Is TikTok’s Sun-Kissed Blush Trend A Cause For Concern?

Illustrated by Eri Aikawa.
TikTokers are obsessed with blush. Cream, liquid, powder — you name it, they've tried it, raved about it and probably convinced you to buy it. There are countless viral blush trends, too, like ombre blush, purple blush and even applying blush to the palms of your hands before transferring it to your cheeks. The latest movement to sweep the app is 'sun-kissed' and 'sunburn blush'.
The trend (which has 2 million views and counting) sees TikTokers purposefully applying their blush — and sometimes even a slick of bright red lipstick — in a 'W' shape. Sweeping the pigment across cheeks and the bridge of the nose lends skin an 'I've spent way too long in the sun without SPF' look. But could it pose a problem?
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As someone with rosacea I often experience persistent facial redness. I've spent my life trying to conceal my beetroot-hued cheeks and while the condition is now mostly under control thanks to prescription creams, I have mixed feelings about this makeup trend. Seeing the skin condition which has caused me so much discomfort and upset over the years suddenly become cool feels as though it could undermine what people with rosacea encounter on a daily basis — and I know I'm not the only one thinking it.

As someone with rosacea, seeing the skin condition which has caused me discomfort and upset suddenly become cool undermines what people encounter on a daily basis.

What is rosacea?

Consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto explains that rosacea (from the Latin 'rose-coloured') is a common inflammatory skin condition. Dr Mahto pinpoints redness, flushing or blushing, sensitive skin, spots which look similar to acne and prominent thread veins as markers of rosacea. "It is often under-recognised, inappropriately treated or dismissed as a cosmetic concern rather than a recognised dermatological issue," she says.
Aesthetic doctor and skin expert Dr Ana Mansouri agrees that facial redness is notoriously difficult to control — and hide. "It can cause significant self-esteem issues, embarrassment and distress to the point where it can be debilitating. This may lead to social avoidance, reduced quality of life and even depression or anxiety." Dr Mahto agrees that living with a visible skin condition can be extremely difficult, especially one that has a habit of flaring up at the most inconvenient of times.

Is the heavy blush trend problematic?

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Lex Gillies, rosacea advocate and founder of The Real Skin Club, has some worries about the sun-kissed blush trend and suggests it might be downplaying rosacea. "My initial reaction to people purposely increasing their facial redness with makeup was frustration," she told R29. "It's irritating to know there are people out there cosplaying as someone with red skin but getting to wash it off at the end of the night." Lex campaigns for skin positivity on social media and in 2019 her rosacea selfie was deemed 'undesirable' by Instagram and subsequently rejected. Lex says that the blush trend feels like another way to gloss over the real impact that living with a skin condition can have, especially after years of comments referring to blushing as 'cute' or 'pretty', which she feels minimised and dismissed the impact of her rosacea.
On the other hand, could the heavily blushed makeup trend help those with rosacea to feel less self-conscious about their naturally flushed complexions? A part of me wonders why emphasised redness can't be cool. After all, #BeautyTok is all about experimentation. "I try to look at it with a positive spin," says Lex. "Does a trend that glamorises red skin make it easier for people who naturally look like that? If there's a trend where people purposefully want a red nose and cheeks, would that make it less nerve-wracking for someone to go out and feel less different?"
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This encouragement to be less self-conscious is something that makeup artist Rose Gallagher celebrates in the heavy blush trend. "Controversially, as a makeup artist with rosacea, I love the sunburn TikTok trend," she says. "I feel like this trend gets people [with rosacea] using a bit of blusher and feeling comfortable with it. I actually think skin looks really fresh and pretty with that little kiss of colour."
Dr Sonia Khorana, GP and cosmetic doctor, agrees that the heavy blush trend may help to raise awareness and destigmatise rosacea but she isn't completely sold on the trend — and neither is Dr Ana. "Theoretically, it may help people with facial redness feel more accepted and less self-conscious due to it being desirable by others," Dr Ana says, although she feels uneasy about mimicking a skin condition for the purpose of a trend.
For Rose, however, adding blush back into your routine like this actually gives a lot of rosacea sufferers control over their condition. While she never wants to advocate that people cover up their rosacea, she admits that, unsurprisingly, it's the most common question she is asked. "The nice thing is, if you make all of your corrections first, you're in control of adding the colour back in. So many people feel out of control with rosacea — they can't predict it and it's incredibly distressing. On the flip side, if you take the power back, it makes blush a lovely, fun part of your makeup."
In addition to gaining back control, Rose says that TikTok is simply a bit of fun — and that includes the loaded blush trend. She recognises the dangers of some of these viral videos but ultimately says: "It's not that deep. We can enjoy these trends and have a bit of fun with them. Makeup should be fun. TikTok should be fun, and I love that people are experimenting."
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TikTokers are practising SPF contouring, while others are burning their face on purpose because the effect is like 'natural blush'. This is extremely troublesome.

Is the sunburn blush trend dangerous?

Part of me is thrilled that overly blushed cheeks are in. Some days when my rosacea flares up I look like I've been burned to a crisp. Knowing that it's a current trend would absolutely make me less inclined to cover up every inch of it. But you can't ignore the elephant in the room: TikTokers are glamorising sunburn. The experts we spoke to all have concerns about sun safety. The consensus? Getting sunburned is incredibly dangerous and it should never be a trend.
"A sunburn is a radiation burn to the skin — and it's bad news," says Dr Khorana. "It is actually an inflammatory reaction to UV rays and is a result of damage to the skin." Sunburn (and tanning) is our skin's way of responding to DNA damage caused by the sun's ultraviolet light and it increases your long-term risk of skin cancer.
As a beauty writer, I take sun safety seriously. Although I'll never shame anyone for not wearing SPF every day, purposefully getting burned is less than ideal. The last thing we want to do is encourage people to skip the blush and go straight to the real thing, which is already happening on social media. On TikTok, some users are practising SPF contouring (strategically keeping certain areas of their skin free from sunscreen to catch a tan or a sunburn) while others are burning their face on purpose because the effect is like 'natural blush'.
Dr Ana says that she finds any trend which glorifies sunburn and skin damage extremely troublesome. "Damaging your skin to the extent where you put yourself at risk of serious skin conditions, including skin cancer, should never be encouraged." Dr Khorana echoes this: "I'm not a fan of encouraging people to see being out in the sun as a positive thing," nor does she advocate sitting out in the sun for glowing skin. Dr Ana adds that the sunburn trend is particularly problematic as a concept for people with rosacea, who are recommended to avoid sun exposure altogether. This is because UV light can aggravate the condition significantly.
From the problem with the 'clean' look to discriminatory makeup trends, TikTok gives us plenty to debate in the beauty space. But skincare experts, makeup artists and rosacea advocates are in agreement: the loaded blush trend is a tricky one. Getting purposely burned is never, ever worth sacrificing your health. But raising awareness of skin conditions and celebrating individuality through makeup are both positive things — particularly for those living with rosacea.

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