Weird Nature Is "The Asian Glow" Real?  

Beth Elias
3.1k views 10 items

With so many beauty-related products from South Korea and Japan coming to the US, you might assume something like "Asian Glow" is just the latest skin-tightening mask or eye-brightening treatment. However, it turns out that "Asian glow" refers to something more than a recent beauty fad. Also known as "Asian flush," this phenomenon is actually a medical condition technically called Alcohol Flush Reaction Syndrome (AFR), and it occurs when some people's chemical makeups interact with alcohol. It's an aptly named phenomenon, considering those who suffer from it can get beet-red in the face after boozing. Unfortunately ,for those of Asian descent, the Asian glow is definitely real, affecting about 50% of East Asians around the world

Although there are varying degrees of the flush, it usually doesn't take a large amount of alcohol to do the trick. Some of the painful side effects are rashes and hives, glassy eyes, and that signature red skin. Although to its credit the Asian glow does prevent some people from heavy imbibing, many people with the condition admit they've learned to deal with getting red and uncomfortable when they have a cocktail. There's plenty of science behind the flush, though, and it's enough to make you want a good, stiff drink. 

The Flush Isn't Just Cosmetic; It Can Be Cancerous

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Photo: Brooks PJ, Enoch M-A, Goldman D, Li T-K, Yokoyama A/Wikimedia Commons

Sure, having a red face is embarrassing. But the flush is more than that. The condition also causes the afflicted to feel nauseated -- basically, it's like the feeling of being way too drunk, plus a headache and a racing heartbeat to top it off. An early hangover, you could say. But worse than nausea is the fact that the Asian glow is also linked to cancer. Doctors say that even drinking just two beers a day dramatically increases someone's risk of cancer if they suffer from AFR, because the enzyme reaction produces a carcinogen instead of properly breaking the alcohol down.

There Is No Cure, But Some People Take Antihistamines To Prevent Glow

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Photo: Robert Snache - 2.0

If you suffer from AFR, you're out of luck. The only cure is abstinence from drinking, which is ironic, considering that many Asian countries have a very imbibe-friendly culture. The alternative solution is to take preventable antihistamines before drinking, and now there's a study saying that one brand of vodka might actually help counteract the effects. The wizardry of makeup can also help cover up the reaction, but that could prove detrimental if it masks serious symptoms. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that there is no permanent fix. 

Even A Little Alcohol Can Cause The Reaction

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Some people who experience Asian glow report that only a little bit 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. Wines with less than 12.5% alcohol are suggested by some, as well as drinking lots of water and not drinking on an empty stomach. This is probably a good idea for anyone drinking alcohol, regardless of the Asian flush.

The Flush Is Genetic, And Caused By Liver Enzymes Not Doing Their Job

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Photo: Webridge/Wikimedia Commons

To keep this simple, Alcohol Flush Reaction is caused by an enzyme not doing its job, or by a human body not having that enzyme to begin with. This particular enzyme is called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2), which is responsible for metabolizing alcohol. Teen Vogue explained that most East Asians with AFR don't have the enzyme needed in breaking down the elements of alcohol, and broke it down this way: "think of it the same way lactose-intolerant people can't process dairy." The liver enzyme partially oxidizes ethanol in alcohol, but without that enzyme, ethanol is toxic to the body and affects "skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and respiratory tract."According to Vice,

"80% of all East Asians have overactive alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes in their stomach and liver. These enzymes convert alcohol into poisonous ethanol a hundred times faster than usual."