Everything You Need to Know About Asian Glow

Edited by: Jina Aryaan


You might have heard of Asian flush, or more commonly, Asian glow. You might have witnessed some of your Asian friends’ faces turning red after consuming only a few sips of alcohol. For many East Asian drinkers, Asian glow is the bane of their existence. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, allow me to break it down for you. Asian glow occurs when an individual’s face turns red shortly following the consumption of alcohol. This can occur after one or two drinks, or, like this author, after only a few sips. This phenomenon is common among East Asians from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean descent.

So what happens when someone experiences Asian glow? When the body digests alcohol, alcohol is metabolized into acetaldehyde, which is further broken down by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2). However, many East Asians carry a different genetic variation of the enzyme ALDH2. While this genetic change allows the body to more efficiently metabolize alcohol into acetaldehyde, the enzyme ALDH2 then breaks down acetaldehyde less efficiently. The result is an accumulation of acetaldehyde in the body, which can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and headache. A red flush occurs in the face (and often elsewhere) because acetaldehyde is also responsible for processing histamine, the primary chemical involved in allergic reactions. Histamines promote blood-flow to different areas of your body, creating a flush. Therefore, individuals with a genetic change to their ALDH2 enzyme break down histamines less efficiently as well, resulting in its build-up and hence, experience the resulting Asian glow.

Until recently, I had no idea that there exists a simple remedy for Asian glow. Due to the genetic variation of ALDH2 causing a build-up of histamines, some people who experience Asian glow take anti-histamine drugs such as Zantac (commonly used to combat acid reflux) or Pepcid AC (a medication used to control acid and relieve heartburn).

However, while these remedies appear convenient, they come with potentially hazardous side-effects. Histamine blockers such as Zantac and Pepcid AC slow the metabolism of alcohol, which subsequently increases blood-alcohol levels in the body. Therefore, individuals who take these drugs before drinking reach their alcohol limits more quickly, increasing the likelihood of experiencing alcohol poisoning. In addition, the lack of a flush can trick inexperienced drinkers into thinking they are not drunk, when in reality, their blood-alcohol levels are building more quickly than drinking without having taken the drug. Taking these drugs can also increase the risk of stomach cancers, esophageal cancer, and the skin cancer squamous cell carcinoma.

So what remedies are safe to use to combat Asian glow? Most experts suggest hydrating the body after a night of drinking and before sleeping to relieve hangovers. However, there is no magic cure. Recently, Buzzfeed released a video where East Asians attempt to mitigate their Asian glow through drinking Kale Vodka. Ving Vodka is an organic, gluten-free, kale, lemon and cucumber-based vodka that is marketed as histamine and sulfite-free. Buzzfeed theorizes that Ving Vodka’s production process including multiple filtration and distillations leaves behind less acetaldehyde, reducing the amount of flush an individual might experience. However, this is still just a theory.

While individuals who experience Asian glow often feel embarrassed in social drinking environments, experiencing Asian glow can also carry potential benefits. Asian glow can alert you of your limits early on, which can not only prevent you from drinking alcohol excessively, but also save you money on drinks.

The best way to combat Asian glow is to abstain from drinking. While a potential “cure” for Asian glow is still in contention, it’s important to remember that even during outings where you might consume one or two drinks, everything should be had in moderation. Remember to have fun, but also to be safe. Happy drinking! 


Thumbnail Image / Image 1 / Image 2