Ever wondered why your face turns beet red every time you drink alcohol? Have you ever developed rashes with just a few sips? If you’ve lived a life isolated from pop culture, especially asian, and you’ve somehow missed what it means, we’ll break it to you: it’s that chronic condition popularly called Asian flush, or Asian glow.
To those who’ve lived their lives in blissful ignorance of the condition - although there are several degrees of the glow, it usually doesn't take a lot of drinking to get the job done. Some of the most prominent symptoms are rashes, hives, red eyes, and the Asian glow signature look - the red face. The condition does prevent some people from heavy imbibing - but for many it only means that they've learned how to cope with the discomfort and awkwardness of getting a red face when they have a cocktail. There's plenty of science behind it, though, and it's more than enough to make you want a cold, stiff drink.
To a person that has never heard of it, let alone experienced it, this usually doesn’t seem like much of a problem. Don’t most of us flush when we’re drunk anyway?
If you’re a frequent Asian glow-er, you’d beg to differ. You’ve probably suffered a ton of social occasions where a whiff of alcohol has made you the star of the party, and not in a good way. When your face gets red after drinking alcohol, people usually tend to stare. And then the questions start to come in:
Oh my god, why is your face red? Are you drunk? Are you okay? Are you on drugs? You can hardly tell them to simply respect Asian flush etiquette, and refrain from mentioning the fact you are painfully aware of - people who don’t experience Asian flush can be really insensitive to the problem.
This can go from embarrassing, to mildly irritating, all the way down to outright uncomfortable, especially if you’re attending a social occasion such as a business lunch, or a dinner date. See, food and booze play such a vital part in our social experience that people usually don’t react well when you try to refrain from it.
On certain occasions it’s even considered rude - and parties, for those of us that belong to the large international community of Asian glow-ers, can easily become a dilemma between drinking and facing the stares when your face starts turning red, or not drinking and fighting off people insisting that you do.
So is there anything you fellow Asian flush sufferers out there can do about it?
Why do you experience it in the first place?
Are you really just “such a lightweight”?
Is it a dangerous condition?
We’ll try to answer all these questions and more. We’ve included everything you need to know about the condition, the cures and remedies that people usually use, as well as the supplements available on the market.
Since the latest studies show that Asian flush is a condition that might go beyond its most obvious symptom - the red face, we’ll try to explore everything related to this problem most commonly found in people of Asian descent, and how you can overcome it.
Use this guide for reference if you’re someone who wants to finally understand what the syndrome is all about - and use the table of contents to navigate through this guide if you’re only interested in a particular section.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ll only be focusing on a general view of “Asian skin”, Asian flush, and its effects and symptoms. There are many different ethnicities that experience the flush, with varying degrees of symptom manifestation, and there’s simply not enough research to make any claims about all of them in particular. If you’re suffering from the alcoholic flush reaction or a related alcohol-induced condition, make sure that you consult a medical expert.
Everything you need to know about Asian flush or Asian glow
What is Asian flush or glow?
If you’re here you’ve probably guessed it - you, my friend, suffer from alcohol flush reaction (AFR) - or what is commonly known as Asian flush, or, euphemistically, Asian Glow. If you thought Asian glow refers to the glowy skin frequently found in East Asians, or if it sounds like a Dragonball superpower - think again: it’s that pestering condition of your face getting tomato red every time you drink alcohol. Embarrassing to some and annoying to others, but definitely not ideal.
If you experience it, you’re hardly alone - 30% to 50% of Asians do (depending on the research), along with a solid percentage of non-Asians.
Besides the lobster-red face (and sometimes upper body) that has become almost proverbial, largely thanks to anime, the condition can make those afflicted by it exhibit a number of other uncomfortable Asian flush symptoms:
Did we just more or less describe the symptoms of being drunk? Well, yes, but the difference is that Asian flush can happen from as little as one sip, and the person doesn’t even have to be drunk while experiencing them. Around 45% of East Asians get the redness and laboured breathing after consuming only one to two drinks, which usually occurs either right away, or up to an hour after their first sip. Less than 10% are unlucky enough to experience the most severe kind of Asian Flush - they get the symptoms after as little as a quarter cup of beer or wine.
So before we go on to conclude that certain people just can’t seem to hold their liquor, let’s look at the facts.
The main reason for this occurrence is, surprisingly, not because you have good blood circulation. It’s caused by the lack of activity of an obscure enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2), which we’ll get into in a bit.
Flushing, whether from embarrassment, heat, or excessive amounts of alcohol (which in certain cases can be just a sip of alcohol, period) happens when the blood vessels under the surface of the skin dilate. And in the case of Asian facial flushing, this is part of the immune response happening in the body.
What Causes Asian Flush?
To keep things short: alcohol.
But, if you want to get to the bottom of it, we’ll have to get a bit more science-y and dive in an explanation of the chemical processes involved. (there are also a few other things that might cause the red skin associated with Asian flush, and you can read about them here.)
As we all know, alcohol is no multivitamin. Drinking alcohol, humanity’s favorite pastime, takes its toll on the body, which needs to work hard to expel its toxins.
Although that’s not easy, properly functioning bodies manage it well enough. So well in fact, that the symptoms of alcohol toxicity become apparent only after you’re well into your cups (and most often than not, the day after).
Of course, if you’re a heavy drinker, you’re bound to notice some long term, er, let’s say “improvements” to your system after a while, and although the way your health responds to heavy drinking depends on a lot of factors such as genes, age, gender, body mass and general health, one thing is for certain: drinking alcohol in general can be detrimental to your health.
But there’s a crucial difference between the way a normal human body processes alcohol, and the body of a person who has Asian flush does. In order to understand it, we first have to take a look at what generally happens in the body of a person who has consumed alcohol.
How do we digest alcohol?
The body digests alcohol a bit differently than food. Once alcohol hits the stomach and the small intestine, it avoids the normal digestive process and goes straight for the bloodstream. That’s because the body sees it as poison, and sends it to the liver.
Now in order to metabolize it, the liver uses two enzymes to break down the ethanol unfortunately found in beauties such as margaritas, tequila or beer.
The enzymes in question are:
- alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH)
- aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2)
What happens with Asian flush sufferers is that their bodies produce an inefficient version of the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2). This comes as no surprise - enzyme problems are what usually lies behind food or beverage intolerances: the lactose intolerant for example can’t produce the enzyme lactase (or have stopped to with age).
The first enzyme that deals with the ethanol released in your body when you’re downing drinks is alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which turns it into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a toxic by-product of the process of alcohol metabolism in the liver.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Although acetaldehyde is short lived, usually existing in the body only for a brief time” before it gets broken down further by the second enzyme, “it has the potential to cause significant damage.”
As physician and researcher Robert Swift says: "Acetaldehyde is nasty stuff". "It's like formaldehyde, which is embalming fluid. It destroys proteins. It destroys DNA." In fact, the science community in this field suspects that this toxic by-product is what’s behind everything that’s bad in getting drunk - the vomiting, nausea, and blackouts, as well as another well known, alcohol-related problem that all races experience - hangovers.
This is where the second enzyme of the two, ALDH2 comes to play, in normal human bodies at least. It’s typically in charge of metabolizing acetaldehyde in the liver by turning it into compounds such as acetate. Acetate or acetic acid is the harmless acidic component of vinegar. It’s a non-toxic substance which the cells in the human body commonly use in cell metabolism. Although massive doses of alcohol are by no means easy on the body (they can sometimes be fatal), if the mechanisms for alcohol digestion are in place, your body will eventually deal with them.
How do people with Asian flush i.e. Asian glow digest alcohol?
But people with Asian flush produce insufficient and defective aldehyde dehydrogenase for their bodies to process alcoholic beverages successfully. For them, the process of alcohol metabolism pretty much stops with ADH, the enzyme that converts ethanol to acetaldehyde. Because their bodies are unable to break down the acetaldehyde build up in the liver as they should, the highly toxic by-product floods the person’s bloodstream.
The alcohol flush reaction they get is simply their body telling them that there are high levels of the toxic substance, levels which can be up to 10 times higher than the normal concentration.
The result are the usual signs of alcohol flush: a red face, or body rashes, a racing heart, and sometimes even hot flashes or nausea, which can sometimes occur even after something one would barely call drinking.
Are Asians the only people who get Asian glow?
You’re not Asian, but everything we’ve described so far sounds awfully familiar? It doesn’t necessarily imply that there’s something about your origin you’re not aware of.
Although the vernacular term for alcohol flush reaction is Asian glow or Asian flush, and the problem has become somewhat stereotypically Asian, people of Asian origin are not the only ones who get it. The deficiency can definitely occur in anyone.
It’s true that in every three people of East Asian descent (Japanese, Chinese and Korean) one of them will have the gene that is behind the deficient aldehyde dehydrogenase variant. But although Asians and alcohol seem to have a special relationship, people from all races have been diagnosed with the condition: people from Caucasian, African and Mexican-American descent extremely rarely, while several Non-Asian ethnic groups, such as Ashkenazi Jews - quite often.
The bottom line is: if your mother or father has it, chances are you’ll have it too, and possibly, so will your children.
What’s the reason people have an inefficient aldehyde dehydrogenase?
To keep things short, if you’re reading this because you suffer from Asian flush and you’re looking for something to blame - blame your genetics, because it turns out that it’s an inherited deficiency.
But isn’t it odd that Asians, East Asians in particular, seem to be most affected by it?
The exact genetic nature of the deficient enzyme appears to be the presence of an allele that inactivates ALDH2 enzymes. Molecular dating suggested that the emergence of the allele dates back to 10 000 - 7000 years ago. And that’s around the same time people in certain areas of China first started cultivating rice.
A research conducted by Bing Su, a professor at Yale University, and a geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China, found that the mutation behind the gene responsible for acetaldehyde metabolism in the body is most prevalent in areas in southeast China, where almost all of the subjects of the study suffered from Asian glow.
Let’s take a moment to imagine an area where everybody has the Asian glow, and people drink alcohol without having to bear non-Asian glow-ers making fun of them for it!
These areas are where rice cultivation started out, and with it, the process of alcohol fermentation. The correlation between rice cultivation and fermentation and Asian glow is definitely strong, and has led researchers to hypothesize that the mutation might have happened in order to protect early farmers from the potentially fatal effects of drinking alcohol, which we’ll get into in the next chapter. Check out our article on rice as the source of the Asian flush reaction, where we discuss this study in more detail.
The alcohol-induced symptoms in each individual may vary from mild to severe, which depends on whether the individual in question has inherited one or two of these gene variants, In the latter case, facial flushing can be quite extreme, resulting in a deep red, almost purple facial flushing as well as other symptoms. That sure takes the fun out of drinking, right?
So Asian glowing runs in the family. And for a long time, there wasn’t anything you could do about it, apart from abstaining from alcohol.
Can you test your DNA for ALDH2 deficiency?
If you exhibit the most common symptoms for Asian flush - you have it. But is there a DNA test you can take just to check? Well, the best one we’ve come across is 23andme, which is not to say there aren’t others out there. Keep in mind though, it’s not exactly cheap.
Alcohol intolerance in Asians - a mixed blessing?
Before we proceed to explain the best Asian flush prevention methods, as well as DIY cures and remedies let’s first give you some food for thought: having an inefficient aldehyde dehydrogenase can sometimes be a good thing.
There have been studies that show that because the inefficient enzyme makes them less likely to drink as much, people of East Asian ethnicity are also less likely to suffer from alcoholism and alcohol related cancers .
In fact, Disulfiram, a medicine used to discourage alcoholics from drinking by giving them unpleasant side effects when they do drink, is an aldehyde dehydrogenase inhibitor. It’s funny at best, and ironic at worst that doctors treat alcoholics by giving them a nasty Asian glow.
Let’s put things into perspective, and look at the opposite end of the genetic drinking spectrum. It comes as hardly a surprise that Russians are the ones that win the alcohol consumption genetic lottery. They tend to be genetically predisposed to metabolize alcohol more slowly , which allows them to drink more. However, when you can hold your liquor and get away with it, you are more likely to become a heavy drinker, and in their case, they drink so much that reportedly 30.5% of all deaths in Russia are caused by alcohol (stats as of 2012).
And there are reasons to suspect that the facial flushing common in East Asians might exist for a reason.
Health risks associated with Asian Flush and Asian Glow
Now the fact that alcohol is bad for you is not exactly rocket science. Alcohol consumption, on the other hand, is so tightly woven into the fabric of our society that it’s very unlikely an adult person has managed to live their life without trying at least a sip.
But along the usual health risks associated with alcohol, including short-term effects like dizziness, incapacitation (and although not exactly a health risk - peculiar behavior), and the more serious, long-term risks not the least of which are risk of liver or heart damage, individuals afflicted with the Asian Glow syndrome have a few additional things to worry about.
There’s been extensive research on the correlation between alcohol and certain types of cancers, and it’s a common fact that alcohol is a group 1 carcinogen, along the lines of tobacco. We’ve known it for at least three decades. But a study conducted in 2017 suggested that, as ALDH2 plays a central role in removing genotoxic aldehydes, over 540 million people who are deficient in ALDH2 activity, or to put it simply - people experiencing Asian flush symptoms, have a higher chance to be more susceptible to DNA damage and the enhanced cancer risk associated with it.
The study confirmed something that has been only hinted at in the medical field since forever: the fact that alcohol does indeed cause DNA damage, and that it’s far, far worse for people with the flush.
The researchers at Cambridge tested the effects of alcohol on lab mice, and the chances for DNA damage after a single dose of alcohol were 4 times higher in the mice carrying the Asian alcohol gene responsible for Asian flush.
Ketan Patel, molecular biology professor at Cambridge and one of the study’s authors said in an interview for CBC News: “If you carry the flush mutation, alcohol could be very damaging to you”.
This only confirms what a 1996 study researching the link between Asian flush and esophageal cancer - a type of cancer commonly associated with alcoholism, found to be true: there is increased risk of this type of cancer in subjects with Asian flush, regardless of whether they are alcoholics or not.
This makes the problem of Asian glow something that transcends simple aesthetics or social discomfort. We’ve written a whole article dedicated to the topic of Asian flush cancer, so be sure to check it out.
Now let’s make one thing clear: we are not arguing prohibition here. In fact, we’ve done everything in our power to find a solution that will make the Asian glow crowd as free to indulge in alcohol as the rest of the legal-drinking world. We’re all grown-ups here. There’s nothing wrong with a few drinks occasionally.
But even a steady habit as seemingly harmless as 2 drinks a day can trigger the extreme susceptibility of cancer down the line for many Asians. All in all, it’s safe to say that if you’re suffering from the Asian Glow, it’s better to err on the side of caution and reconsider how often you indulge. That, or consider supplements, which we will get into a bit later.
The difference between Asian Flush, Asian Glow, and Alcohol Intolerance
A condition that can be easily confused with Asian flush is alcohol intolerance, which shares most of its symptoms. And in most cases, the biggest reason behind it is, identically to Asian flush, enzyme deficiency - which makes the two conditions analogous. The terms are in fact, often used interchangeably.
But alcohol intolerance can also be caused by a damaged liver, or happen due to the use of antibiotics or antifungal medication, as these have been known to prevent ALDH2 from breaking down acetaldehyde properly.
The symptoms of alcohol intolerance include the facial flushing associated with Asian glow, but the list also extends to: nasal congestion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, increased heart rate, heartburn, gas and severe asthmatic reactions, usually all after a single sip of alcohol.
In other words, a hangover, only one you get the second you take a whiff of alcohol as opposed to the day after - an instant hangover if you will.
If your symptoms sound similar but you aren’t sure which condition you have it’s always best to consult your doctor.
Is alcohol allergy a thing?
Alcohol intolerance is often popularly called alcohol allergy, but can you really be allergic to alcohol? Although alcohol flush reaction (and it’s popular euphemisms), alcohol intolerance and alcohol allergy can all be used for the same thing, true alcohol allergy is very rare. It’s far more likely that you are allergic to a certain ingredient in alcohol, or that you simply have an intolerance.
What’s the difference between the two? Well, if you have an alcohol allergy, your immune system overreacts to alcohol. In the case of intolerance, the problem is that your digestive system doesn’t process alcohol properly.
Here’s a list of possible allergens sometimes found in alcoholic drinks:
You also shouldn’t exclude the possibility of histamine intolerance or sulfite intolerance.
Both conditions have effects that are similar to allergy symptoms: itchy, red skin, nasal congestion, diarrhea, pain in the abdomen and difficulty catching your breath. Some types of sulfites might even trigger an asthmatic attack if you have asthma, and you’re sulfite intolerant. In both cases, you can simply avoid drinks that have higher amounts of the compounds - for example wine if you are histamine intolerant, or beer if you’re sulfite intolerant.
The article that we linked to when talking about intolerance also covers the subject of histamine and sulfite intolerance.
But the key is to consult your doctor, and possibly do an allergy test. Chronic conditions in general require serious medical attention, as opposed to self-diagnosis after reading about them on the internet.
How to prevent your Asian glow - supplements, cures and everything in between
We’ve already established that alcohol flush reaction, or AFR is a genetic condition. What that basically means is that the problem is in your DNA, and saying that fixing your DNA is easier said than done is probably the understatement of the century.
So let’s get the facts straight: There is no cure for AFR if you are ALDH2 deficient, despite frequent online claims. Sure, people have posted that there are ways to mask or minimize the onset of the flushing – a quick Google search can even bring up some herbal DIY remedy that you must take for three weeks before having a drink. There are some people saying they have developed a higher tolerance to alcohol over the years and now experience significantly less glow, but these things are not in themselves a cure for the root of all your problems: your genetic enzyme deficiency.
The bottom line? There is no known cure for the syndrome, and we are stuck with prevention.
How can you prevent the reaction? Well, prevention can mean two things:
1. Refrain from drinking alcohol
2. Use one of the known methods of Asian flush prevention
If we trust the research that indicates Asian flush has possibly been around for 10 000 years, then people have been trying to work around it for quite some time.
As we’ve covered all the definitions and scientific causes, it’s time to focus on what you can actually do if you’re one of those individuals suffering from the syndrom. What are these methods of prevention?
Asian flush & Asian glow cures, remedies, and over-the counter drugs
Now, Asian Flush Sufferers have been forced to make do with DIY since forever. There’s generally a lack of research, and quite the lack of initiative to get an Asian flush pill the same way you’d get a lactaid pill if you’re lactose intolerant and craving some cheese, or gluten-free options for people with celiac disease. That’s no longer the truth, but if you still want to have a do-it-yourself solution we’re here to help.
Note: We are simply presenting DIY cures and remedies that people have been using to deal with Asian glow. The following is not medical advice, and we here at Sunset can’t take responsibility for any effects caused by following the information below. Please do your own research and consult with a medical expert before following any of this up.
Over the counter Asian flush drugs
Remedies for the Asian flush you’ll find online or learn from Asian friends are basically all antacids, and they contain antihistamines, which reportedly help with minimizing the glow.
Pepcid AC, Zantac and several other antihistamineshave been the lifeblood Asian flush-ers (who are not always necessarily Asian) cling to, especially in social occasions where you don’t want to feel left out, or considered a spoilsport.
This is where it gets tricky. While using antihistamines such as Zantac to prevent alcohol-induced flushing has been common practice for Asian glow-ers since the 80s, USC experts say prolonged use may have some major health consequences.
What are antihistamines?
Antihistamines are over-the-counter drugs that treat allergic rhinitis and other allergies (such as pollen or animal allergies), including symptoms such as sneezing, hives, or congestion. Besides not requiring a prescription, they are usually inexpensive, generic and have few side effects. They don’t cure anything, they are just a short-term fix for various, usually chronic ailments.
But what does that have to do with Asian flush?
Well, what we described above is a people’s definition of sorts. If you ask doctors or scientists, antihistamines are a class of drug that counters the activity of histamine receptors in the body, and they have sub-classes determined by the histamine receptor which they have an effect on.
The two largest classes are:
- H1 antihistamines
- H2 antihistamines
The second subclass is the important one for people with the Asian glow condition, because they are used to treat gastric acid conditions (such as peptic ulcers). But what’s interesting is that a 1988 study found that they also had a very curious side effect.
Are antihistamine medications efficient in dealing with the symptoms of Asian Flush?
The scientists conducting the study gave half of their subjects 50 mg of an H1 receptor antagonist (or antihistamine) and 300 mg of an H2 receptor antagonist, and they gave the other half of their subjects placebos. What they found was that “ The clearest difference between the antihistamine group and placebo group was in the skin flushing reaction. The antihistamine group showed a significant reduction in the skin flush.”
After that, the use of antihistamines for alcohol flush syndrome skyrocketed. Expected, right? It was the first generation of Asian flush drinkers who could do it without discomfort, awkwardness or shame.
How do Pepcid, Zantac and other antihistamines stop Asian flushing?
While Pepcid AC was not specifically tested in the study, it’s part of the same antihistamine group - H2 receptor antagonists, and the study showed they can significantly reduce redness caused by alcohol. Did the research show how they do it? No. Are there significant studies showing the precise process that makes Pepcid AC effective? Again, not really.
When it comes to the use of Pepcid AC, what’s actually behind any claims is usually anecdotal evidence, or studies showing the correlation between them and reduced facial flushing, not the cause behind it.
There are three main types of antihistamines commonly used off-label for Asian flush symptoms:
Famotidine is commonly sold under the trade name Pepcid, Pepcid AC, or Pepcid Complete.
Ranitidine is commonly sold as Zantac. Same as Pepcid, it inhibits stomach acid production, and it’s usually used in the treatment of peptic ulcer disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease or Zollinger–Ellison syndrome.
Unlike the two previous histamine blockers, Cetirizine is a H1 receptor antagonist, commonly sold under the trade name Zyrtec. It’s typically used in the treatment of hay fever, allergies, angioedema and urticaria.
People suffering from the glow advocate using these over-the-counter drugs to alleviate Asian glow effects on every odd corner of the internet - from social media and forums (such as this forum community here) to Youtube challenges, and it’s all over traditional media too.
An educated guess that explains why these meds are effective would be the fact that acetaldehyde, the bane of East-Asians, turns your face red because it triggers a histamine release. Histamine is the usual immune response the body has to foreign pathogens - and you have histamine receptors all over. Their job is to detect it and raise alarm.
The same ALDH2 enzyme that operates inefficiently in the body of alcohol flush sufferers, is actually also the one in charge of processing histamine. Histamine is the chemical behind allergic reactions - it allows more blood flow to different body areas, causing a flushing reaction.
So, surprise, surprise: if you have a genetic defect in your ALDH2 enzyme, you can’t break down histamines properly either. And that’s when the flushing comes in. When the enzyme works overtime to try to process the alcohol, histamine builds up and causes extreme flush.
Pepcid AC, Zantac and similar products are all really a chemical mix which works by decreasing the level of acid your stomach produces. Although the drugs were primarily made to help with a bad stomach or indigestion, the fact they block histamine receptor reactions means they can effectively stop the blood vessel dilation that goes with it - redness in the face and neck area, usual for people with the Asian flush.
How to take histamine blockers like Pepcid, Zantac or Zyrtec?
Take a pill 20 minutes before the fun begins, but avoid binge drinking at all costs. There is undisputed evidence that they have a few nasty side effects.
Are antihistamines safe?
Antihistamines don’t make your alcohol flush syndrome go away. They are not harmful in themselves, but their treatment for Asian flush is off-label - they are not designed specifically for this problem.
Check out our article on the effects of Pepcid AC, Zantac or Zyrtec on Asian flush if you want to learn more about the subject, but here’s the short version:
While they are successful at masking the flushing, they don’t do anything about the fact that you’re turning red for a reason - the high presence of acetaldehyde in your blood. The acetaldehyde build up in turn means there’s an increased level of alcohol in your body, and you can get drunk as soon as you down a shot, or have one beer. Another interesting fact is that with continual use, your body builds tolerance - and each time you drink you’ll have to increase the amount of antihistamines you take.
And if you read our Health risks associated with Asian Flush and Asian Glowsection, you already know that acetaldehyde is bad for your health in ways much scarier than a red face could ever be. Let us remind you that if you histamine blockers before you drink, you are essentially raising your risk of esophageal cancer between 6%-10%!
Fortunately, we are a long way from the 80s and there are far better options out there - such as supplements and cosmetics.
To sum things up:
- Antihistamines such as Pepcid AC, Zantac and Zyrtec help to reduce the actual flushing caused by alcohol
- They mask the side effects without doing anything about the high levels of acetaldehyde in your body
- They are not intended to be taken with alcohol
- They can be a temporary solution
- If you decide to use them, it’s not advised to do so on a regular basis
- the use of Pepcid and Zantac can cause you to consume more acetaldehyde than you otherwise would
- Your body builds tolerance, which means that if you use them frequently, you need to up your dosage over time
- You get more drunk from less alcohol, quicker!
Miracle Asian glow cures
As we’ve already mentioned, there is no cure for the alcohol flush reaction (AFR), or Asian flush. Any product marketing itself as such as simply bogus.
There are quite a few products being marketed as cures for Asian flush. CodeRed, AD2, and Before Elixir to name a few of them, although the last one doesn’t sound like you should get your hopes up according to one review.
These so called “cures” might help with the embarrassing red face reaction you get after drinking, but they are not preventing the buildup of acetaldehyde, which we already established is pretty dangerous stuff. They won’t magically alter your deficient gene and treat the root cause of the problem.
Luckily for us, science has come a long way in the last few years. The issue of Asian glow has gone from thoroughly ignored in the scientific community to something that is actually researched as of late, with fruitful results, and we can proudly say that we at Sunset also have a role in it.
It turns out we now know what’s the best way to drink alcohol sans the red face - and it’s nowhere near pharmaceutical antihistamines.
The key lies in understanding that the reaction needs to be addressed from two angles:
1. The ability of the body to break down acetaldehyde needs to be boosted to the level of someone who doesn’t have the condition of Asian glow
2. The body’s histamine defences must be prepared so they can stop any reaction to the acetaldehyde, if some of it does remain unprocessed.
This is all in line with what we previously stated as the bad sides of using antihistamines. Asian flush sufferers have a problem when consuming alcohol, and the flush reaction is merely the visible sign of it. And while it’s certainly uncomfortable, and sometimes even embarrassing for the person that has it, any attempt to cover it up won’t make the problem go away - in fact, it might increase the long-term health risks.
Asian flush/Asian glow supplements and cosmetics
Finally, we arrive at a fairly recent way to treat Asian flush - Asian flush supplements and cosmetics!
The team at SRQ Labs has poured our expertise (and very red faces) into creating a new green-tinted moisturizer called Reset. You're on the site for it now! Check it out if you haven't already, here.
Our other recommendation is naturally, the Sunset pills, because we’ve made it our priority to solve the issue that afflicts so many of us today, Asian or not. We are confident we have the best Asian flush supplement products on the market today!
What is Reset and how does it work?
Reset is our newest creation to help beat the embarrassment of Asian glow and alcohol flush, especially for those who don’t want to take any pills. Simply put, Reset is a green tinted moisturiser formulated to stop the redness associated with Asian Glow and alcohol intolerance while being kind to skin.
But, why green?
Green is the perfect colour to counteract red flushing. Reset’s pigments were selected over dozens of trials with 74 beta testers to get just the right shade of green to combat flushing without making your skin look too pale. Once applied it's barely noticeable but carries a big impact against alcohol flush.
Just apply directly to your face and Reset’s soothing anti-inflammatory compounds will reduce the heat and puffiness caused by alcohol intolerance. It’s also lightweight enough to use under foundation every day, not just when you know you'll need it.
You can keep up to date with Reset’s launch by registering on the website to get notifications once it goes live.
How does the Sunset pill supplement even work?
This is obviously a lengthy guide - and that’s because we put a lot of effort into getting to the bottom of alcohol metabolism and how ineffective it is in people with Asian flush. If you’ve been reading carefully you must know by now that the goal for any pill professing to help with Asian flush is not to mask the side effects of your alcohol reaction, but to make your body metabolize alcohol as it should.
And Sunset does just that. It does not simply reverse the visible effects of “flushing”, but it actually supports proper liver function - something that is vital not only for the normal metabolism of alcohol, but to the general health of people consuming it.
“Why is there no pill for Asian Glow” The Popular Science article by journalist Francie Diep written in 2014 talked about the reasons why there aren’t any pills that treat facial flushing, and consulted Robert Swift, a researcher who has dedicated his life to studying alcoholism at Brown University. He was very sceptical about finding a pill that can treat the condition because, in his words: “It’s a lot easier to inhibit an enzyme that it is to stimulate an enzyme.”Apparently, that’s why we have Disulfiram, the medicine that does just that in order to give alcoholics a bit of Asian glow as a discientive for their drinking problem.
There is another way to help the enzyme that doesn’t involve any of the two methods Professor Swift discusses - stimulating or supplementing with the ALDH2 enzyme.
So, how do the Sunset pills do it?
Well, first they help wake up your inactive ALDH2 and get it to do its job - break down acetaldehyde so that the facial flushing and other side effects don’t occur. Then, it prevents the body from reacting to any toxins (yes, it does contain a histamine blockade, but it’s none of the above) that might still manage to pass through your liver into the bloodstream.
The key thing to remember is that people with Asian glow don’t lack ALDH2 altogether. They simply have a deficient ALDH2 version that doesn’t work the way it should, it only does to a certain degree. Since you can’t stimulate the enzyme, and you can’t pop an enzyme pill either, because as Professor Swift says: “ the enzymes are too big to get into cells”, and they would get broken down before they reach the liver, what can you do? You can provide support for your deficient ALDH2.
There are a number of compounds involved in the process, all working in conjunction to help your body treat alcohol as it should.
What are Sunset’s “secret” ingredients?
1. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
N-acetyl cysteine is an amino acid which breaks down into the extremely potent antioxidant Glutathione - one of the most powerful antioxidants in the human body; reduces inflammation; directly assists the ALDH enzyme to break down acetaldehyde.
Supplementing NAC is a good idea - because while it’s present in many types of fruits, vegetables as well as in eggs and meat it almost never makes it through digestion - it gets destroyed by cooking.
NAC is available in pill form, and unlike the antihistamines we discussed above, it does help with replenishing glutathione levels in your body and supports ALDH2 in its battle against acetaldehyde. Another awesome thing that it does it that it binds directly to the nasty toxin and prevents its damaging effect.
Verdict? The presence of NAC helps alleviate the Asian glow caused by your ALDH2 deficient liver by reducing the level of flush causing toxins in the liver.
There’s one problem if you thought that you could simply take a NAC pill: It doesn’t catch all the toxins; glutathione levels get heavily depleted when you drink alcohol, and, it doesn’t stop your body from reacting to any toxins that might get away.
That’s why the Sunset pill combines NAC with H2 receptor antagonists, while making sure that the ingredients don’t get depleted with alcohol consumption.
L-Theanine is a non-protein amino acid; prevents alcohol-induced free radicals; works together with the NAC amino-acid.
L-Theanine, exclusively found in green tea, is very efficient against the depletion of compounds that happens when you drink alcohol. It basically makes all the ingredients in our anti-flush recipe work like a charm.
Quercetin is an antihistamine; reduces inflammation; helps the body produce more of the powerful antioxidant Glutathione.
We at Sunset like to call it: “Nature’s answer to Pepcid”. Unlike Zantac and Pepcid AC which are pharmaceutical antihistamines, Quercetin is a natural antihistamine found in fruits, vegetables and grains, and there’s practically no evidence that suggests it’s dangerous to take it before consuming alcohol. That’s enough to make it our preferred choice for protection against the histamine release that inevitably happens when toxins slip through.
Bromelain is a natural enzyme; helps the body to absorb Quercetin better; assists the deficient enzymes to better metabolize the alcohol.
Precisely because of its quercetin absorption properties, this protein extract taken from the stems of pineapples improved results by 300%! We consider it an antihistamine turbocharger (and we know that sounds cool only in science circles)
Piperine is an alkaloid most commonly found in black pepper. It increases the potency of the product by stopping your body from excreting the compounds before they’ve had the time to prevent the alcohol flush reaction. We like to call it “Absorption Multiplier”.
Thiamine is a vitamin B1; helps out the NAC amino acid; controls the accumulation of acetaldehyde.
It’s contained in different types of foods: yeast, pork, and the outer layers of unrefined grains, but it often doesn’t make it beyond industrial processing. Ensuring that subjects were not thiamine deficient before the consumption of alcohol has been shown to have very positive results. That’s because it works in synergy with NAC to prevent acetaldehyde toxicity.
7. Vitamin C
Good old Vitamin C is essential for the proper breakdown of the NAC amino acid, which further breaks down into the antioxidant Glutathione. It also improves the effectiveness of Thiamine and controls acetaldehyde accumulation that way. Vitamin C is usually overlooked by other supplement makers on the market.
8. B Vitamins
The B vitamins found in the Sunset pills (Riboflavin, Niacin, Pyridoxine, Cobalamin and Biotin) act as assistants to the above-mentioned ingredients. Increasing levels of B vitamins prior to drinking can help out with the buildup of alcohol toxins.
Now, you can get some of these ingredients the natural way. Eat a handful of pineapple stems, the regular five a day of fruits and vegetables, some pure yeast, 3 to 4 steaks and sip green tea like crazy. It won’t be the oddest diet out there, that’s for sure.
But getting all the three layers of Asian glow defence in a single pill would definitely be the convenient way to do it.
And before you ask, yes, it’s tested and approved by the FDA. In fact, if you’re sceptical about it you can check out the review our fellow Asian flushers did on Sunset over at the Noredfaceformula, as in their words, they were “eager to get drunk for science” and see whether it actually works! Or check out another review over at the asian-flush.net
In any case, if you’re still sceptical, you can give it a try and see if it works for yourself, because there’s a 30-day no-questions-asked money back guarantee (see how our money-back guarantee works here).
To sum things up:
- Sunset restricts facial histamine reactions
- Neutralizes carcinogenic alcohol metabolites
- Increases overall alcohol tolerance
- Assists and supports ALDH2 enzyme
- It doesn’t just help you cosmetically, it actually assists your liver in dealing with alcohol
- It actually works!
How to supplement for Asian flush
1. When is the best time to take the Sunset pill?
Sunset is most efficient if you take it half an hour before your first glass of alcohol. If you forgot to take your pills, you can also take it after - it will make the flushing symptoms subside more quickly.
2. How much should you take?
The supplement works best if you take 3 capsules 30 minutes before consuming alcohol, as well as 3 capsules after to help reduce down any existing flush reaction.
What to do when a flush reaction happens (what to take, what to do)
Okay, so, we’ve established what’s the problem, and where does it come from. We’ve also touched upon the consequences. But since we’re all grown people here, let’s just acknowledge the fact that a lot of us won’t actually stop drinking - it’s just not going to happen.
The best thing you can do for flush support when drinking is to pop a couple of Sunset pills. But if you don’t have any on hand, and you in no way intend to miss out on the fun, is there anything you can do to prepare for the inevitable flush?
So what do you do when you can feel the flush coming? Do you need your own emergency flush kit?
Our Sunset Asian foolproof party planning to prepare for it
Let’s give you an idea of what would be considered good drinking habits to possibly alleviate the Asian glow symptoms. We also have some general tips on how to deal with Asian flush & glow, its effects, and even how to photoshop your flush & glow pictures when everything else fails!
1. Drink only moderately
Whatever you do, avoid binge drinking at all costs, because it overloads the ability of the body to metabolise alcohol. Instead, wait until the redness subsides at least partially, before taking another drink.
2. Stick to drinks with less alcohol content
Even if you don’t know anything else about Asian flush, consuming a drink with less alcohol in it seems like a very logical idea. Beers, table wine, wine coolers, or sparkling wines like champagne all have lower APV than spirits. But most people with the glow have experimented with their reaction to different kinds of alcohol, so chances are you probably know what types make you less red.
3. Eat before and/or while you’re drinking
Cushion the alcohol with food. Fatty foods and carbs are particularly helpful in reducing the rate of alcohol absorption. A full stomach protects the stomach lining from excessive acid caused by alcohol. This is not the time to worry about carb-loading: munching on fatty or carbohydrate-rich foods such as cheese, pasta, pizza and bread (practically anything people consider good hangover food) can also prevent the alcohol from entering the small intestines too quickly and thus can slow down the rate of alcohol absorption.
4. Drink a lot of water and other non-alcoholic drinks
Don’t ever say no to good old hydration, not in the best of circumstances, and certainly not when you’re drinking alcohol, Asian flush or not. Scientists think that drinking water may help in diluting the alcohol in your bloodstream. Start with two glasses before drinking, to give your body a head start, and then ideally, continue sipping in between drinks. Alcohol is a diuretic, it increases thirst and dehydrates you more quickly than usual, so instead of downing more alcohol, quench your thirst with water or a non-alcoholic drink.
5. Dilute your drinks
Another good idea is to opt for a an alcohol diluted drink - like spritzer, because you might end up consuming less alcohol. It’s better than downing a shot of hard liquor, that’s for sure.
6. Eye drops
This is a tip for those times when your eyes turn red, which is a common occurrence for many of us Asian glow-ers. Always have some eye drops on hand, because unlike the other flush symptoms, this one is possibly the easiest one to fix. If there’s such a thing as a flush support pack, this should definitely be in it.
Drinks to stay away from
It doesn’t matter what form the alcohol comes in, it is metabolised the same way. But how much alcohol a drink contains and how fast you drink it will affect the concentration of acetaldehyde in your body. So there’s something to be said about strategic drink selection.
The general rule of thumb to go by is to avoid spirits/hard liquor.
But real life experience for Asian flush sufferers varies. There are people who glow brightest with rum, wine or beer, for example, and not so much from spirits. There are people who’ve acquired some hands-on personal knowledge from years and years of drinking different kinds of alcohol and observing their body’s response. A sip of beer might give them a full-fledged glow in seconds, while champagne might make them look only slightly flushed.
Some people report that only a tiny amount of alcohol can cause a reaction. Though some alcohols are reported to have different effects on different people, it doesn’t seem that any alcohol is in the safe zone.
Everybody’s different when it comes to Asian flush, but there’s one thing that’s always the same: as long as you glow, it means that alcohol is carcinogenic, so take it easy.
Asian flush makeup
This is mainly for the ladies, and the odd man out there who doesn’t mind challenging social norms and giving makeup a try.
We’ve had some interesting conversations with beauty experts, makeup professionals and color correction connoisseurs over the years. They exposed us to a range of beauty products that can help you cover up your irritating, ever-present alcohol flush.
And what we’ve learned is that sometimes, you only need to go back to color basics and the color wheel your elementary school art-class teacher insisted you understand. Remember how colors directly across from one another cancel each other out? Yes, but why is this important you say?
Well, it basically means that the color green neutralizes redness. Green concealer is often used to cover up red areas of acne, blemishes or ruddy cheeks, and Rosacea sufferers swear by it.
Using green to counteract red flushing was the inspiration for Reset. With the added bonus of including a formula to soothe skin and counteract inflammation, it’s a perfect cosmetic match!
Here’s a handy technique for Asian flush friendly makeup, shared over at the mochimag .
“Use a green tinted primer to counterbalance the anticipated red flush. Next, layer on BB cream and dust with a light compact powder to set in the color—thicker layers of BB cream will conceal better, but remember to match your skin tone to maintain a natural look,”
“Follow with your usual eye makeup routine, using primer before and shadow after to avoid smudging. To finish, lightly sweep a peach or coral blush across your cheekbones to give off that natural glow. Remember, you are only painting a ‘canvas’ on your face that will cover up the flush later.”
We’ve written an article where we recommend 4 anti-Asian-flush beauty products that are particularly good for concealing your symptoms, so you might want to check that out.
Are there any Asian flush friendly drinks?
Although the fact remains that all alcohol inspires Asian glow not all drinks are created equal. A while ago, some YouTubers did an Asian glow challenge to see if a kale vodka actually made them experience less flush. While that brand might not be accessible for everyone, and might not work for you either, the question remains: are there any drink recipes that go easy on your flush?
Slowly sip the Flush-free Mojito recipe that we shared in our DIY Asian flush cures article, and you might not feel the full strength of the effects
Removing Asian flush & glow from your photos
Okay this doesn’t strictly fall into the category of party planning - it’s more of a post-party activity, but it might come in handy. Awesome party pics are after all, the next best thing to attending a party in the first place!
In case you forgot to take a Sunset capsule before you hit the dance floor and let loose, you might be able to cover up the evidence with a bit of good, old Photoshop. And it’s not hard at all. All you need to do is follow this quick and easy tutorial on how to remove the evidence of Asian flush from your photos, which we shared on YouTube.
If you think Photoshop is too much of a bother, you can simply edit your pictures to be black and white or sepia tinted - and your facial flush won’t stand out as much.
Bonus content: Asian influencers with Asian Glow/Flush
Do you know any relatable Asian influencers suffering from Asian Flush or Asian Glow? After all, the experience can be easier when you see how other people deal with it.
- Jannel Reyes is a YouTube makeup artist that has the Asian glow, and here’s a video of her talking about the condition while doing an Asian glow friendly makeup routine.
- Check out this awesome video over at Vox Academy, hosted by Joss Fong. She talks about the science behind Asian glowing, and what’s it like to live with it.
- Here’s an awesome write-up on the subject, with a very positive attitude, written by Matthew Dekneef: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Asian Glow
- Yoyokulala is the website hosted by a famous Singapore social media fashion personality, where you can read an amazing opinionated piece called The Choice Not To Drink Is My Own, Stop Giving Me Crap About It, Okay?
Other Asian and mixed-Asian influencers over at YouTube:
Over at Instagram:
To all fellow Asian flush-ers out there,
Whatever your current strategy for dealing with it, we hope we’ve provided the info you might have lacked to handle it safely. The most important thing when living with this condition is to know what you’re getting yourself into, and do it confident that you are looking after your health.
Yes, antacids can be a quick fix for hiding the flushing, but we leave it up to you to decide whether they are worth the risks of increasing the alcohol in your system to dangerously high levels. We suggest you do some planning, hopefully inspired by the suggestions above, and, if you must drink, do it moderately and at a slow pace. Asian glow or not, there’s nothing’s less fun than spending the next day nursing a severe hangover.
Don’t feel like glowing tonight? We don’t blame you. For more information about Reset, check out our blog or pre-order yours today. It’s as simple and quick as applying our tinted moisturizer.
But if you have made peace with your flushed cheeks, or you’ve decided to embrace the virtuous life of a non-alcoholic - kudos to you! After all, there are certain non glow-ers who’d be happy to switch places with you.
At Reset, we always want to spark a discussion about Asian flush and Asian glow. If you have any comments, or want to share your experience living with Asian flush/Asian glow, be sure to drop us a line!