What Causes a Face Rash and How to Treat It

Medically Reviewed By Reema Patel, MPA, PA-C
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A face rash is an inflammatory reaction of the skin on your face. Facial rashes can vary greatly in appearance, location, and severity depending on the underlying cause. In some situations, the presence of a face rash may be a sign of other problems elsewhere in the body. For example, a butterfly-shaped rash on the face can indicate systemic lupus erythematosus. Other facial rashes can occur as a result of an allergy or irritation.

Read on to learn more about the causes of facial rashes and how to treat a rash on the face. This guide also includes information about prevention, allergic reactions, and when to contact a doctor.

A woman is cleaning her face.
Ani Dimi/Stocksy United

What does a face rash look like?

Depending on the color of your skin, a face rash can appear:

  • red
  • white
  • purple
  • silver
  • gray

The texture of a rash on the face can be:

  • raised
  • flat
  • bumpy
  • scaly
  • flaky

The rash may appear as dots or spots covering a large, solid area.

View the slideshow below for photos of rashes on the face.

baby-with-impetigo-rash-face-thumbnail.jpg

This shows a young child with impetigo.

Shutterstock

child-with-scarlet-fever-rash-and-rosy-cheeks-body11.jpg

This shows a child with scarlet fever.

badobadop, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Perioral dermatitis

This shows perioral dermatitis around the mouth.

Photo by DermNet New Zealand

shingles-body3.jpg

This shows shingles on the face and forehead.

VideoBCN/Shutterstock

What causes a rash on the face?

There is a wide range of causes for face rashes, including:

  • reactions to allergens and irritants
  • infections and health conditions
  • environmental factors

Allergens and irritants

Contact dermatitis is a common cause of rashes. Irritant contact dermatitis is a type that occurs when your skin comes into direct contact with a material or substance that irritates it. It accounts for around 80% of all contact dermatitis.

You can come into contact with irritants around the home, at work, or when outdoors. Examples of common irritants include:

  • cleaning products and soaps
  • antibacterial products and disinfectants
  • fragrances and perfumed toiletries
  • machinery oil
  • powders and dust
  • hard, chalky water
  • chlorinated water
  • some plants

You may also experience allergic contact dermatitis, which typically occurs around 48–72 hours after exposure to the allergen. Some common allergens that can result in allergic contact dermatitis include:

  • nickel
  • perfumes and fragrances
  • shampoos and toiletries
  • metal such as potassium dichromate
  • topical antibiotics containing neomycin

Seek immediate medical help if you experience a serious allergic reaction. If you have a known allergy and carry an EpiPen or similar auto-injector device, administer this and then seek help.

Infections and health conditions

Infections and health conditions that can cause a face rash include:

Environmental factors

Environmental factors that can lead to a face rash include:

  • stress
  • temporary flushing when embarrassed
  • sunburn
  • heat

What causes a rash on a baby’s face?

A baby or infant can have a rash on the face for a range of reasons. These can include:

Slapped cheek syndrome

This is characterized by a high temperature and a rash on one or both cheeks. A rash may also appear on the body. The condition typically gets better on its own within around 3 weeks.

Scarlet fever

This can appear on the hands and face. It resembles pinpricks and can feel rough like sandpaper. The baby’s doctor will be able to prescribe antibiotics for the treatment of scarlet fever.

Measles

If a baby has measles, initial symptoms will be similar to a cold. Additional symptoms include a high temperature, light sensitivity, and gray spots inside the cheeks. A spotty rash will appear on the head or neck before spreading to the rest of the body. Contact the baby’s doctor if you are concerned about measles.

Chickenpox

Small, itchy spots can be a sign of chickenpox. The spots will blister and then scab over. Some children may only have a few spots, while others experience many spots over the whole body.

Milia

Milia are tiny white or yellow spots that often appear on a baby’s face when they are a few days old. They usually go away after a few weeks without treatment.

Erythema toxicum

This is a common rash characterized by raised red, white, and yellow spots on newborn babies. It typically appears on the face, body, upper arms, and thighs. It can disappear and reappear over the course of a few weeks, and treatment is not usually necessary.

Seek immediate medical attention if a baby has a rash accompanied by any of the following:

Can a rash mean meningitis?

If a baby or child has a rash, the glass test can help determine whether or not the cause may be meningitis.

To carry out the glass test:

  1. Press the side of a clear glass against the skin where the rash appears.
  2. Check to see if the spots or rash fade under the pressure of the glass.
  3. Carry out this test on numerous areas of the body where the rash appears.
  4. Seek immediate medical help if the spots or rash do not fade when under the pressure of the glass.

It is important to note that a rash can be more difficult to see on darker skin. When carrying out the glass test on darker skin, check lighter areas where the rash appears. Lighter skin areas include the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.

Learn more about meningitis.

Can a face rash indicate a severe allergic reaction?

A rash can be a sign of a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis. These can occur for a number of reasons, including food allergies, insect stings, and reactions to medication.

A rash due to an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis may accompany other symptoms, such as:

Seek immediate medical help if you experience a severe allergic reaction. If you carry an EpiPen or similar auto-injector for a known allergy, administer this before seeking medical help.

Find out more about anaphylaxis.

How do I treat a face rash?

Treatment for a rash on the face can depend on the underlying cause. Avoiding known triggers can help to reduce or prevent a face rash caused by allergens or irritants. If the rash is a result of a health condition, following the treatment plan you create with your doctor can help to reduce the severity of your symptoms.

Home remedies and natural treatments

In addition to avoiding triggers, you can also use home remedies and natural treatments to treat a face rash. These include:

  • applying a cool compress to soothe a warm rash
  • moisturizing your skin with a fragrance-free moisturizer
  • applying cooling products that contain menthol or calamine
  • wearing gloves to help prevent touching your face or scratching an itchy rash
  • avoiding extreme temperature changes
  • reducing stress where possible, as this can exacerbate some rashes

Medical treatments

Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications to help alleviate a face rash and reduce symptoms.

The type of medication will depend on the cause of the rash but can include:

  • topical corticosteroids
  • steroid tablets to alleviate symptoms of contact dermatitis that affect large areas of the body
  • immunosuppressant therapy to reduce the inflammation
  • antihistamines to soothe itchy skin

When should I contact a doctor?

If your rash does not respond to home treatments or OTC medication, contact your doctor for advice.

You should also contact your doctor if the rash begins to spread or if any of the following accompany your rash:

  • blisters
  • pus
  • fever
  • signs of infection, such as:
    • green or yellow fluid
    • warmth
    • swelling
    • crusting
    • streaking

Find out more about when to contact a doctor for a rash.

How is the cause of a face rash diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you questions about your rash to help with diagnosis. These questions might include:

  • Did the rash develop slowly or did it appear suddenly?
  • Is the rash constant or does it come and go?
  • Have you noticed a rash anywhere else on your body?
  • When did you first detect the rash?
  • Has the rash changed at all?
  • Do you have any related symptoms?

Your doctor will also carry out a rash evaluation. This helps to identify any infections or underlying medical conditions that may be causing the rash.

Rash evaluation

A rash evaluation can include three different tests:

  • patch test
  • blood test
  • skin biopsy

A patch test involves testing for specific allergies. Your doctor will apply a series of small patches to your skin and have you wear them for 48–96 hours. If a rash appears at the site of a patch during this time, it may mean you are allergic to a specific allergen. Learn more about allergy skin testing.

Blood tests can also help identify allergies along with any infections that may be contributing to your symptoms.

During a skin biopsy, your doctor or dermatologist will remove a small section of skin affected by the rash for laboratory analysis. This can help them identify specific conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.

Your doctor will discuss which tests they recommend before proceeding. The type of tests will depend on the presentation of the rash and any other symptoms you may have.

How do I prevent a face rash?

If an irritant or allergen is responsible for your face rash, you can prevent a recurrence by avoiding known triggers. If you cannot avoid the trigger, wearing gloves and avoiding touching your face can help minimize contact with your skin. This can be helpful if you work with certain materials or substances.

For rashes that occur due to underlying health conditions, following the treatment plan you and your doctor create will help to reduce the severity of symptoms and alleviate your face rash.

Learn more

Summary

A rash on your face can have several causes, ranging from contact with irritants and allergens to underlying health conditions. Your doctor can perform a rash evaluation to determine the exact cause.

Depending on the cause of the rash, your doctor may recommend OTC or prescription medications. Home remedies can also help alleviate a warm, itchy face rash. These can include applying soothing lotions and wearing gloves to prevent itching.

Contact your doctor if you have concerns about a rash on your face. They will be able to recommend the best course of treatment for you.

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Medical Reviewer: Reema Patel, MPA, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 5
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.