The purpose of this study was to evaluate the possible differences in the postexercise cutaneous vasodilatory response between men and women. Fourteen subjects (7 men and 7 women) of similar age, body composition, and fitness status remained seated resting for 15 min or cycled for 15 min at 70% of peak oxygen consumption followed by 15 min of seated recovery. Subjects then donned a liquid-conditioned suit. Mean skin temperature was clamped at approximately 34 degrees C for 15 min. Mean skin temperature was then increased at a rate of 4.3 +/- 0.8 degrees C/h while local skin temperature was clamped at 34 degrees C. Skin blood flow was measured continuously at two forearm skin sites, one with (UT) and without (BT) (treated with bretylium tosylate) intact alpha-adrenergic vasoconstrictor activity. The exercise threshold for cutaneous vasodilation in women (37.51 +/- 0.08 degrees C and 37.58 +/- 0.04 degrees C for UT and BT, respectively) was greater than that measured in men (37.33 +/- 0.06 degrees C and 37.35 +/- 0.06 degrees C for UT and BT, respectively) (P < 0.05). Core temperatures were similar to baseline before the start of whole body warming for all conditions. Postexercise heart rate (HR) for the men (77 +/- 4 beats/min) and women (87 +/- 6 beats/min) were elevated above baseline (61 +/- 3 and 68 +/- 4 beats/min for men and women, respectively), whereas mean arterial pressure (MAP) for the men (84 +/- 3 mmHg) and women (79 +/- 3 mmHg) was reduced from baseline (93 +/- 3 and 93 +/- 4 mmHg for men and women, respectively) (P < 0.05). A greater increase in HR and a greater decrease in the MAP postexercise were noted in women (P < 0.05). No differences in core temperature, HR, and MAP were measured in the no-exercise trial. The postexercise threshold for cutaneous vasodilation measured at the UT and BT sites for men (37.15 +/- 0.03 degrees C and 37.16 +/- 0.04 degrees C, respectively) and women (37.36 +/- 0.05 degrees C and 37.42 +/- 0.03 degrees C, respectively) were elevated above no exercise (36.94 +/- 0.07 degrees C and 36.97 +/- 0.05 degrees C for men and 36.99 +/- 0.09 degrees C and 37.03 +/- 0.11 degrees C for women for the UT and BT sites, respectively) (P < 0.05). A difference in the magnitude of the thresholds was measured between women and men (P < 0.05). We conclude that women have a greater postexercise onset threshold for cutaneous vasodilation than do men and that the primary mechanism influencing the difference between men and women in postexercise skin blood flow is likely the result of an altered active vasodilatory response and not an increase in adrenergic vasoconstrictor tone.