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4 Types of Skin Rashes Commonly Seen in Adults

4 Types of Skin Rashes Commonly Seen in Adults

You’ve probably experienced that nagging discomfort of having rashes on your skin. While they usually go away after a few days, they can still be quite an inconvenience. Rashes are common;  you can get them at any age for a variety of reasons. A sudden breakout can be caused by an itchy sweater, a hot summer’s day, or even plants that come in contact with your skin. 


Most of the time, you can treat the symptoms with a dermatitis lotion or other self-help techniques. Some rashes, however, will worsen if not treated promptly and properly under a physician’s care; this prolongs the discomfort and self-consciousness that comes along with rashes. 





Some people believe, incorrectly, that only children get eczema–but this is a disorder that can strike at any age. Eczema is characterized by patches of red, inflamed, and itchy skin (although it can sometimes look brown, purple, or gray on dark skin tones). 


Eczema (AKA atopic dermatitis)  isn’t a disease you can get from other people; it is an inflammatory disorder that is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Its symptoms and clinical signs–swelling, redness, itching, and oozing–are usually the product of a hair-trigger innate immune system response intersecting with compromised skin barrier function. 


Many people who have this chronic disorder have a mutation on a gene called the FLG gene, which is responsible for the production of a protein called filaggrin; inadequate production of filaggrin or poorly-timed breakdown of filaggrin causes dryness and impairs the skin’s ability to fend off external irritants. Someone with this mutation might never experience an eczema flare until they’re exposed to a particular trigger. 


Cat dander, mold, and extreme cold and heat can all trigger or worsen eczema outbreaks. Stress, poor sleeping patterns, or changing weather conditions are other possible triggers. The first step to atopic dermatitis treatment is avoiding these triggers and applying moisturizer at least twice a day; this rehydrates the skin and allows it to rebuild its barrier function.


Sometimes, eczema fails to respond to these treatments. In those cases, a board-certified dermatologist should be consulted. Systemic treatments might be needed to bring the flare under control; ongoing issues might call for allergy testing. 


Contact Dermatitis


“Contact dermatitis” is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a reaction to an irritant or allergen your skin comes into direct contact with. There are two kinds of contact dermatitis: irritant contact dermatitis is caused by chemical damage to the skin that triggers the epidermal cells to release chemicals associated with inflammation. Allergic contact dermatitis is a more involved immune system response to allergens; because of that, symptoms can develop hours or even days after exposure. 


Photoallergic contact dermatitis is a type of allergic contact dermatitis; it occurs on skin that has been exposed to the sun during or after contact with an allergen. 


Friction against the skin, irritants such as bleach or sodium lauryl sulfate (found in many detergents and bath products), and contact with strongly alkali or acid chemicals can trigger irritant contact dermatitis. 


Poison ivy, cosmetic fragrances, nickel in jewelry, and contact with mercury can all trigger allergic contact dermatitis. In the United States, poison oak or ivy exposure accounts for the majority of allergic contact dermatitis cases. 


Photoallergic contact dermatitis can be caused by some chemical sunscreen components, such as benzophenone-3, plus sun exposure; it can also occur from a combination of topical medication plus sun exposure.


Contact dermatitis most frequently occurs on the hands–this isn’t surprising, since we handle so many potential irritants and allergens with them. They are also more exposed to the sun than other parts of the body. 


A contact dermatitis rash is characterized by redness and itchiness. The rash can either be flat or raised, and small, fluid-filled blisters can sometimes form.  In most cases of irritant contact dermatitis, the symptoms resolve quickly on their own after contact with the trigger comes to an end. If the rash persists, cooling baths and compresses can soothe irritated skin. See a doctor if the rash does not respond quickly to these home treatments. 


Allergic contact dermatitis isn’t always as easily recognized or treated as irritant contact dermatitis; the trigger is often long gone by the time the symptoms are noticed. In these cases, a visit to a dermatologist can help you narrow down the trigger. 


If history alone can’t help the doctor pinpoint the trigger, patch testing might be ordered. Some treatments for this kind of dermatitis can include topical antihistamines, corticosteroid creams, and/or calcineurin inhibitors. 





Cellulitis is a potentially serious bacterial infection; it is caused most often by Group A ß-hemolytic streptococcus (Strep), Streptococcus pneumoniae (Strep), and Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) bacteria. Both strep and staph are commonly found on the skin, and they usually cause us no problems–if the skin is broken, though, they can enter the body and become pathogenic. 


Redness, swelling, and heat are typical symptoms of cellulitis. Cellulitis most often occurs on the arms and legs, although it can also occur around the eyes, mouth, and anus. The infection might set in after a surgical procedure, an animal bite, or an injury to the skin in a natural water source such as a river.


Any rash associated with an injury should be evaluated by medical professionals immediately, especially if the affected skin is hot to the touch. Cellulitis, if left untreated, can cause severe tissue damage–not only to the skin, but to the muscles and bones, as well. It can also lead to a potentially fatal condition called sepsis.




Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella zoster (or herpes zoster) virus–the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a kid, you’re at risk of developing shingles in your adulthood. That’s because this virus makes itself at home in the ganglia, nerve cells that carry sensory input to the central nervous system, long after the symptoms of the initial infection subside. 


The virus can be reactivated later; it often makes its reappearance during periods of intense stress or illness. Most patients experience itching, pain, and tingling of the skin prior to the eruption of the rash, which appears as clusters of small, fluid-filled blisters. 


These blisters can be extremely painful and itchy, and they typically occur only on one side of the body. Occasionally, it can look like a chickenpox rash covering a more general area; this is more likely to happen to people with severely compromised immune systems. 


Shingles cannot be cured, unfortunately, but the rash usually subsides with time. Acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir are all antiviral drugs that can shorten the duration of the symptoms; they work best when used early on, so if you suspect you might have shingles, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Complications from shingles can occur, so don’t try to ride it out on your own.




Knowing how to identify these rashes is the first step in getting the appropriate treatment. If a rash persists longer than a day or two, or if it is painful and hot to the touch, you should see a doctor immediately. Even if the rash doesn’t represent a serious threat to your health, there is no reason to allow treatable symptoms to rob you of comfort or self-confidence. 


If you suffer from eczema or contact dermatitis, consider asking your doctor about adding SmartLotionⓇ to your treatment plan. Dr. Steven Harlan of HarlanMD developed this one-of-a-kind solution for stubborn dermatitis and eczema flares. Under a physician’s care, it is a safe, long term treatment for most people with chronic skin disorders. This prebiotic dermatitis lotion is the first of its kind; it relieves dermatitis symptoms, and it also helps restore the skin’s optimal microbiome. Order SmartLotionⓇ today to start your journey to healthier skin! 

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