Skin Rash: 6 Causes of Red Spots and Bumps With Pictures
So you woke up this morning and noticed a mysterious influx of red spots on your skin. First of all, don’t panic. Second of all, don’t Google it. OK, obviously you Googled it a little bit because you’re here, but luckily you ended up in the right spot. The fact is it might be difficult, if not impossible, to self-diagnose this issue because there is a very broad range of conditions that cause the appearance of red spots. We talked to a few experts for the lowdown on what the most common causes of red spots are, so consider this article a helpful jumping-off point before you book an appointment with your derm. Here’s a list of some of the top causes of red spots.
“Psoriasis is a condition in which the immune system gets angry at the skin, leading to red, scaly plaques,” says Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Usually you’ll see it on elbows and knees, but psoriasis can appear anywhere, including the scalp, lower back, nails, and even the genitals.
Want to get even more specific? “This is a genetic, autoimmune, inflammatory condition in which your skin cells divide too quickly and do not shed quickly enough,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills and a clinical instructor at the University of Southern California. That’s what creates the inflamed, scaly plaques. According to Shainhouse, psoriasis is often associated with psoriatic arthritis, metabolic syndrome, elevated triglycerides, increased risk for heart disease, and obesity. Yikes. You can see why it’s not something you want to sleep on.
Noticing rough bumps on your arms, legs, or cheeks? Shainhouse says these are caused by retention of keratin in the openings of the hair follicles and can be exacerbated by dry weather. “While it does tend to improve with age, it can be managed with moisturizers and topical exfoliants, including alpha and beta hydroxy acids, like salicylic, lactic or glycolic acids,” she says. “If these don’t help, ask your dermatologist about trying a prescription retinoid.” (We recommend the Best of Beauty-winning and $10 E.L.F. Gentle Peeling Exfoliant.)
Shainhouse says these common, cherry-red bumps on the skin are made up of a group of dilated blood vessels. “We are not sure why they pop up, but most people start to slowly develop them by age 30,” she says. “They are not dangerous and are not generally itchy or painful and do not usually bleed. They don’t need to be treated, but can be treated with electrocautery, lasers, or shave removal.”
These small red bumps that develop on the back, chest, shoulders, and buttocks are caused by inflammation and irritation of the hair follicles and is sometimes related to bacteria and yeast on the skin, says Shainhouse. She suggests changing out of sweaty clothing post-workout as soon as possible, using salicylic acid-based wipes (we like La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Clarifying Oil-Free Cleansing Towelettes), using antibacterial and anti-yeast washes in the shower, and maybe even using a topical prescription antibiotic solution.
Red spots that appear in the face are often caused by broken capillaries, which are “tiny blood vessels that run through the surface of the skin,” says John Diaz, a Beverly Hills-based board-certified plastic surgeon. Some of the most common reasons why these blood vessels break are due to fluctuation in hormones, sun damage, and skin conditions, like rosacea, he says. Luckily, if it’s hormonal, the red spots will go away on their own, and if it’s sun damage or a skin condition, like rosacea, your dermatologist can discuss possible treatments with you.
One good reason to have your mysterious red spots checked out by a derm is the possibility of diabetes. “Because pre-diabetics are more at risk for skin infections, they can develop various types of rashes and bumps,” explains board-certified dermatologist Joel Schlessinger. Granuloma annulare and eruptive xanthomatosis are common examples of this.
Schlessinger also suggests looking at the ingredients in the products, specially hair-care products, you’re using. “Although hair dye is the most common culprit, other hair products can also cause skin redness, itching, and inflammation, including hairsprays, shampoos, and conditioners,” he says. “Often, these skin reactions are caused by added fragrances or propylene glycol. Conditioners specifically contain an ingredient called isopropyl myristate, which can clog pores and lead to acne if it’s not properly rinsed from skin.” Best way to find out if one of your fave products is the cause of your spots? Avoid lathering up with them for a few weeks, and then wait to see if the spots go away.
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