Skin redness

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 16, 2015
StartSymptomsSkin redness

Redness of the skin can be caused by several different ailments ranging in severity from simply being flushed due to a hard workout, to a potential sign of lupus, an auto-immune disease. Luckily, most cases of skin redness can be cured at home or with some simple over the counter medications. It is important to understand the various forms of skin redness and what could be the root cause.


Definition & Facts

Skin redness is simply a flushed color of the skin which can come in a variety of forms. Regardless of what is causing the skin to redden, the skin appears more red because the tiny blood vessels on the skin’s surface have dilated quickly. In most cases, the vessels return to normal and the skin regains its typical appearance.

When the skin redness is caused by an outside factor though, the red appearance can remain. Reddened skin can appear on the body as bumps, blisters, or hives. A rash can develop that makes the skin appear red. The rash can become itchy or even swollen. Different skin ailments can cause the skin to react in different ways, so it is important to identify what is causing the skin to appear red before attempting treatment.


There are a number of reasons the skin may appear red, ranging from the completely innocuous to some rather serious medical conditions. The skin can appear red simply from a vigorous cardiovascular workout that has caused the skin to appear flushed. Or, the skin may appear red from what is called irritant contact dermatitis. This is when the body has an immediate reaction to something that has touched the skin.

In some cases, this can be a chemical used in skin products, such as benzoyl peroxide or alpha hydroxyl acids, or something as unassuming as a different laundry detergent. Irritant contact dermatitis causes the skin to react immediately, whereas allergic contact dermatitis appears after a few days. Another source of skin redness could be rosacea, a simple flushing of the skin that comes and goes. Eventually, rosacea may be accompanied by tiny pimples, the appearance of blood vessels, or itchy skin.

Adult acne is another source of red skin and can be prompted by hormonal changes in adults. Outbreaks can be triggered with menstruation, pregnancy, or certain types of oral birth control pills. Psoriasis, a condition where the body produces skin at a faster than normal rate can also make the skin appear to be red. Certain fungal diseases, such as ringworm, appear as a reddened patch of skin.

Ringworm is spread by contact between humans and is commonly spread through gyms or showers where several people are using the facilities. Ringworm appears as a circular rash pattern on the affected area. Skin redness could also be the indication of a more serious disease such as lupus, which begins as a butterfly-shaped rash across the face. Sometimes, the source of skin disease is directly apparent, and can be caused by an insect or animal bite, burn to the surface of the skin, or sunburn.

When to see a doctor

It is important to go see a doctor if the skin redness is a result of a burn, and the size of the burn is two times the size of an adult palm. Also, see a doctor if the skin redness is accompanied by other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, or extreme pain. If the redness is located near the eyes, and as a result is impairing vision, seek medical attention. Always, regardless of whether the patient has received a tetanus vaccination, see a doctor if the skin redness is a result of an animal bite.

Treatment & Therapy

Depending on the source of skin redness, treatment and therapy will differ accordingly. If the skin redness is a result of a reaction to a chemical coming in contact with your skin, whether it is an irritant or allergic reaction, the first course of action is washing the affected area with soap and water.

Using a cold compress can stop any burning or itching. Additionally, an over the counter drug that contains hydrocortisone can help with any inflammation or itching. If rosacea is at the root of red skin, a doctor can prescribe a type of doxycycline antibiotic which can reduce the inflammation. Adult acne can be treated with topical or oral medication, or a combination of the two.

Typically, antibiotics, birth control pills, or spironolactone is prescribed for treatment. The usual course of treatment for ringworm is a prescribed medication that is applied topically to kill the fungus causing the infection. With sunburn, a cool shower and the application of aloe can help soothe the initial burn. For treating pain and inflammation caused from sunburn, ibuprofen can help alleviate some of the pain.

If the source of skin redness is more serious, such as with lupus, the usual treatment is corticosteroids, topical creams, or an anti-inflammatory to clear up the rash with a combination of immune suppressants.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Due to the wide range of ailments that could be causing skin to appear red, it is hard to give one definitive answer to prevent skin redness. In the case of irritant or allergic dermatitis, it is generally the accepted rule to figure out what has changed in the daily routine that could potentially cause the skin redness, and discontinue its use immediately.

Skin redness caused by sun burn can easily be avoided by using high strength sun block and limiting the amount of exposure. Psoriasis has been known to worsen with emotional trauma, such as starting a new job, or with certain medications, such as blood pressure medication. In the case of ringworm, practicing good hygiene is suggested to prevent the spread of the fungal infections.

It can help to wear sandals in community showers, such as at the gym. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent rosacea, adult acne, or lupus, and often these ailments can come out of nowhere. There are simply ways to mitigate the skin redness after it occurs with these conditions. Of course it is always suggested to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise. Reducing stress can also help prevent flare ups that may occur with lupus.

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