What Is Blushing or Flushing?

Flushing and blushing are two words used to describe the same thing – an involuntary and temporary redness to the skin, most commonly of the face and neck. It is caused by the temporary dilation of small blood vessels near the skin surface, bringing blood and heat to the area resulting in redness.
If your face is too red most of the time, look at the section on red face.

Why Do We Blush or Flush?

For most people, blushing or flushing is a normal physiological reaction. It can happen temporarily in response to exercise, being too hot or as a normal emotional response.
It can feel annoying or embarrassing. Without our permission, our body is giving away emotions which we may prefer to keep secret – we may not want the world to know that we feel anxious, excited or ashamed.

In an experiment, people watched a video of shoppers who, by mistake, toppled a display of toilet rolls. The shoppers who looked embarrassed and tried to replace the rolls were rated more highly by the viewers. So psychologists think that blushing acts as a sort of unconscious public apology when we do something wrong, showing that we are upset and making people more likely to forgive us.

Fascinating Facts

  • In the 18th and 19th centuries, women who blushed were regarded as very attractive
  • In Victorian times, flushes at the menopause were treated by applying leeches to suck blood out of the skin
  • A famous Victorian doctor, Brown-Sequard, recognized that flushes at the menopause were caused by shutting down of the ovaries. He recommended that women should eat a daily sandwich containing two sheep’s ovaries
  • Sheep, primates and humans are the only animals that have menopausal flushes (Financial Times 2003; August 9)


First published on: embarrassingproblems.com
Reviewed and edited by: Dr Anna Cantlay
Last updated: October 2020

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