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You are here:Home > Health Topics > A Guide to Common Skin Rashes


In This Article:

Signs and Symptoms of Skin Rashes

Causes of Skin Rashes

Tests Your Doctor May Perform

Treatment for Skin Rashes

Home Remedies to Clear Up Skin Rashes

Skin rashes are common, and come in a variety of types but have similar reactions. You may have noticed and experienced your skin rash for many years, or it surprised you all of a sudden with a little itching, and a small red patch or stinging and burning or your skin, while trying a new skin cream or cosmetic.

The cause can be coming into contact with any chemical, natural or physical substance that you're allergic to (called allergen) or that is an irritant. This article will help you learn what is causing your skin rash, how to sooth your skin and find just the right solution to prevent recurrence.

Signs and Symptoms of Skin Rashes

Most rashes are referred to medically as dermatitis with the most common types being:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis appears when you contact a substance you're allergic to. The red rash may cause your skin to sting, burn or itch with appearance of blisters. Other symptoms may include hay fever, asthma, sinus problems, headaches and other systemic symptoms and problems besides skin rashes.

  • Irritant contact dermatitis involves appearance of skin rashes by touching something you're sensitive to (called an irritant). This is the most common cause of skin rashes with the sign only appearing in the areas that have come into contact with the irritant. The rash that appears is mostly red, may burn, itch or sting with blisters.

  • Atopic dermatitis rashes show up as greasy, yellowish or reddish on the scalp (dandruff in adults, cradle cap in infants), face or genitals. The rash may remain long term or have periods of remission and flareups.

Causes of Skin Rashes

Dermatologists report approximately 80% of cases of irritant contact dermatitis are due to known substances. There may be thousands of chemicals and ingredients that have not been tested to determine if they cause contact dermatitis.

If you have come into contact with a substance, such as grass that you have become sensitized to, your skin will develop a rash each time you come into contact with that same substance. Anyone can be affected and become sensitized by a substance and experience itching, redness and stinging. Heredity and lifestyle may impact the cause of dermatitis. Some rashes appear immediately following contact or may show signs after 12 to 72 hours later. Some substances can be both an irritant and allergen.

The top substances in North American known to cause skin rashes include:

  • Bacitracin

  • Balsam of Peru

  • Cobalt

  • Cosmetics, soaps, detergents, skin care

  • Chemicals in elastic, latex, rubber products

  • Certain dyes

  • Dust

  • Degreasing agents

  • Essential oils and certain plant extracts

  • Flavors such as mint or cinnamon

  • Formaldehyde

  • Fragrance and perfumes

  • Fruits or plants (salicylate intolerance or sensitivity)

  • Neomycin sulfate

  • Skin care and body lotion ingredients

Tests Your Doctor May Perform

The most common way your doctor may determine the cause of skin rashes is with a patch test. A small amount of various substances are placed under an adhesive covering that adheres to your skin. You return over several days and your doctor checks your skin for any reaction to the substances.

Since it's impossible for doctors to have all the substances, natural or chemical you may be sensitized to, you can perform the test yourself:

  • Apply a small amount of a new skin care, cosmetic or other product to the inside of your wrist.

  • Adhere a bandage or pad over to prevent it rubbing off.

  • Wait up to 72 hours for any reaction. If none appears, you're safe with that product.

Treatment for Skin Rashes

Determining the irritant and preventing future contact with it, is the main way to manage contact dermatitis and the resulting skin rashes. Most treatments recommended by doctors include the following:

  • Applying topical corticosteroids two times a day. If effective, within a few days relief is noticed. However, they should not be used for long term, since they may have side effects and cause irritation.

  • Applying certain topical creams that can affect your immune system response to the irritant, called calcineurin inhibitors.

  • Natural or artificial light, called phototherapy, exposed to the skin rash area.

Home Remedies to Clear Up Your Skin Rashes

The best way to minimize skin rashes and sensitized skin conditions is to keep your skin healthy. This includes:

  • Avoid irritating skincare and personal care products that may contain harsh ingredients.

  • Use gentle sensitive skin cleansers that are soap free.

  • Only use soothing moisturizers that help improve skin's natural protective barrier.

  • Use sunscreen with zinc oxide to safely prevent damage from harmful UV rays of the sun.

  • Apply rich moisturizer for repair of environmentally caused damage.

  • Use warm, never hot, water for washing your face and body. Pat dry, never rub.

  • Emu oil has been reported to be excellent for skin rashes, not only to relief itching and pain, but to sooth irritated skin.

  • Leave the affected area exposed to the air, as much as possible.

  • Never scratch the itchy rash or you may end up with open sores or an infection.

  • Apply cool, wet compresses to the rash and cover with pad and dressing to protect from scratching.

  • Soak for 5 to 10 minutes in a warm bath with oatmeal. Rinse with warm water, pat dry with a soft towel, and apply non-irritating moisturizer.

  • Only use fragrance-free products.

  • Try stress management techniques and find a few that work for you.

  • Wear cotton clothing that are soft and smooth to help avoid irritating your skin rashes.

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Cleveland Clinic: Dermatitis

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Medicine Net: Skin Rashes

National Institute of Health, Medline Plus: Dermatitis, Skin Rashes

Mayo Clinic: Dermatitis

American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

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