Causes and Treatments for Skin Inflammation

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Skin inflammation is a sign of an immune response in the body. Symptoms include redness, heat, swelling, pain, and itching. Skin inflammation has many potential causes, including allergies, infections, and autoimmune diseases.

Most cases of skin inflammation are curable, although the treatment depends on what is causing the inflammation.

This article looks at six different causes of skin inflammation. It describes their signs and symptoms how they are treated, and how the underlying cause of the inflammation is diagnosed.

Causes for Skin Inflammation

Verywell / Zoe Hansen

Symptoms of Skin Inflammation

Symptoms of inflamed skin will vary based on what's causing it, but common symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Rash
  • Hives,
  • Plaques (in psoriasis)
  • Blisters
  • Itching
  • Pus

Causes of Skin Inflammation

The cause or trigger of skin inflammation may be acute, such as an allergy or a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection, or chronic, as with an autoimmune disease like psoriasis.

Some common causes, their symptoms, and treatments include:


Skin infections occur when bacteria or other foreign substances enter the skin through a cut or wound. Skin infections tend to be more common in those with compromised immune systems.

Other risk factors include diabetes, poor circulation, old age, and obesity. While some infections affect a small patch of skin, others can spread deeper into the skin layers and beyond. 

Bacterial skin infections are caused by bacteria entering the skin, and include cellulitis, impetigo, and staphylococcal infections.

Viral infections are caused by viruses; examples include shingles and warts. Fungal infections are caused by fungus entering the skin, and include athlete’s foot and yeast infections. Finally, parasitic skin infections are caused by parasites like lice and scabies. 

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of skin infections may develop gradually over time or happen quickly. A bacterial infection can feel like it came out of nowhere.

Symptoms include redness, pain, and swelling. You may also notice your skin feels taut and warm to the touch. It’s important to see your healthcare provider as soon as these symptoms develop since cellulitis can spread to the blood and lymph nodes when left untreated. 

Warts caused by a viral infection will appear as small, flesh-colored bumps on the skin. Fungal skin infections are usually itchy and may cause a burning sensation. Parasitic infections are also quite itchy, and can lead to redness and irritation from scratching. 


The treatment will depend on what is causing the infection and how severe it is.

Bacterial infections usually require antibiotics; severe cases may warrant a hospital stay with IV antibiotics.

If the infection has caused an abscess, your healthcare provider may need to drain it. Viral infections can be treated with topical medications.

Fungal infections will usually clear up after applying an antifungal cream or ointment. Parasitic infections require specific topical treatments.

Good hygiene and cleaning with soap and water daily can help to prevent many skin infections. 

Immune Dysfunction

Some cases of skin inflammation are caused by an autoimmune disease, which occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells. Inflammation of the skin may be the first sign that something is wrong. Immune conditions that have skin effects include celiac disease, psoriasis, and lupus. 

Signs and Symptoms

Immune system disorders may present as rashes, blisters, and redness. An intolerance to gluten can cause itchy, red bumps on the skin each time you eat gluten. This rash is sometimes the first sign that your body is sensitive to gluten and may have celiac disease. 

Psoriasis causes thick, red, scaly patches of skin called plaques. These are commonly found on dry areas like the elbows and knees; it may also present on the trunk, buttocks, face, and scalp.

Psoriasis is known for causing severe itching. It is a result of the immune system going into overdrive and speeding up skin cell growth. Rather than shedding off, old skin cells accumulate on the skin, creating thick plaques. 

About 66% of people with lupus experience skin symptoms, which can include rashes and sores on areas that are exposed to sunlight. A butterfly rash is a common sign of lupus and presents as red, irritated skin over the face in the shape of a butterfly. 


Unfortunately, autoimmune diseases cannot be cured, but the skin symptoms can often be managed. The itchy red blisters caused by celiac disease can be prevented by removing gluten from your diet. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe a medication to help with acute symptoms. 

Mild cases of psoriasis can usually be treated with topical creams or ointments. If your symptoms are spread over the entire body or if you have joint pain along with skin irritation, you may require more aggressive treatment. Treatment options include light therapy, methotrexate, retinoids, cyclosporine, and immune therapies. Your treatment will depend on how severe your symptoms are. 

Skin conditions caused by lupus are usually treated with topical medications. A steroid cream or gel can be helpful in reducing inflammation and redness. Immunomodulators can help to decrease the body’s immune response in the skin. The medication thalidomide may be considered if other treatments have been unsuccessful. 


An allergic skin reaction can occur because of something you ate, drank, or touched. Two of the most common skin allergic reactions are eczema and hives. Depending on how sensitive your skin is, you could experience an allergic reaction from household items like laundry detergent or shampoo, as well as plants, latex, and certain metals. 

Signs and Symptoms

Signs of an allergic reaction on the skin include redness, bumps, itching, and a rash. 

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, causes dry, red, itchy skin. This type of reaction is fairly common, and affects 10% to 20% of children and 1% to 3% of adults. Those with a family history of allergies may be at higher risk for developing eczema. If the rash leads to an infection, you may notice small, fluid-filled pustules. 

Hives look like red bumps or welts over the skin. These are usually caused by direct contact with an allergen or infection. Rarely, hives can last for weeks to months; this is known as chronic hives. 

Contact dermatitis results from touching an allergen like a plant or latex. The reaction usually involves red, itchy bumps over the affected area. 


The best way to treat chronic skin allergies is to see an allergist. Eczema is often treated with quality moisturizers and topical steroids if needed. 

If you believe you've touched an allergen that is causing contact dermatitis, wash the area well with water and gentle soap. Apply a moisturizer to help with the itching and avoid scratching.

If that doesn’t help, your healthcare provider may prescribe a steroid to help with the inflammation or an antihistamine to decrease the allergic response and stop the itching. It’s also best to stay out of the sun until the reaction clears up because UV rays could further irritate your skin.


Photosensitivity, also known as sun allergy, is an immune system response to the sun.

If you are photosensitive, it means that your body views the normal changes in your skin from the sun as a foreign invader and sends an immune response to fight it.

Photosensitivity can be caused by certain medications, skincare products, and some immune disorders. Experiencing photosensitivity over time can put you at higher risk for UV damage from the sun and skin cancer. 

Signs and Symptoms

Photosensitivity can cause a red, itchy rash, as well as blisters and oozing lesions. The reaction can occur on any skin exposed to UV rays from the sun or a tanning bed. 


The treatment for mild photosensitivity is the same as that for sunburn. Take a break from the sun, get plenty of fluids, and apply a gentle moisturizer. Severe cases can cause flu-like symptoms and even weakness. See a healthcare provider right away if you develop any of these symptoms. 

To help prevent photosensitivity, review all of your medications and beauty products. If any cause photosensitivity, avoid time in the sun after using them. Always practice sun safety with quality sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, and light clothing. Avoid tanning beds as well. 

Heat Rash

Heat rash is common in children, and is caused by clogged sweat glands. When our bodies can’t release heat through sweating, we overheat and a heat rash can form. This can happen after being out in the sun, as well as from ointment or skin products that block the sweat glands. Intense exercise can also be a contributing factor. 

Signs and Symptoms

Heat rash usually appears as a fine pink rash with tiny bumps. You may also notice a pins and needles feeling over the skin. Heat rash usually appears on the neck, chest, and upper back. 


A mild heat rash can be treated at home. Start to cool the skin by applying a cool washcloth. If the rash is all over the body, a quick cool bath may help too.

If the rash is itchy, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream may provide some relief. If the rash does not resolve after two to three days or starts to worsen and look infected, see your healthcare provider. 

When spending time outdoors, make sure to take breaks inside with air conditioning or a fan. Opt for breathable, cotton fabrics to allow for sweating. 

Inflammatory Skin Disorders in Children

Skin reactions are common in children, and some are more likely to occur than others. Common inflammatory skin reactions in children are diaper rash, cradle cap, eczema, and viral reactions. 

Sun Damage

Even short bouts of sun exposure can lead to sun damage over time. The sun causes changes in your skin that produce dry skin, sunburn, and actinic keratosis. 

Signs and Symptoms

A mild sunburn looks like red, inflamed skin. A more severe burn can produce fluid-filled blisters and peeling. Actinic keratosis looks like a rough, scaly patch of skin. It usually occurs on an area of the body that has received frequent exposure to UV rays from the sun or a tanning bed. 


Most sunburns can be treated at home, much the same as photosensitivity or heat rash. Getting out of the sun and applying a cool washcloth can provide relief.

If you're skin is painful, taking over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen may help too. Be sure to protect the area from further sun exposure and drink plenty of water. 

Actinic keratosis, a precancerous skin condition, is more serious, and needs to be evaluated by a dermatologist. These patches of skin are at higher risk of developing into skin cancer, so it’s important that both you and your healthcare provider keep a close eye on them. 

The best treatment for sun damage is to prevent it. Protect your skin with sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and long clothing. When you’re outside, take breaks in the shade or indoors. 

Home Remedies

Home remedies that can soothe the symptoms of irritated skin include:

  • Honey
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Colloidal oatmeal baths
  • Cold compresses
  • Coconut oil


To get to the source of your skin inflammation, your healthcare provider will take a history and ask you about your symptoms and how long they have been present.

Many skin rashes can be diagnosed based on a physical exam alone, but your provider may want to do a blood test, allergy skin test, or a skin culture (to test for bacteria).


Skin inflammation has many possible causes, including infections, allergies, and autoimmune diseases. Symptoms include a rash, itching, redness, and swelling. While many cases can be successfully treated at home, others require a diagnosis from a healthcare provider. While not every cause of skin inflammation can be cured, most can be managed with the right treatment. 

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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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Additional Reading

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.