Topical ibuprofen inhibits blushing during embarrassment and facial flushing during aerobic exercise in people with a fear of blushing

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2013 Dec;23(12):1747-53. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2013.07.013. Epub 2013 Aug 6.


The flush that develops during whole-body heat stress depends partly on prostaglandins production in the skin. Variations in the strength of this local mechanism may contribute to individual differences in susceptibility to blushing and associated anxiety. To investigate this in the present study, the anti-inflammatory agent ibuprofen (which blocks prostaglandins formation) was applied topically to a small area of the cheek in 16 participants with a fear of blushing and in another 14 without this fear. Changes in skin blood flow were monitored at the ibuprofen-treated site and at a mirror image control site while participants sang (to induce embarrassment and blushing) and during aerobic exercise (to induce flushing). The topical ibuprofen treatment inhibited increases in cheek blood flow in both groups during both of these tasks. However, increases in cheek blood flow were greater in participants with high than low fear of blushing immediately after exercise. These findings suggest that prostaglandins contribute to dilatation of facial blood vessels both during emotional arousal (embarrassment) and aerobic exercise. Furthermore, fear of blushing may be associated with mechanisms that delay the resumption of normal vascular tone after a period of vasodilatation. Whether topical ibuprofen gel is suitable for intermittent or long-term use as an aid for blushing control requires further investigation.

Keywords: Blushing; Embarrassment; Exercise; Flushing; Prostaglandins; Skin blood flow.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / pharmacology*
  • Blushing / drug effects*
  • Blushing / psychology
  • Emotions / drug effects
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Face / physiology
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ibuprofen / pharmacology*
  • Laser-Doppler Flowmetry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin / blood supply
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Ibuprofen