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Are Rosy Cheeks a Red Flag for Something Serious?

Rosy Cheeks: A Red Flag for Something Serious?

You’ve probably noticed cool winter air can bring out rosy red cheeks from any complexion. While rosy cheeks typically fade once you warm up, skin that remains reddened for days or weeks could mean something else.

You might think they’re a sign that you’re healthy and happy, but rosy cheeks could be a red flag for something serious.

Fever, dry skin, sunburn (yes, you can get sunburned in the winter!), and extreme cold can all cause rosy cheeks. So can some internal medical conditions. If red cheeks are staring back at you in the mirror, read on to find out what causes them and to get some tips on how to protect your skin from winter’s wrath.

Sunburn in Winter

Can you get sunburn in winter? Yes, you can.

Snow reflects as much as 80 percent of UV rays. This means when you spend time in the snow, you wind up getting hit by the sun twice—once from the sky and again when UV rays reflect off the snow. This is why people who enjoy winter sports like skiing or snowboarding and forget to wear high-SPF sun protection are more susceptible to sunburn and even skin cancer.

There are several ways to prevent a winter sunburn. Cover up your face, head, and neck instead of just putting on a jacket and gloves. Also, wear UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes. Sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is also crucial to prevent burns.

Fever and Rosy Cheeks

Those red cheeks you’re sporting could be from something more serious than a sunburn after a day on the slopes. You could have one of several conditions including scarlet fever, fifth disease, or just the plain ol’ flu.

All three conditions have fever as a primary symptom, which can cause your rosy cheeks. If you’re experiencing other symptoms, such as a sore throat, those red cheeks could be a sign of an infection.

Winter Skin Conditions

Have you noticed how itchy your skin can get in the winter? You’re not alone. The lack of moisture in winter’s cold, dry air triggers what we refer to as “winter itch.” Besides itching, symptoms include dryness, redness, small skin cracks, and even minor bleeding.

Winter weather can really do a number on your skin, exacerbating some preexisting skin conditions that cause rosy cheeks.


Rosacea is a skin condition in which your facial blood vessels enlarge. This increased blood flow gives the appearance of rosy red cheeks. It’s undetermined what causes rosacea, but extreme temperatures (hot and cold) and alcohol or spicy food consumption exacerbate it.


Winter weather conditions also aggravate eczema. Symptoms include dry, itchy skin that can appear as red patches with raised bumps.

Avoid flare-ups by preventing your skin from getting cold. Bundle up with a hat, gloves, and a scarf when outside. Besides staying warm, you can keep eczema at bay!


Lupus is a chronic condition that affects the immune system. Your immune system makes antibodies to fight off bacteria, germs, and viruses that attack the body. Lupus renders the immune system unable to distinguish healthy tissue from viruses and bacteria.

Your immune system creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. A butterfly-shaped rash across your cheeks and nose is one of the symptoms of lupus. Lupus is a severe health condition, so while this rash can appear similar to sunburn or rosy red cheeks caused by winter weather, treat it seriously.

It’s undetermined what causes lupus, but hormones, genetics, and the environment may play a role.

Protecting Your Skin During the Winter Months

Your skin does more than simply make you look good. Skin protects the body from bacteria, viruses, and the sun’s UV rays.

Here are six ways to protect your skin from a winter rash:

  1. Shield against the wind—Cover your face when out and about. Be sure to apply a petroleum-based lip balm to avoid painful chapping.
  2. Protect yourself from the sun—The winter sun can damage your skin just like the summer sun. Use sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of 30 or greater to avoid skin damage.
  3. Limit hot water and soap usage—Take short, lukewarm showers and bathe with a non-detergent-based soap to help manage that dry skin winter rash.
  4. Moisturize daily—Apply a moisturizer to your skin immediately after bathing. The moisturizer will trap the surface moisture from your wet skin.
  5. Skip the winter tanning bed—Tanning beds and artificial sunlamps damage your skin. They also elevate your risk of skin cancer.
  6. Avoid extreme cold conditions—Extreme cold can cause skin disorders including frostbite. Call a doctor immediately if you notice discoloration in your hands or feet, ulceration, and extreme pain in your fingers or toes.

Maybe you have a rosy complexion for no specific reason—and no doubt, you wear it well! But persistently red skin could signify something more serious.

If you’re experiencing red, itchy, or painful skin that doesn’t clear up in a few days, visit your local vybe urgent care for an evaluation.