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by Natalie K. Bell
A few days ago, in the midst of flirting, a miscalculation of my hands almost led me to drop something very expensive and breakable. Oh dear. I was dumbfounded thinking of ways to save proverbial face — “I’m normally not this clumsy” (lie, very much a lie) — and my own face quickly blushed several shades of bright red. This kind of incident happens to a lot of people and it’s not just me who worries that the splash of crimson on our cheeks advertises our embarrassment.
But apparently a propensity for sheepishness isn’t unattractive. Studies have been done to determine why we blush and whether it’s actually to our benefit in the social sphere.
What is blushing?
Blushing is the reddening of the face that occurs with extreme emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or arousal (Medline Plus). Depending on the emotion, certain neurotransmitters and hormones (such as dopamine and oxytocin) that cause the blood pressure to rise, bringing extra blood into your cheeks (Margi Clark). It’s more associated with embarrassment as opposed to shame or guilt, and has also been related to passionate feelings (Handbook of Social Psychology). Essentially, it’s an indicator of a strong emotion of some sort that lets other people know through non-verbal cues what you’re feeling.
Can blushing act as an apology?
As it turns out, my blush served as a non-verbal apology for almost dropping something before I fumbled to find the words. In a Swedish study to determine the social reasons for blushing, participants read a short story of someone who’d done something wrong. They then rated pictures of people with or without blushes and rated those who were blushing more highly (American Psychological Association). The researchers argued that blushing serves as a non-verbal means of admitting wrongdoing, like crying. And people in general tend to be more forgiving of social faux pas when a blush accompanies them.
Can blushing help in flirting?
On a biological level, a little red is a sign of health — something people look for in a partner (PLOS). The way we view blushing is also a social convention, one essay examines how we perceive blushing and explains that it’s viewed as a positive marker of modesty and charm (Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology). But blushing doesn’t just happen when you’re embarrassed, it also happens when you’re sexually attracted to someone.
Once, while reading a magazine where women discussed what they loved about themselves, a confident French woman said she loved that she was prone to blushing because it made her a good flirt. Particularly during ovulation, women’s skin becomes lighter and they become more interested in sex, meaning their face is more prone to flirtatious blushing (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology). In many primates, a red face signifies fertility and a male or female being prime for mating in one way or another (PLOS).
As we’ve discussed before, red is a dynamic color associated with passion, love, and power. [Read more: Can red lipstick make you more powerful?]
Our Favorite Blushes at FutureDerm
- Nars Orgasm Blush ($28.00, Amazon.com). A nearly-universally flattering peachy pink, in a medium-pigmented, easy-to-build formula. Has a light-reflective sheen as well.
- tarte Cheek Stain in Full Blossom ($11.80, Amazon.com). A deeper pink in a more highly pigmented formula, just a dabble will do for an entire day. It doubles as a beautiful nighttime lipstick for those with warm skin tones.
Even if your do something a bit faux pas, fear not, a little blush can do a long way. It can serve as an apology or a means of flirting that other people understand without explanation. In that way, blushing is a strong social tool that allows you to communicate something non-verbally — particularly if you can’t think of the right words to say. So apparently my reaction to turn red more than likely worked to my advantage. If you blush regularly, fear not, it could just be something that people find endearing.