Skin Rash: Types, Causes & Treatments

Skin rashes are areas of skin with an abnormal color, feeling or texture. They’re often irritated, red and swollen. While some rashes are little more than an annoyance, others may be painful and feature skin lesions and abrasions.

Rashes can develop for a variety of reasons. Some are caused by contact dermatitis, such as when your skin comes into contact with an irritant or allergen. 

Others are caused by diseases and health conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and others.

Some rashes have other causes, such as insect bites, medications, fungi and bacterial or viral infections.

Although rashes are unpleasant and annoying, they’re almost always treatable. Since a large range of different things can cause rashes to develop, treatment often involves identifying the specific type of rash that you have. 

Below, we’ve listed the most common skin rashes. We’ve also listed a range of treatments for skin rashes, as well as steps that you can take to minimize your risk of developing skin rashes in the future. 

Common Skin Rashes

There are several different types of skin rash, each with slightly different symptoms. Some of the most common types of skin rash are listed below, with information on each rash’s causes and symptoms.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a common skin rash. It develops when the skin comes into contact with a specific irritant or allergen. 

It comes in two types:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis. The most common type of contact dermatitis, this occurs when the skin comes into contact with an irritating substance or excessive friction.

  • Allergic contact dermatitis. This occurs when your skin come into contact with a substance that causes an allergic reaction.

Contact dermatitis can cause a red, patchy, itchy rash that persists for days or weeks after exposure to the irritant or allergen.

Common irritants that can trigger contact dermatitis include hair dyes, shampoos, pesticides, wet diapers, rubber gloves and cement. Allergens that may cause contact dermatitis include adhesives, fragrances, antibiotics, fabrics, preservatives and some metals.

Ringworm, Athlete’s Foot and Other Fungal Rashes

Ringworm, or tinea, is a type of fungal skin infection.

It can affect many parts of the body and is referred to by a variety of names. Ringworm typically begins as a small area with red spots that develops into a ring-shaped rash with a red, elevated border. Ringworm thrives in warm, moist areas of the body.   

When ringworm affects the feet, it’s often known as “athlete’s foot.” When it affects the groin, it’s commonly referred to as “jock itch.” When it affects the feet, ringworm can cause itchy, flaky and painful skin, particularly between the toes.

Eczema

Eczema, or dermatitis, is a term that’s used to refer to several different types of skin rash. The most common type of eczema, atopic dermatitis, usually causes a dry, itchy skin rash that can affect any part of the body.

Rashes from eczema often develop on the hands in feet, the inside of the elbows and behind the knees. If you have eczema, you may also have an elevated risk of other conditions, such as asthma and hay fever.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin disease that can cause a thick, itchy rash with silvery-white flakes, or scales, to develop on the skin. Skin rashes caused by psoriasis can develop anywhere, but often form on the knees, elbows, palms, feet, back and face.

The symptoms of psoriasis can come and go over time and may appear similar to those caused by other skin diseases. 

Pityriasis Rosea (Christmas Tree Rash)

Pityriasis rosea, or Christmas tree rash, is a common skin rash that affects young adults. 

Pityriasis Rosea is believed to be caused by a virus, and the rash typically begins with a single area of skin, referred to as a herald patch. Over the course of several days, the rash also appears on the chest, back and other parts of the body.

The rash caused by pityriasis rosea is typically pale red or pink in color and itchy, with an oval shape and scaly texture. It often develops in a pattern similar to the branches of a Christmas tree, hence its name.

In addition to a skin rash, pityriasis rosea may cause fatigue, a mild fever, headache and sore throat.

Insect Bites

Many insect bites can cause skin rashes to develop. For example, flea bites can cause small, itchy red bumps to develop on your skin. In people allergic to fleas, flea bites can even cause blisters to develop if the person has an allergy to fleas.

Bites from other insects, such as bed bugs, can also cause a red, itchy skin rash that features small welts.

Shingles

Shingles is a painful skin rash that’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that’s responsible for chickenpox in children. It often affects people older than 60, particularly those with weakened immune systems.

Before a shingles rash develops, you may experience a painful, burning sensation on one side of your body. 

It is important that if you have these symptoms you follow up with your healthcare provider quickly to obtain a diagnosis and medication that can help with the progression of this disease. 

Shingles typically causes a red rash to develop on the skin, with blisters that can break open and crust over the course of several weeks.

Shingles often affects a specific area of the body, usually between the spine and the front of the abdomen. However, it can also affect areas such as your face, mouth, eyes and ears.

Measles

Measles is a viral disease that can cause you to develop a skin rash. Symptoms of measles usually begin 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Rashes from measles can last for four to seven days and usually develop three to five days after you first notice symptoms of the infection.

The rash caused by measles can include papules (red, raised spots) and macules (flat areas of skin with discoloration). A skin rash from measles usually starts at the head and spreads down the body to other areas.

It’s worth noting that the measles is an extremely contagious viral disease. Ninety percent of people who come in contact with an infected person will also get the measles, unless they’ve been vaccinated. 

Though the measles was thought to be eliminated from the U.S. at one point, unvaccinated people traveling to countries where the measles virus is still a part of daily life have brought it back to the U.S., leading to a rise in measles outbreaks.

Scabies

Scabies is a skin disease that’s caused by Sarcoptes scabiei, a microscopic, parasitic mite that burrows into the skin. It can cause an itchy, unpleasant skin rash with pimple-like irritations on the skin and sores that develop due to scratching.

Rashes from scabies often develop between the fingers and toes and, in other creases, the armpits and buttocks. In women, scabies rashes often develop near the breasts. Skin rashes from scabies can be extremely itchy, especially during nighttime. 

Scabies is contagious and spreads through skin-to-skin contact. It can also spread through shared clothing, towels, bedding and sexual contact.

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Intertrigo

Intertrigo is a form of inflammation that affects folds of skin. It’s common in warm, humid areas and tends to affect areas where two surfaces of skin come into contact with each other, such as the armpits, elbow pits, groin, back of the knees and between the fingers and toes.

The skin rash caused by intertrigo is usually bright red and may develop plaques, weeping and, in some severe cases, an unpleasant smell. 

Obese people may develop intertrigo in skin folds. It’s also possible for intertrigo to develop in people who wear artificial limbs or other medical devices, and in people who are bedridden.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease and the most common type of lupus. It can cause a variety of symptoms, including a red, butterfly-shaped rash that forms on skin that’s exposed to the sun.

Lupus symptoms tend to flare up from time to time and differ from person to person. Systemic lupus erythematosus can also cause other, potentially serious symptoms, making it important to seek medical help if you believe that you may be affected.

Rosacea

Rosacea is a common, chronic skin condition that causes redness of the face. It can also cause other symptoms, including telangiectasias (visible blood vessels, or “spider veins”), sores similar to acne lesions, a red nose and a burning or stinging sensation that affects the face.

Unlike many other skin rashes, rosacea is not contagious. It’s often triggered by certain factors, such as sun exposure or stress. Treatment for rosacea often involves identifying your rosacea triggers and taking steps to avoid or minimize them.

Lichen planus

Lichen planus is a condition that can cause a rash to develop on the skin or on the inside of the mouth.

When lichen planus sores form in the mouth, they’re generally located inside the cheeks, on the sides of the tongue and on the gums. They can be bluish-white in color, painful, tender and can increase in size over time. In some cases, ulcers may develop. 

When lichen planus affects the skin, sores usually develop around the inner wrists, torso, legs and genitals. These sores can develop alone or in groups of several sores. They often have a scaly appearance, are highly itchy and can develop blisters and skin ulcers.

Swimmer’s Itch (Cercarial Dermatitis)

Swimmer’s itch, or cercarial dermatitis, is a patchy, itchy skin rash that often develops on areas of the body that have been submerged in water. It’s caused by an allergic reaction to parasites that live inside bodies of water.

Most of the time, swimmer’s itch isn’t severe, although some cases may affect large areas of the body.

Skin Rashes That Affect Children

Some skin rashes are more common in infants and children than adults. If your child has a skin rash, it’s best to contact your healthcare provider as early as possible to make sure they receive effective treatment. 

Chickenpox

Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It’s common in children younger than 10 years of age and can cause a range of symptoms, including a skin rash that consists of red, itchy, fluid-filled blisters that develop across the body. 

Impetigo

Impetigo is a skin infection that’s caused by the streptococcus or staphylococcus bacteria. It can cause an itchy, unpleasant skin rash to develop, featuring pus-filled blisters and sores that affect the face, flips, arms and legs before spreading throughout the body.

In addition to a skin rash, impetigo often causes the lymph nodes in areas of the body close to the infected area to swell.

Fifth Disease

Fifth disease is a skin rash that’s caused by the parvovirus B19 virus. Although it’s common in children, it can also affect adults. Fifth disease normally causes mild symptoms, including fever, headache and runny nose followed by a skin rash that affects the face.

The skin rash caused by fifth disease is red and usually develops on the face. Because of this, it’s often referred to as a “slapped cheek” rash. Rashes from fifth disease can also develop on the arms, legs, chest, back and buttocks.

Diaper Rash

Diaper rashes are a group of rashes that develop in infants on areas of skin that are covered by a diaper. A diaper rash is usually red, scaly and tends to affect the area near the scrotum and penis in boys, or the labia and vagina in girls.

Common causes of diaper rashes include candida fungal infections, ammonia in urine, acids in feces and friction from diapers that are too tight. Some children experience reactions to soaps and other cleaning products.

Diaper rashes may feature blisters, pimples and pus-filled sores. Usually, the rash only affects the area of skin covered by the child’s diaper.

Heat Rash

Heat rash is a type of skin rash that occurs when a child’s pores becomes blocked, preventing sweat from exiting. Common signs of heat rash include small red bumps and blisters that can develop during hot, humid weather. 

Severe Skin Rashes

Most skin rashes aren’t dangerous. However, some skin rashes are caused by severe allergic reactions, diseases and infections. These often cause serious, life-threatening symptoms and can require immediate medical attention.

If you have any of the symptoms or skin rashes listed in below, seek out emergency medical care as soon as possible. 

Drug Allergies

Drug allergies occur when your body’s immune system responds to a certain medication. Skin rashes involving hives, severe itching and swelling that affects the face, lips and tongue, are all common symptoms of an allergic reaction to a drug.

Some medications, such as anti-seizure medications, insulin, penicillin, iodine, sulphonamides and others, are common sources of allergic reactions.

You should speak to your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you experience an allergic reaction to any medication. Seek emergency medical help if you experience any symptoms of anaphylaxis -- a severe allergic reaction that can affect your entire body.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that affects the skin and underlying tissue. It can cause a red, painful rash that makes the skin feel tender. Sometimes, a rash caused by cellulitis leads to the development of blisters and scabs. 

In addition to a skin rash, symptoms of cellulitis include a fever with chills and sweating, warm skin, fatigue, muscle aches, joint stiffness, nausea and vomiting.

Cellulitis is treatable using antibiotics, but it can worsen quickly without treatment. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, contact your healthcare provider immediately. 

Kawasaki Disease

Kawasaki disease, or mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, is a rare illness that affects the blood vessels. It typically affects children under five years of age and can cause a skin rash that develops on the chest, back and groin.

In addition to a rash, Kawasaki disease can cause other symptoms, including swelling of the lymph nodes and limbs and a high fever. It may affect the cardiovascular system, making it important that you seek medical advice if you believe your child may be affected.

When Should You Seek Help?

While some skin rashes will disappear on their own, others can require medical attention and treatment with medication. 

You should talk to your healthcare provider if you develop a skin rash that doesn’t improve by itself, or if you have a skin rash that you can’t identify. It’s especially important to talk to your healthcare provider if you also have other symptoms that may be caused by an illness.

You can also talk to a US-licensed healthcare provider online. If appropriate, you may receive medication to treat your rash and other symptoms.

Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms at the same time as a skin rash: 

  • Joint pain
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Signs of a tick bite
  • Swelling, tender areas or streaks of redness
  • Rapid spreading of the rash across your body
  • Other signs of infection, such as yellow or green fluid, crusting or pain

You should also contact your healthcare provider immediately if you have recently started using a new medication and noticed a skin rash developing, or if you’re concerned that you may have one of the rashes listed above under the heading “Severe Skin Rashes.”

Seek emergency medical assistance if you experience swelling of the face, a tight throat or any signs of difficulty breathing, such as wheezing or shortness of breath. You should also seek emergency medical assistance if your child develops a purple rash with a bruise-like appearance.

How to Treat Skin Rashes

Because skin rashes can develop for a variety of reasons, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment that will get rid of every rash. It is important to understand the cause of the rash so you can get appropriate treatment. 

Many common skin rashes will gradually get better without treatment. For example, some cases of contact dermatitis are best treated by doing nothing to the affected skin and allowing the rash to slowly heal on its own.

Others, such as fungal infections like ringworm, may require the use of specific medications to control the infection and clear the rash. 

Common medications used to treat skin rashes include:

  • Topical and oral antifungal medications
  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Emollients and moisturizers
  • Over-the-counter and/or prescription pain medications

If you have a skin rash, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider. They’ll be able to prescribe the most effective medication for your specific skin rash to clear your skin and prevent the rash from worsening.

If your skin rash is caused by a medication that you use, your healthcare provider may suggest adjusting your dosage or switching to a new medication. 

For many skin rashes, simple home care may help to control your symptoms and improve your skin. Try the following techniques:

  • Use a gentle cleanser instead of soap. Avoid applying soap to skin rashes. Instead, carefully wash the area using a gentle cleanser. Avoid scrubbing the skin directly, as this may cause the rash to worsen.

  • Clean the area using warm water. Avoid using overly hot water to clean areas of skin affected by rashes. After you’ve finished cleaning the skin, gently pat it dry, taking care not to rub the skin while drying.

  • Avoid applying skincare products. Cosmetics and other products for acne and skin conditions can irritate skin rashes and worsen your symptoms. Avoid using any of these while the skin is healing.

  • Allow the affected area to get plenty of fresh air. Many skin rashes improve with air exposure. Try wearing breathable clothes and exposing the affected area to the air while you’re at home.

Tips and Techniques for Preventing Skin Rashes

Not all skin rashes are preventable. However, there are some steps that you can take to reduce your risk of certain skin rashes and conditions. Often, these only require a small change to your habits and lifestyle. Try the following tips and techniques:

  • Wear loose, lightweight cotton clothing. Tight clothing, especially clothing that doesn’t breathe well, can trap sweat against your skin and increase your risk of developing some skin rashes, such as heat rash.

    Try wearing loose, lightweight cotton clothing to improve your skin’s access to air. Keep sweat from building up by exercising during the cooler parts of the day and using a fan or air conditioning to stop you from sweating excessively.

  • Avoid sharing towels, clothing or personal items. These spread bacterial and fungal infections from one person to another, including infections that can cause skin rashes to develop.

  • Take precautions in locker and shower rooms. Many fungal rashes, such as athlete’s foot and ringworm, spread in damp areas such as communal locker rooms, showers and other shared facilities.

    You can minimize your risk of developing these infections by avoiding walking barefoot in shared changing areas and showers. Try keeping a pair of flip-flops or shower shoes in your gym bag to make this easier.

  • Change clothing and underwear regularly. Many rashes, particularly rashes that can affect the groin such as jock itch, develop in warm, moist environments.

    Keep yourself protected by changing out of sweaty or damp clothes as soon as possible, such as after exercising. Avoid wearing dirty clothing, especially underwear and clothing that comes into direct contact with your skin.

  • If you notice a rash developing, take action early. Many rashes worsen rapidly over time, making it important to act quickly. If you notice a skin rash developing, talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible to learn about your treatment options.  

In Conclusion

Skin rashes are common. While some are nothing more than an annoyance, others may signal a more serious health condition that requires treatment and care. 

Because of this, it’s important to seek out medical help if you develop a rash and aren’t sure of its cause. You can do this by talking to your healthcare provider or by scheduling a consultation with a US-licensed healthcare provider online.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.