What Do Scabies Rashes Look Like?

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Scabies is an infestation of human skin by a parasitic mite. It can cause a very itchy rash. People often refer to the rash itself as scabies.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), scabies is a common skin condition that affects over 200 million people in the world at any one time. The condition is more common in young children and older adults, especially in poor communities that lack healthcare resources.

This article covers what scabies rashes look like, other symptoms that may occur, causes, treatment, and prevention.

Scabies rash between fingers

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What Does Scabies Look Like?

A scabies rash can look slightly different from person to person but has some common features. 

Itch

Most people will experience itching that can be severe and make it tough to sleep at night. Itching may be so bad scratching breaks the skin and makes the skin appear redder and more inflamed.

Burrows

Scabies mites are tiny parasites. You can’t see mites without a microscope, but you can spot the burrows they create under the skin's surface. These minute tunnels may appear like lines on the surface of your skin. They sometimes have a grayish tint or vary in color from your natural skin tone.

Generalized Rash

While scabies burrow under the skin, they also irritate it, causing a red rash that can mimic other types of skin irritation. In some people, particularly young children, a scabies rash may involve pus-filled bumps. 

Scabies Rash Location

Scabies mites prefer certain locations on the human body, especially skin folds and anywhere covered by clothing or jewelry. Other common spots for scabies rashes include:

  • Genitals
  • Buttocks
  • Waistline
  • Hands and arms
  • Nipple area 

However, you can develop a scabies rash in other areas. You can also have scabies in multiple areas.

Other Symptoms

How do you know it’s scabies? While a rash with burrows is pretty distinct and usually clinches a diagnosis, other signs of a scabies mite infestation include:

  • Severe itching at night
  • Crusted skin

Crusted skin can happen if you scratch, break open the skin, and a scab forms. Crusting is also a sign of crusted scabies, a severe form of scabies infestation that involves millions instead of a handful of mites. People with crusted scabies may also have open sores.

Causes

The human itch mite causes scabies rash. You can contract scabies via skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies.

Crusted scabies occurs in people with a weakened immune system. This can allow the mites to proliferate without control. You’re at higher risk for crusted scabies if you:

  • Are an older adult
  • Take immunosuppressants (drugs that block part of the immune system) for conditions such as organ transplant or autoimmune conditions (in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body)
  • Are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system) due to conditions such as HIV/AIDS, lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system), or leukemia (blood cancer)

Is Scabies Contagious?

Yes. This skin condition is highly contagious but requires skin-to-skin contact. The crusted form of scabies is even more contagious. This is because scabies mites can live for several days apart from the human body, and those attached to crusted and shredded pieces of skin may live even longer.

Treatment

You need a prescription scabicide to treat scabies rash. These are prescription lotions or creams that are applied to the skin. You can’t treat it with at-home or over-the-counter (OTC) remedies. 

Some people need multiple rounds of treatment to kill the mites and their eggs, especially those with crusted scabies. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe medications to help with symptoms like itching or infection due to constant scratching.

Prevention

Treating scabies rash is an important part of preventing the spread of these mites. If you don’t have a rash, you can’t transmit it to someone else.

If you or someone else in your household has a scabies infestation, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) also recommends the following:

  • Wash clothing and other textiles like sheets, pillowcases, and towels in the hottest water possible and dry on the hottest setting.
  • Vacuum your home, especially common living spaces.
  • Seal non-washable items in a plastic bag for at least a week.

Summary 

A scabies mite infestation causes a red rash and burrow-like lines on the skin. It can also cause severe itching. Often, the rash crops up in skin folds or places commonly covered by clothing or jewelry, like the hands. You need a prescription to treat this skin condition and can’t treat it with home remedies.

A Word From Verywell

The intense itching of scabies can be distressing. Contact a healthcare provider so you can get effective treatment to kill the mites and prevent transmitting them to others.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you contract scabies?

    You can get scabies via skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies. While less common, you can also contract scabies from sharing towels, clothing, or bedding with someone who has scabies. 

  • Where does scabies usually start?

    It can start in several areas like the hands, feet, wrists, or other areas of the body with skin folds. 

  • Will scabies go away on its own?

    No. You need prescription treatment to get rid of scabies. You can help relieve the itching with home remedies, but these will not stop the infestation or prevent transmitting it to others. You will also need to take steps to rid your clothing, linens, upholstery, and carpets of the mites to prevent re-infestation.

  • How can you test for scabies at home?

    There's no at-home test for scabies. However, you may suspect scabies by checking for lines or burrows in the skin. See a healthcare provider if you think you have scabies or some other itchy skin condition. If it is scabies, you’ll need a prescription treatment. 

8 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. World Health Organization. Scabies.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scabies frequently asked questions (FAQs)

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Scabies: signs and symptoms.

  4. Chandler DJ, et al. A review of scabies: an infestation more than skin deepDermatology. 2019;235:79-90. doi:10.1159/000495290

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. Scabies: who gets and causes.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Treatment.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology. Scabies: diagnosis and treatment

  8. American Academy of Dermatology. Scabies: tips for managing.

By Steph Coelho
Steph Coelho is a freelance health writer, web producer, and editor based in Montreal. She specializes in covering general wellness and chronic illness.