A Guide to Common Skin Rashes

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

There are a few causes for a skin rash. One cause can be contact with any chemical, whether natural or physical substance that you're allergic to (called allergen). Simple irritation to an ingredient or substance when it contacts your skin can be another cause. Medication can be a cause as a side effect of the drug, and various diseases can also cause rashes. This article will help you learn what is causing your skin rash, how to soothe your skin with simple skin rash treatments, and find just the right solution to prevent recurrence.

Signs, Symptoms & Overview of Skin Rashes

Most rashes are referred to medically as dermatitis with the most common 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 (physical) 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 came into contact with the irritant. The rash that appears is mostly red, may burn, itch or sting with blisters.

Common Types of Skin Rashes

Whether your rash is from an allergy or other causes, there are some that are known by specific names:

  • Eczema is a type of allergic reaction that may take a few exposures to an irritant or allergen to show up. It may not show a skin rash until 24 to 48 hours after you've come into contact with what you are allergic to. Your skin may burn, show red bumps that ooze, drain, crust and become dry, red or rough. With treatment, it can take two to three weeks to clear up. Eczema will return if you come into contact with the allergen or irritant again.
  • Diaper rash usually is seen near the diaper area with the skin looking red and irritated.
  • Bites and bee stings can be painful in the bite area, feel hot with redness, itching, numbness and tingling. You'll feel it usually immediately after being stung or bitten.
  • 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.
  • Fungal infections can include athelet's foot, jock itch, ringworm, and candidiasis albicans (can infect the mouth, vagina, stomach and urinary tract). Fungal infections are contagious, but our body does have good bacteria to keep harmful fungi from colonizing and becoming dangerous. If your immune system is weak and compromised, for example, through long term antibiotic therapy, the fungi can overpower the body's good bacteria and grow in numbers that cause problems.
  • Impetigo is contagious, common in children 2 to 6 years old and is accompanied with swollen glands, itchy rash that are fluid filled and easily pop. Usually occurs when the skin is infected by a certain type of bacteria.
  • Shingles (herpes zoster) appears because of the virus varicella-zoster (same virus causing chickenpox). The skin rashes are red, cause pain, burning and appear on one side of the body that may include your torso, neck or face. It clears up within two to three weeks, and rarely occurs more than once in the same person.
  • Drug allergy may make you have breathing difficulties, fever and a mild rash over your body.
  • Pemphigoid has connections with a weak immune system that does not function properly. The rash may appear as painful blistering red rashes on the legs, arms, abdomen, eyes, nose, mouth and vagina.
  • Lichen planus forms an itchy rash on your skin or in the mouth. It mostly affects middle-aged adults. The rash may be painful, whether in the mouth, wrist, legs, torso or genitals. They form lacy looking lattice that can gradually increase in size.

What Can Cause Your Skin Rashes

Dermatologists report approximately 80% of cases of irritant contact dermatitis are due to known substances. The bad news is there may be thousands of chemicals and ingredients that have not been tested to determine if they cause 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
  • Soaps, detergents
  • 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, cosmetics, personal care ingredients

Tests Your Doctor May Perform

It's important to visit a dermatologist or allergist if you have symptoms of a skin rash. Your doctor will examine your skin and either determine the type of rash based on observation or through tests. One type of test is a patch test, and the other is a biopsy, if patch test is not sufficient. In a biopsy, your doctor will take a sample of your skin for laboratory testing to diagnose the skin condition. 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.
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.

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.


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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