skin, making it flush.
If you enjoy eating strongly flavoured foods, an alternative would be to use spices that will provide you with the feeling you get when eating spicy foods. Some spices that don’t cause red flushing are turmeric, ginger, garlic, thyme, and so on.
They may not give you that burning sensation you get when eating peppery foods, but will definitely add extra flavor without being the cause for that annoying red glow.
Emotions can be very tricky and quite often are the cause of some involuntary reactions, excessive blushing being one of them.
This facial redness, which resembles Asian glow, can occur as a result of us being put in some embarrassing situation, experiencing a stressful moment, being nervous or fearful, and so on.
Anxiety is a very common trigger of turning one’s face red, while speeding up the heart rate and breathing.
Anxiety attacks are not something to be taken lightly, so if this is the cause of your red flushes, talk to your doctor about some strategies which can help you overcome this frequent mood disorder.
Since alcohol is not the only trigger for Asian glow, you should see a medical professional so that the right cause can be determined. This way, you’ll have a better chance of preventing your cheeks excessively blushing in the future.
Does Asian Glow Only Affect Asians?
No, Asian flush can affect anyone who drinks alcohol. Here is an image that was taken by one of our long-time non-Asian customers of Sunset, Dan P from Gold Coast in Australia:
As you can see, you don't need to be Asian to have this condition. The reason the reaction is called 'Asian glow' is that a high proportion of the Asian population is affected.
According to a literature review by scientists at the University of California, Asian flush is experienced by:
- 34% of Korean Americans
- 50% of Chinese Americans
- 29% of Koreans
- 37% of Korean Chinese
- 46% of Japanese
- 34% of Han Chinese and Taiwanese
However, Alcohol flush reaction in Caucasians is not uncommon. In fact, according to a 1986 study looking at the racial differences in alcohol sensitivity, approximately 3 to 29 per cent of Caucasians get a red face from alcohol.
Why Is It Predominantly Asians That Suffer From Asian Glow?
If you’re one of the roughly 50% of Asians suffering from Asian glow (or one of the many non-Asians suffering from flushing after drinking alcohol), you might be wondering, why me?
Well, new scientific research has emerged showing that a simple dietary staple may be to blame for your annoying flush reaction.
This same research might also shed some light on how we might be able to eliminate the symptoms of this condition altogether!
How Rice May Be The Culprit For Asian Glow
We’ve all been on this earth for thousands of years, and for the most part, all of us have been drinking alcohol. But, Asians seem to be the one group that’s most affected by this phenomenon.
Still, we don’t have the answer to the question “why do some people flush following alcohol consumption?”. Fortunately, it seems that science is finally getting down to the bottom of this issue, and it looks like a simple staple food item may be the root cause of Asian glow: rice!
Bear with me here: The first instances of flushing in the face as a result of alcohol use were reported around 10,000 years ago. At around the same time was when we first began cultivating rice. Since these timelines seem to match up, the link between rice cultivation and flushing in the face when drinking alcohol is worth investigating.
Bing Su, a geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China and a professor at Yale University decided to study the genes of 2275 people from 38 different East-Asian populations, looking for a mutation that modifies the gene that codes for the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase.
The gene mutation that Su and his team were looking for causes alcohol to be metabolized at 100 times the speed that it otherwise would be. As the enzyme removes alcohol so quickly from the bloodstream, it protects people from the harmful effects of alcohol, and Su believes it confers an evolutionary advantage: a study in the Han Chinese suggests that those carrying the mutation have the lowest risk of alcoholism (American Journal of Human Genetics, vol 65 p 795).
The mutation also causes a by-product of the alcohol’s metabolization to accumulate in the body, which makes those who have the mutation flush red when they drink.
Here’s what Su and his team found in their studies:
- In certain areas of southeast China, nearly all of the subjects of the study suffered from Asian glow.
- In areas of western China, about two-thirds to three-quarters of people suffered from this reaction.
- Meanwhile, in northern areas of China where rice cultivation was less prevalent, far fewer people were afflicted.
In more scientific terms, from a scienctic journal summary on Biomedcentral.com:
We studied a total of 38 populations (2,275 individuals) including Han Chinese, Tibetan and other ethnic populations across China. The geographic distribution of the ADH1B*47His allele[editors note: the "class I alcohol dehydrogenase sequence polymorphism (ADH1BArg47His)" mentioned here is another way to say 'enzyme deficiency' at the gene level] in these populations indicates a clear east-to-west cline, and it is dominant in south-eastern populations but rare in Tibetan populations. The molecular dating suggests that the emergence of the ADH1B*47His allele occurred about 10,000~7,000 years ago.
The researchers hypothesize that the cause of this adverse reaction to alcohol is a genetic mutation that was designed to protect early farmers from the potentially fatal effects of alcohol use. At around the exact time that we began cultivating rice, we also realized that rice could be fermented to create an alcoholic drink.
A mutation like this is actually quite common when it comes to human evolution. As humans began incorporating starch into their diets, the enzyme amylase evolved to process it more efficiently.
The same goes for the enzyme lactase, which evolved to help us process lactose as we added dairy to our diets (fun fact: more than 65% of the worlds adult population actually suffers from lactose intolerance!).
The idea that this reaction has evolved to protect humans from alcohol use is further supported by the fact that it mirrors many of the symptoms of the drug disulfiram.
Disulfiram, sold under the trade name Antabuse, is a drug designed to prevent relapse in alcoholics. If someone taking disulfiram consumes alcohol, they’ll encounter many of the same side effects that they’d experience if they were suffering from flushing from alcohol.
Disulfiram actually works by inhibiting acetaldehyde dehydrogenase in the bloodstream, which increases the acetaldehyde in the body by almost tenfold... sound familiar!?
So when it comes to the question of “why am I cursed with this flush reaction after consuming alcohol?” It seems that rice being integrated into our diets thousands of years ago may be to blame!
How Do You Know If You Have Asian Flush?
The most common sign that you have Asian flush is if you get a red face after alcohol that looks something like this:
This is also accompanied by an overall negative feeling, sometimes including puffiness around the eyes, headaches, difficulty breathing and rapid heart rate.
Getting this condition feels like the exact opposite of how responsible alcohol consumption is supposed to make you feel.
It is almost like getting a hangover immediately after drinking alcohol instead of the next morning.
People who drink socially usually do it to feel relaxed, sociable and perhaps more courageous when approaching someone at a bar.
In contrast, someone experiencing Asian flush is likely to feel physical discomfort, anti-social and too self-conscious about their red face to approach anyone.
We asked Jeik, a member of the SRQ Labs team, what it felt like when he experienced the Asian glow:
“I remember the first time my face went red from alcohol. It was about 15 years ago and I was at a house party trying to get the interest of a girl.
The night was progressing pretty well. We were chatting and all signs were pointing in a positive direction. That was until she offered me a beer. A simple, innocent, cold, refreshing beer.
I downed it with manly gusto, trying to hide the fact that i’d never drunk a full bottle of beer before. Little did I know, this would start a 20 minute count down to me becoming the focus of the room for all the wrong reasons.
It didn’t take long before I began to feel the skin on my face heating up and beginning to tingle. Not long after that it became harder to breath and I could feel my eyes becoming bloodshot.
I could tell something was wrong by the concerned look on the girl's face. Then I heard a voice from across the room yell out “Look how smashed he is!”.
At this point everyone’s eyes were on me, my face was pulsating and quickly becoming the centre of everyone’s attention. “Are you on drugs?” she asked as she distanced herself from the laughing stock of the room.”
What a curse. Alcohol is fundamentally rooted in most societies as a means of celebration, bonding and courtship. A glass of wine on a dinner date, after-work drinks, a client lunch, a bar full of hopeful singles, the list goes on.
What are the symptoms of Asian Glow Syndrome?
As you may have guessed or heard already, Asian glow carries a myriad of symptoms other than flushing. Here are some of most noteworthy:
- Redness of the upper body and other areas of the body (such as neck, chest and shoulders)
- Swelling of the cheeks
- Sensation of warmth and itchiness coming from areas of redness on the face and/or body
- Red eyes
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty breathing and/or restricted breathing
- A general sense of upper body pressure
- Nasal congestion
The results of the largest survey of those with Asian Flush showed that a red face is the most common symptom for sufferers, followed by headaches as second. Nearly 100% of people who were surveyed reported that they experience flushing after alcohol (in addition to other, lesser symptoms).
Looking well presented and attractive is challenging enough without having to deal with a swollen red face or any of the other Asian flush symptoms listed. It's easy to see how a night out at the bar can quickly turn into an embarrassing and uncomfortable evening.
Think about the amount of time we spend shopping for nice clothes, doing our hair or makeup so that we can look our best for an important business lunch, dinner date or any kind of public social gathering.
If you’re unlucky enough to have alcohol flush reaction then all of the effort put into preparing for a night out, or even just a casual day – shopping for nice clothes, doing our hair, applying makeup – can all go down the drain after half a beer!
While these symptoms sound similar to what you might feel during a hangover the next day, those with alcohol flush syndrome can feel these symptoms during their night out. For those with severe alcohol flush syndrome, you may even experience symptoms after just a few sips of alcohol.
Sufferers also report that these symptoms can last up to a day or two, making drinking alcohol a really uncomfortable and drawn-out activity.
How bad are the symptoms of Asian flush?
In a 1991 study looking at the subjective feelings of people with Asian flush, researchers concluded that:
This alcohol sensitivity reaction that many Asian flushers experience may contribute to their lower tendency to drink excessively, even though their response to alcohol is not predominantly negative.
In this study, researchers divided subjects into two groups. One group with a functioning ALDH2 enzyme and another with the enzyme deficiency that causes alcohol flush reaction.
After administering alcohol to both groups, researchers asked the subjects to rate how they felt. Surprisingly, the results showed that subjects with alcohol flush reaction reported more positive feelings of intoxication than the non-flushing group:
Following alcohol, flushers reported experiencing significantly more positive feelings of intoxication than nonflushers, despite equivalent blood alcohol concentrations.
These data suggest that Asians who flush after drinking, particularly those with ALDH2*1/2*2 genotype, have a more intense, although not necessarily a more negative, response to alcohol than comparable nonflushing Asians.
Despite these conclusions, the success of alcoholism medication Disulfiram seems to contradict these findings. Its purpose is to intentionally cause symptoms of Asian flush in people with alcoholism. This makes drinking alcohol sufficiently unpleasant for them that many refrain from drinking.
Furthermore, we have surveyed thousands of people with Asian flush. The truth is, this is not a positive experience. The symptoms are usually sufficiently negative to turn them off drinking alcohol altogether.
We have dealt with thousands of people who have managed to stop their flushing symptoms. Out of this group, the overwhelming feedback is that their enjoyment of alcohol was dramatically improved when their condition went away - not the other way around as the above study suggests.
The good news is, a little bit of knowledge about Asian glow can go a long way. For example, not all alcohol is created equally when it comes to its effect on the flushing.
Can Some Types of Alcohol Make Asian Glow Worse?
Yes, some alcoholic beverages can make your red face reaction a lot worse.
There are many additives used in the production of alcohol that can worsen the effects of flushing.
Many people can experience a sudden alcohol intolerance from these additives and incorrectly assume their Asian flush is to blame.
One example is aged spirits stored in wooden barrels. These spirits contain molecules called tannins that can make flushing worse.
Another example is red wine, which contains high amounts of tannins because of the oak barrels used in its production.
Beer and cider both contain sulfites, which have been shown to cause some people unpleasant symptoms such as headaches and flushing.
If aged spirits, wine and beer are all potential triggers of Asian glow, what is there left to drink?
In answer to this, we have put together a list of low alcohol drinks designed specifically with alcohol flushing in mind.
Whilst an intolerance to some ingredients alcohol can make flushing worse, people often confuse Asian flush with an allergic reaction.
What Do People Think About Asian Flush?
In the biggest Asian flush survey ever conducted, participants shared their thoughts about this ailment:
"I am never able to fully enjoy myself as much when I go out compared to my friends with the symptoms I experience from flushing."
Many Asian glow sufferers reported feeling left out or excluded when they turn down an offer for a drink.
In fact, in some cultures turning down an alcoholic beverage can be overtly rude and offensive to the person offering.
To make matters even more uncomfortable, most people are unaware that Asian flush exists.
This lack of awareness can cause people to make incorrect assumptions about the drinker that can potentially cause embarrassment and social awkwardness.
A recent 2018 study analysed data from 2912 undergraduate students from 13 universities in China. The researchers found that only 11.6% of students understood the link between alcohol flushing and impaired alcohol metabolism.
This lack of awareness, especially in western countries, contributes a lot to the social handicap experienced by people with Asian flush.
What are some DIY Asian glow cures?
First thing to keep in mind is that Asian glow does not have a cure. However, there are few things you can try at home to help minimise your reaction to alcohol. These can include:
- Strategic drink selection - Do you flush worse with red wine, but less with beer? Make sure to pick alcoholic drinks that work best for you and your symptoms
- Colour-correcting makeup - Green is a fantastic colour to off-set the redness caused by Asian glow. Pick makeup products like foundation or concealer with a green-tint to minimise your redness
- Sunset Alcohol Flush Support - This supplement is specifically designed to reduce Asian Flush symptoms
Still looking for the best DIY cure to Asian Flush? Visit: DIY Asian flush cures - simple Asian glow remedies you can try today!
How can I prevent Asian Glow?
Sunset Alcohol Flush Support is the most effective option on the market for Asian Glow relief. This supplement was specifically designed for Asian Glow and to support the body when dealing with this condition.
Unfortunately, there is currently no 100% cure for Asian Glow. However, there are some steps that you can take to prevent this uncomfortable experience or minimize your symptoms.
To fully stop Asian glow, you'll have to stop drinking alcohol completely or choose drinks that have lower alcohol content. This will reduce the amount of alcohol in your system and thus the amount your body will need to break down.
Want more details on how to prevent Asian Glow? Visit: How To Prevent Asian Flush & Stop Your Face From Turning Red!
Asian Glow Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
We've covered a lot, but we're sure you still have questions about Asian glow. Fear not, because we've scoured the depths of the internet and found the most frequently asked questions about this condition.
Is Asian Glow an Allergy to Alcohol?
No, Asian flush is not an allergic reaction to alcohol. It is a toxic reaction to an alcohol metabolite called acetaldehyde.
Knowing the difference is vitally important.
According to an article published by the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy:
"In contrast to flushing, irritant and toxic reactions to alcohol, allergic reactions to alcohol are relatively uncommon."
In people with alcohol allergy, as little as 10ml of wine or a mouthful of beer is enough to cause severe rashes, difficulty breathing, stomach cramps or collapse.
Someone with Asian flush is unlikely to experience any symptoms from a sip of beer or 10ml of wine.
Being aware of the differences is important, however seeking medical opinion is also equally important if a real allergy to alcohol is suspected.
Is Asian Glow Dangerous?
The actual symptoms of flushing are not dangerous. However, the long-term risks of alcohol consumption can be significantly higher if you have this condition.
This is because those suffering are unable to break-down a toxin called acetaldehyde that enters the body when you drink alcohol.
According to Dr Tan Ek Khoon, a consultant at Singapore General Hospital:
“Acetaldehyde can trigger inflammation in the upper gastrointestinal tract, cause DNA damage, and increase one’s risk for gastrointestinal diseases, namely oesophageal and stomach cancers as well as peptic ulcers,”
In 2009, scientists from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and Japan's Kurihama Alcohol Center conducted a study that founds a link between Asia flush and caner.
This research was subsequently picked up and released to the public by the National Institutes of Health in a press release and further also been confirmed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
With this public health issue in the spotlight, it is surprising that many sufferers are unaware of the long-term dangers of this ailment.
You can read more about the long term dangers of this condition in our article titled: Asian Flush Cancer - Debunking the Myth.
Is it Safe to Take Antacids like Pepcid for Asian Glow?
No, it is not safe to take antacids like Pepcid for Asian flush. In fact, medical professionals around the world are warning people to not do this.
The off-label use of antacids like Pepcid has grown in popularity amongst people with Asian glow after a study from the 1980s found a link between antihistamines and flushing.
However, using antihistamines like Pepcid ignores the root cause of the problem. By masking the unpleasant side effects of this condition, the body can accumulate more toxins than usual. This shortcut could increase various health risks associated with Asian flush.
This assertion was confirmed in a 1988 study looking at the effect of antihistamines on ethanol metabolism. It found that the active compounds in Zantac and Pepcid had little impact on blood acetaldehyde after drinking alcohol.
This study confirms that the off-label use of these antihistamines is misguided. Experts suggest that this could lead to undetected acetaldehyde accumulation and numerous health complications down the road.
To find out more, please read our article about the dangers of abusing Pepcid AC, Zantac and Zyrtec for Asian flush.