An Overview of Red Spots on the Skin

Red spots that appear on your skin can be caused by many different factors, including an infection, medical condition, skin irritation, or allergy. Some red spots go away on their own, but others may need treatment or medication to resolve them fully.

It can sometimes be difficult to determine exactly the underlying cause, which is why it's a good idea to get an accurate diagnosis from your healthcare provider or dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin, hair, and nail conditions). 

Causes of Red Spots on Skin

Heat Rash

Leg heat rash - golfer's vasculitis

Wendy Bumgardner

Heat rash (or miliaria) happens when sweat glands are blocked under the skin, causing small, red, prickly bumps that can be itchy or painful. It usually appears in skin folds or areas where sweat accumulates, like the armpits, chest, back, arms, and groin.

Babies and people who live in hot climates, sweat a lot, or are on bed rest may be more prone to heat rash.

Treating heat rash involves keeping the area cool, dry, and irritation-free through home remedies such as taking cool baths or oatmeal baths, applying cool compresses, wearing loose clothing, and avoiding thick moisturizers.

Heat rash is usually not concerning and can resolve on its own in a few days, but it also has the potential to lead to secondary infection if not properly cared for. In severe cases, oral or topical antibiotics may be prescribed to help relieve the pain and discomfort.

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you notice any signs of infection along with heat rash, including white or light coloring over the heat rash, flaking skin, pus oozing from the rash, or rash appearing on only one side of the body.

Cherry Angiomas

cherry angioma

Obencem / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A cherry angioma (or cherry hemangioma) is a small, noncancerous skin growth that appears as a round red or purple spot made up of blood vessels. The bumps can be raised or flat and are common in adults age 30 and older. You'll often find cherry angiomas on the torso, but they can also develop on the arms, legs, and scalp.

Cherry angiomas are diagnosable with a visual examination and they typically don't require any treatment. That said, these spots can be removed noninvasively if their appearance bothers you or if they're repeatedly bleeding. Your healthcare provider can recommend a relatively painless removal technique involving a laser, liquid nitrogen, or other methods.

It's not unusual for cherry angiomas to grow in size or occasionally bleed due to clothing or other irritation. Keep in mind that this is normal, and is typically not a cause for alarm.

Contact Dermatitis

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Contact dermatitis

PansLaos / Getty Images 

Contact dermatitis is a common condition that happens when your skin comes into contact with something irritating or something that it's allergic to. It usually appears as an itchy red rash with bumps but can also include swollen or dry, cracked, flaky skin on any part of the body.

There are two main types of contact dermatitis:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis develops when the skin's protective barrier is weakened and the skin becomes irritated by a substance.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis develops when the immune system reacts against a chemical substance, causing the skin outbreak.

Sometimes, you'll know exactly what caused the contact dermatitis, like if you've come across poison ivy. But other times, it's not so clear. Your healthcare provider may recommend a patch test to determine the causes of allergic contact dermatitis. Keep in mind that your skin can react to a product or substance even if you've used it previously without issues.

In many cases, contact dermatitis can clear up on its own in a few weeks, as long as you avoid the substance that caused it. Treatment will vary depending on what caused the reaction, but it can include over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams or prescription oral antihistamines.

If your contact dermatitis presents with symptoms of a severe allergic reaction—such as difficulty breathing or swelling of the mouth, lip, or throat—call your healthcare provider right away or seek immediate urgent care.

Ringworm

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

ringworm on arm

alejandrophotography / Getty Images

Ringworm (tinea corporis) is a common fungal skin infection that causes a red, blotchy, circular rash with a raised edge. Sometimes ringworm can cause flaking and peeling, but it's typically not painful. It's often seen on the arms and legs, though ringworm can appear on any part of the body.

Ringworm is highly contagious and easily spread through skin-to-skin contact or contaminated objects and surfaces. Pets can also transmit the fungus.

It's typically diagnosed by a healthcare provider based on its appearance and then treated with an over-the-counter or prescription topical antifungal cream. If it's not treated properly, ringworm can spread and may require an oral antifungal prescription.

Drug Rash

drug allergic reaction on leg

Cordelia Molloy / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

A drug rash occurs when your body has an allergic reaction to a topical, oral, or intravenous (IV) medication. Drug rashes can appear as hives (raised red bumps), a flat rash, a dark red or purple rash, scaly skin, or blisters. They can range from mild to severe, and in some cases, may require emergency medical attention.

To diagnose a drug rash, your healthcare provider will want to review all medications and supplements you're currently taking. If the condition doesn't clear up after you stop using the medication in question, your healthcare provider may prescribe other treatments such as corticosteroids or antihistamines to help reduce any uncomfortable or painful symptoms.

Allergic reactions can be serious and sometimes life-threatening. If a rash develops in the hours, days, or weeks after a new medication, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Pityriasis Rosea

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

pityriasis rosea rashes across the stomach

NMSB - Custom Medical Stock Photo

Pityriasis rosea is a common, benign rash that usually happens in adolescents and young adults. It usually starts with one larger red spot on the chest, torso, or back, followed by smaller red spots with a ring-like shape. The spots can be scaly and itchy.

Experts don't know exactly what causes it, but it's believed to be linked to a viral or bacterial infection. Pityriasis rosea often happens after an infection and can come with symptoms such as headache, sore throat, and fever.

It's usually diagnosed by appearance, and sometimes disappears on its own in six to eight weeks. In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend a corticosteroid, antihistamine, or antiviral medication to help with itching and inflammation.

Blood Spots

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

blood spots on the ankle and foot

DrPilulkin in UA / Getty Images

Blood spots (or purpura) are red or purple-colored spots that crop up on the skin or inside the mouth in small or large patches. It happens when small blood vessels burst, causing blood to pool under the skin.

While they're generally not a cause for alarm, there's a possibility blood spots may indicate a more serious medical condition, like a blood clotting disorder. Your healthcare provider will use an examination and blood and platelet count tests for diagnosis, and potentially prescribe a corticosteroid.

For severe cases, an IV medication or other prescription drugs may be recommended to treat low platelet count.

Atopic Dermatitis

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

atopic eczema on infant face

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Atopic dermatitis is a common, chronic skin condition. It causes red, itchy, scaly, inflammatory rashes usually found in skin folds, such as the elbows, neck, wrists, and behind the knees or ears.

Atopic dermatitis is usually seen in children ages 5 and younger and is diagnosed by a healthcare provider's physical exam. Treatment may include topical steroid creams (over-the-counter or prescription) and antihistamines or oral steroids for more severe cases. Experts also recommend keeping the skin well-moisturized to help reduce flare-ups.

Swimmer's Itch

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

swimmers itch, red bumps on a leg

ADAM

Swimmer's itch (or cercarial dermatitis) is an itchy, bumpy, red rash that occurs after swimming in water contaminated with parasites known as schistosomes. They can be present in freshwater or marine habitats.

The rash typically develops within a day of exposure to the contaminated water and is not contagious. It's best treated with topical corticosteroids and oral antihistamines. It can occasionally require a healthcare provider's visit for antibiotics if the infection doesn't go away.

Psoriasis

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

psoriasis
Psoriasis.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disorder that can be triggered by stress, medication, infection, injury, or environmental factors. An itchy, irritated red rash with silvery plaques or scales—commonly on the elbows, knees, and scalp—forms when the immune system overproduces skin cells too quickly.

A healthcare provider will be able to diagnose psoriasis by its appearance and occasionally a skin biopsy. Treatment will vary based on the severity of the condition and may include topical creams, immune suppressant medications, and UV light therapy. Cold compresses and oatmeal baths at home can also help reduce itching.

Lichen Planus

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Lichen Planus

TimoninaIryna / Getty Images

Lichen planus is an autoimmune condition that results in red spots on the inside of the mouth, nails, scalp, genitals, eyes, throat, and digestive tract. It typically appears as a flat, itchy, purple rash and is most commonly seen in women or people ages 30 to 60.

Lichen planus isn't contagious, and can either clear up on its own or become a chronic issue. Your healthcare provider will be able to diagnose lichen planus with a physical examination and provide treatment options such as topical corticosteroids, topical retinoids, and oral antihistamines.

While the cause isn't fully understood, some experts suspect there could be a genetic component to the skin condition.

Petechiae

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

petechiae on arm

bozhdb / Getty Images

Petechiae are small red dots that look like a rash and often appear suddenly on the arms, legs, stomach, and buttocks. The spots usually don't itch and are not raised but can spread to different parts of the body and form larger patches.

Petechiae is actually not a condition but a symptom of a larger infection, trauma, bleeding disorder, or allergic reaction. Your healthcare provider will conduct an exam to evaluate the underlying cause, with some of the most common being fungal, viral, or bacterial infections like those that cause the flu, strep throat, scarlet fever, and more.

Treatment will depend on the cause and may not be required if there's no sign of infection or spread. If you notice a fever with petechiae, it could indicate a serious infection that will require immediate medical attention from your healthcare provider.

Pimples

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Pimples on temple

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Pimples are red spots on the skin, chest, and upper back that form when pores become blocked by oil and dead skin cells. When mixed with bacteria, the result is an irritated, inflamed, red bump.

Occasional, mild pimples can often be treated at home with over-the-counter acne products. People who experience pimples regularly may be diagnosed with acne vulgaris, or the more severe cystic acne, which will require the intervention of a dermatologist to treat.

Treatment options can range from topical products and oral antibiotics to isotretinoin, oral contraceptives for females, corticosteroid injections, or chemical peels.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Determining whether the red spots on your skin will require a trip to the healthcare provider will depend on the appearance and severity of the rash, your individual medical history, and any underlying conditions. But in general, red flag symptoms that indicate a possible infection include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble breathing
  • Severe pain or swelling
  • Pus oozing from the rash

Seek immediate medical care if any of the above symptoms accompany your red spots.

A Word From Verywell

Red spots on the skin are relatively common and are not always a cause for concern. But because the underlying causes vary greatly from infections to allergic reactions, parasites, or medical conditions, the only way to put your mind at ease is to get a correct diagnosis from your healthcare provider.

Since red spots are a particularly visible symptom, you might consider a telemedicine appointment with a healthcare provider or dermatologist. Video conferencing or providing digital photos of your rash can be an extremely convenient way for your healthcare provider to check suspicious red spots on your skin and prescribe medication if necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do red, itchy circles on the skin indicate?

    Ringworm is a skin infection identified by red, itchy circles that usually appear on the arms and legs. If you see these signs but the circle is not itchy, it may still be a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider so that they can make a diagnosis.

  • What are signs of petechiae?

    Petechiae are identified by small, pinpoint red dots in a cluster that resemble a rash. The dots can appear suddenly, do not itch, and often form on the arms, legs, stomach, and buttocks, although they can appear elsewhere including within the mouth and eyelids.

    Petechiae aren't a condition on their own, but a symptom of something else, like a bacterial or viral infection or an allergic reaction. These symptoms most frequently affect children, but they can happen to anyone.

  • What do red splotches on the face mean?

    Red splotches on the face can be a sign of rosacea, a skin condition that causes redness or blushing across the face that comes and goes. It also causes a feeling of burning or stinging when applying water or skincare products to the affected areas. Rosacea can't be cured, but treatment does exist to reduce symptoms.

Was this page helpful?
18 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Does your child have a heat rash? Cool it down—here's how. Updated May 26, 2016.

  2. American Academy of Family Physicians. Heat rash. Updated December 11, 2020.

  3. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Angiomas.

  4. Johnston GA, Exton LS, Mohd Mustapa MF, et al. British Association of Dermatologists' guidelines for the management of contact dermatitis 2017. Br J Dermatol. 2017;176(2):317-329. doi:10.1111/bjd.15239

  5. Tabassum N, Hamdani M. Plants used to treat skin diseasesPharmacogn Rev. 2014;8(15):52–60. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.125531

  6. Vanravenstein K, Edlund BJ. Diagnosis and management of pityriasis roseaNurse Pract. 2017;42(1):8-11. doi:10.1097/01.NPR.0000511012.21714.66

  7. Urbina F, Das A, Sudy E. Clinical variants of pityriasis roseaWorld J Clin Cases. 2017;5(6):203-211. doi:10.12998/wjcc.v5.i6.203

  8. Villalon-gomez JM. Pityriasis rosea: diagnosis and treatmentAm Fam Physician. 2018;97(1):38-44.

  9. Thomas AE, Baird SF, Anderson J. Purpuric and petechial rashes in adults and children: initial assessment. BMJ. 2016;352:i1285. doi:10.1136/bmj.i1285 

  10. Lyons JJ, Milner JD, Stone KD. Atopic dermatitis in children: clinical features, pathophysiology, and treatmentImmunol Allergy Clin North Am. 2015;35(1):161-183. doi:10.1016/j.iac.2014.09.008

  11. Tracz ES, Al-jubury A, Buchmann K, Bygum A. Outbreak of swimmer's itch in DenmarkActa Derm Venereol. 2019;99(12):1116-20. doi:10.2340/00015555-3309

  12. Le Cleach L, Chosidow O. Lichen planusN Engl J Med. 2012;366(8):723-32. doi:10.1056/nejmcp1103641

  13. Usatine R, Tinitigan M. Diagnosis and treatment of lichen planusAm Fam Physician. 2011;84(1):53-60

  14. Fairview Patient Education Petichiae (child).

  15. Ranganathan D, John GT. Therapeutic plasma exchange in renal disordersIndian J Nephrol. 2019;29(3):151-159. doi:10.4103/ijn.IJN_420_17

  16. Tanghetti, E, MD. The role of inflammation in the pathology of acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2013 Sep; 6(9): 27–35. 

  17. MedlinePlus. Skin infections.

  18. National Health Service (NHS). Rosacea. Last reviewed January 15, 2020.