An Overview of Red Spots on the Skin

Red spots that appear on your skin for many reasons, including an infection, medical condition, skin irritation, or allergy. Some red spots go away on their own, but others may need treatment.

It can sometimes be difficult to determine the underlying cause of a skin condition, which is why it's a good idea to seek a diagnosis from your healthcare provider or a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in disorders of the skin, hair, and nails). 

This article looks at 13 skin conditions that cause red spots, including why they occur and what you can do to treat them. It also lists the signs and symptoms of a medical emergency so that you can seek immediate care.

Heat Rash (Milaria)

Heat rash (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 on areas of skin where sweat accumulates, such as the armpits, chest, back, arms, and groin.

Leg heat rash - golfer's vasculitis

Wendy Bumgardner

People who live in hot climates, sweat a lot, or are on prolonged bed rest are more prone to heat rash.

The treatment of heat rash involves cooling the skin with home remedies such as cooling baths, cold compresses, wearing loose clothing, and avoiding thick moisturizers that trap in heat.

Heat rash is usually not concerning and will resolve on its own within a few days. But it can lead to a secondary infection if skin injury occurs. In severe cases, oral or topical antibiotics may be used to relieve pain and discomfort.

Call your healthcare provider if you notice any signs of infection, including a whitish coloring over the heat rash, flaking skin, or a pus-like discharge.

Recap

Heat rash causes small, red, prickly bumps that can be itchy or painful. Heat rash occurs when sweat glands are blocked, most often in skin folds and sweaty parts of the body. Heat rash usually does not require treatment other than maybe a cool bath.

Cherry Angiomas

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 angioma

Obencem / iStock / Getty Images Plus


Cherry angiomas are diagnosed with a visual exam and usually don't require treatment. That said, the spots can be removed if their looks bother you or they repeatedly bleed.

Your healthcare provider can recommend a relatively painless removal procedure using lasers or liquid nitrogen.

It is not unusual for cherry angiomas to grow in size or occasionally bleed. Keep in mind that this is normal and typically not a cause for alarm.

Recap

A cherry angioma is a small, benign skin growth made up of a tiny cluster of blood vessels. They don't require treatment but can be removed for cosmetic reasons or if they are prone to bleeding.

Contact Dermatitis

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

Contact dermatitis

PansLaos / Getty Images 


There are two main types of contact dermatitis:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the skin's protective barrier is weakened and the skin becomes irritated by a substance.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the immune system reacts abnormally to an allergy-causing substance called an allergen.

Sometimes you'll know exactly caused the reaction (such as coming into contact with poison ivy). But at other times, it may not be clear. Your healthcare provider may recommend a patch test to determine is the cause is allergic.

Contact dermatitis will often clear up on its own in a few weeks as long as you avoid the substance that caused it. Treatment will vary based on the cause but may include over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or prescription oral antihistamines to relieve the itch .

If you have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction—such as difficulty breathing or swelling of the mouth, lip, or throat—call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Recap

Contact dermatitis is caused when an irritant or allergen comes into contact with the skin, causing itchy, red bumps. Contact dermatitis often clears on its own but may benefit from an anti-itch cream or oral antihistamine.

Ringworm (Tinea Corporis)

Ringworm (tinea corporis) is a common fungal skin infection that causes a red, blotchy, circular rash with raised edges. 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.

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

ringworm on arm

alejandrophotography / Getty Images


Ringworm is highly contagious and easily spread through skin-to-skin contact or contaminated objects or 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 antifungal cream. If it's not treated properly, ringworm can spread and may require an oral antifungal drugs.

Recap

Ringworm is a highly contagious fungal skin infection that causes a red, itchy, ring-shaped rash with raised edges. It is typically treated with topical antifungal creams.

Drug Rash

A drug rash occurs when your body has an allergic reaction to a medication. It may also be due to drug hypersensitivity or a side effect of the drug (such as photosensitive reactions). Drug rashes can appear as hives, rashes, or blisters.

Picture of drug allergy rash

Getty Images

Drug rashes can range from mild to severe Some cases may require emergency care. They tend to cause a diffuse outbreak and, depending on the reaction, may affect the entire body or only certain parts of the body.

To diagnose a drug rash, your healthcare provider will review all drugs and supplements you're currently taking. If the condition doesn't clear up after you stop using the medication, your healthcare provider may prescribe other treatments such as steroids or antihistamines to help reduce swelling and pain.

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.

Recap

A drug rash is any skin reaction that occurs as a result of a drug you take. The appearance can vary, and the reaction can range from mild to life-threatening. If the rash is severe, corticosteroids or antihistamines may be prescribed.

Pityriasis Rosea

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

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

pityriasis rosea rashes across the stomach

NMSB - Custom Medical Stock Photo

Experts don't know what causes pityriasis rosea, but it is believed to be linked to a viral or bacterial infection. Pityriasis rosea often occurs after an infection and can sometimes involve a headache, sore throat, and fever.

Pityriasis rosea is usually diagnosed by its appearance and will sometimes disappear on its own in six to eight weeks. In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend a steroid, antihistamine, or antiviral drug to help relieve itching and swelling.

Recap

Pityriasis rosea typically starts with a single, large red spot on the chest, torso, or back followed by smaller ring-like spots. It usually clears on its own, but a steroid, antihistamine, or antiviral drug may help relieve itching and swelling.

Blood Spots (Purpura)

Blood spots (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.

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

blood spots on the ankle and foot

DrPilulkin in UA / Getty Images

While they are generally not a cause for alarm, blood spots may suggest a more serious medical condition like a blood clotting disorder (particularly if the spots are widespread). Your healthcare provider will use a physical exam and blood tests (including a platelet count) to help diagnosed the cause.

Steroids are sometimes prescribed for people with purpura. For severe cases, intravenous (IV) medications may be needed to resolve a low platelet count.

Recap

Blood spots (purpura) are red or purplish spots that occur when blood vessels beneath the skin burst. Blood spots may be harmless or a sign of a more serious blood clotting disorder in need of treatment.

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)

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

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

Atopic dermatitis

DermNet / CC-BY-NC-ND

Atopic dermatitis is usually seen in children five and younger and is diagnosed with a physical exam. Treatment may include topical steroid creams, antihistamines, or oral steroids (for more severe cases). Experts also recommend keeping the skin well moisturized to reduce flare-ups.

Recap

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition that causes red, itchy, scaly rashes, usually around the skin folds of the elbows, neck, ears, knees, or wrists. Moisturizers, antihistamines, or topical steroid creams may be prescribed to help relieve the symptoms.

Swimmer's Itch (Cercarial Dermatitis)

Swimmer's itch (cercarial dermatitis) is an itchy, bumpy, red rash that occurs after swimming in water contaminated with parasites known as schistosomes. The parasites can be found both in freshwater and saltwater habitats.

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

swimmers itch, red bumps on a leg

ADAM


The rash typically develops within a day of exposure to the contaminated water and is not contagious. It's best treated with topical steroids and oral antihistamines. Antibiotics may be used if the infection doesn't go away.

Recap

Swimmer's itch is an itchy, bumpy, red rash caused by an allergic reaction to microscopic parasites called schistosomes found both in freshwater and saltwater habitats. The rash is typically treated with topical steroids or oral antihistamines.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disorder that can be triggered by stress, medications, infection, injury, or environmental factors. The rash is itchy and red with silvery plaques, most often on the elbows, knees, and scale. The plaques form when the immune system overproduces skin cells.

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

psoriasis
Psoriasis.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND


A healthcare provider can diagnose psoriasis by its appearance and occasionally with a skin biopsy. Treatment will vary based on the severity of the lesions and may include topical steroid creams, immune suppressant drugs, and UV light therapy. Cold compresses, moisturizers, and oatmeal baths can also reduce itching.

Recap

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes an itchy, red rash with silvery plaques, most often on the elbows, knees, or scalp. Depending on the severity of the rash, the treatment may involve moisturizers, topical steroids, UV light therapy, and immunosuppressant drugs.

Lichen Planus

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.

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

Lichen Planus

TimoninaIryna / Getty Images

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 exam and provide treatment options such as topical steroids, topical retinoids, or oral antihistamines.

While the cause of lichen planus isn't well understood, some experts suspect there could be a genetic component to this autoimmune skin condition.

Recap

Lichen planus is an autoimmune condition that causes a flat, itchy, purplish rash on the skin and inside the mouth. Lichen planus usually goes away on its own but may be treated with topical steroids, topical retinoids, or oral antihistamines.

Petechiae

Petechiae are small red dots that look like a rash. They 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.

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

petechiae on arm

bozhdb / Getty Images

Petechiae is actually not a condition but a symptom of a larger infection, trauma, bleeding disorder, or allergy. They occur when tiny blood vessels beneath the skin burst. Petechiae tends to be smaller and more diffuse than cherry angiomas.

Your healthcare provider will conduct an exam to evaluate the underlying cause. Fungal, viral, or bacterial infections like strep throat and scarlet fever are known to cause petechiae in some people.

Treatment may not be needed if there's no sign of infection or further spread. If fever occurs with petechiae, it may be a sign of a serious infection in need of immediate treatment.

Recap

Petechiae are small red dots, typically diffuse and non-itchy, that occur when tiny blood vessels under the skin burst. Petechiae is a symptom rather than a condition. The treatment varies based on the underlying cause.

Pimples (Acne Vulgaris)

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

Pimples on temple

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Pimples (acne vulgaris) are inflamed red spots on the face, chest, and upper back that form when pores become blocked by oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria.

Mild pimples can often be treated at home with over-the-counter acne products. A more severe form of acne, called cystic acne, may require treatment by a dermatologist.

Treatments include topical acne medications, oral antibiotics isotretinoin, steroid injections, chemical peels, and hormonal contraceptives for some females

Recap

Pimples are caused by when skin pores become clogged with oils, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Depending on their severity, pimples can be treated with over-the-counter acne creams, antibiotics, isotretinoin, steroid injections, chemical peels, and other measures.

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.

Summary

There are many causes of red spots on the skin. Some are mild and clear on their own, while others may be serious and require treatment by a dermatologist or other medical specialist.

Conditions like cherry angiomas, heat rash, lichen planus, and pityriasis rosea often require no treatment. Others like acne, atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, petechiae, psoriasis, purpura, ringworm, swimmer's itch may require medical treatment by a specialist.

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 and allergies to parasites and autoimmune diseases), the only way to put your mind at ease is to get a diagnosis from a healthcare professional.

You might also consider a telemedicine appointment with a dermatologist. Video conferencing (or providing digital photos of your rash) can be an extremely convenient way for the specialist to evaluate your condition and prescribe medications if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • 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.

  • What can treat skin disorders?

    A dermatologist is a physician who specializes in disorders of the skin, However, other specialists may be needed based on the underlying cause of a skin condition. These can include an allergist for skin allergies, a rheumatologist for autoimmune skin conditions, and an oncologist for skin cancer.

  • Are red spots signs of skin cancer?

    Skin cancer can vary in appearance based on the cancer type. Squamous cell carcinoma can cause a firm red nodule, flat scaly sores, or a red patch inside the mouth or on the genitals or anus. Basal cell carcinoma often causes a white waxy lump or a brown scaly patch on sun-exposed skin. Melanoma is often recognized by changes in an existing mole (including changes in color, size, and borders).

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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.
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