Why Asian flush happens, and how to beat the blush safely

PHOTO: Unsplash

As those of us with a bad case of Asian flush syndrome would know, turning lobster-red after a single drink is no fun. Our porcelain-faced peers never seem to tire of pointing out how ‘ drunk ‘ we look; for some, the red-faced look comes with more worrying symptoms like bloodshot eyes and a racing heartbeat.

As it turns out, the Asian glow isn’t just a skin-deep nuisance – it can be a red flag for serious health risks. Here’s a breakdown of the science behind the blush, along with tips on how to reduce it safely.

Why Asian flush happens

The Rudolph-red glow strikes around one in three East Asians – as compared to other ethnicities, it occurs most frequently in those of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean descent.

The root cause lies in an important enzyme known as acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2), which breaks down acetaldehyde – a toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism – into harmless compounds.

More than a third of East Asians have a less efficient or inactive gene variant of this enzyme. This genetic difficulty with processing acetaldehyde means that the toxin lurks in our bloodstreams for longer than normal.

By causing blood vessels to dilate, it’s the agent responsible for our lobster-red flush, along with other symptoms like nausea and increased rate of heartbeat.

A red flag for cancer

We hate to be buzzkills, but getting your buzz might kill you faster when you’ve got Asian flush. The acetaldehyde produced from alcohol breakdown is in fact a known carcinogen, damaging and producing mutations in DNA.

Those with Asian flush syndrome are thus more at risk of developing esophageal tumours and gastrointestinal tract cancer – around six to ten times more likely, as studies have shown .

Due to its inflammatory properties, acetaldehyde can also trigger peptic ulcers in your stomach lining. If you’re looking for a reason to go easy on the booze, this might make for sobering motivation.

How to beat the blush (safely)

One old trick you might have heard of for reducing skin redness is antihistamines – such drugs work by slowing the breakdown of alcohol to acetaldehyde in your body.

On paper, this is great for suppressing flush symptoms; in practice, though, this makes it tougher to gauge your tipsy levels, leading to overdrinking and alcohol saturation in your bloodstream. The good news? There’re other solutions out there which do the trick.

1. DrinkAid

PHOTO: drinkaid.co

For a supplement that tackles Asian flush at its root, check out DrinkAid. The brainchild of a local startup backed by the Singapore Management University, this lab-tested, HSA-compliant pill hit the market just last month.

Goodies in each capsule include the antioxidant S-Acetyl Glutathione as well as succinic acid (found in veggies like broccoli), both of which help detoxify acetaldehyde more rapidly. Each pill also packs a cocktail of vitamins, along with nausea-busting Japanese raisin tree and ginger extract.

Shop DrinkAid here .

2. Sunset

PHOTO: getsunset.com

Another supplement that directly combats cancer-causing acetaldehyde is Sunset, a product designed by US-based SRG Labs.

This pill features a dream team of ingredients including quercetin, which stimulates the production of glutathione that in turn breaks down acetaldehyde; bromelain, which speeds up your body’s uptake of quercetin; and L-Theanine, an amino acid commonly found in green tea which neutralizes free radicals.

Best of all, ordering two bottles or more will snag you free shipping worldwide.

Shop Sunset here .

3. Colour-correcting makeup

PHOTO: Sephora.sg

For an extra dose of redness resistance, green-to-beige primers are your best friend. Colour correcting creams like Dr Jart+ Cicapair Re-cover SPF 30/PA+++ can balance out your skin’s redness to the eye – this cream also doubles up as an SPF 30 sunscreen and features tiger grass to soothe inflammation.

IT Cosmetics’ Bye Bye Redness Correcting Cream camouflages redness while nourishing your skin with ingredients like anti-ageing peptides and colloidal oatmeal; meanwhile, NYX Professional’s Makeup Studio Perfect Primer helps soften fine lines and pores.

Of course, such makeup is only a skin-deep solution – but unlike with antihistamines, you’ll still be able to feel the nausea and heat flush from acetaldehyde, and slow down your drinking accordingly.

4. Line your stomach

PHOTO: Pexels

It’s always good policy to line your stomach before tippling up, and here’s one more reason why. Eating before drinking slows down your body’s alcohol absorption, which in turn helps lower the concentration of acetaldehyde in your bloodstream at any one point.

What to nosh on? For a light snack, think Greek yoghurt topped with fruits and nuts for a nutritious balance of carbs, fat, and protein, or antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries and pecans to protect against liver damage.

For heartier fare, chow down on salmon, which comes packed with inflammation-busting omega-3 fatty acids, along with protein-rich foods like chicken or eggs which take relatively longer to digest.

This article was first published in City Nomads.