Causes of Redness on Skin

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 20, 2023
3 min read

Lots of things can turn your skin red, including acne, an allergic reaction, or a severe skin disorder.

Sometimes the redness goes away on its own. But you may need treatment if your symptoms are bothersome and affect your day-to-day life. Here are some of the most common causes of redness.

Rosacea. You may have this condition if your face often looks flushed or like you’re blushing. There are different types of rosacea. Yours may come and go, but if it takes too long or doesn’t go away, you may have the more severe kind.

Eczema. This is a group of skin conditions that can cause redness and itching. The area might also look scaly or like a rash. Eczema can show up on different parts of your body, including the face. Symptoms are different for everyone. Researchers aren’t sure what causes it, but they think your genes and the environment play a role.

Psoriasis. It usually takes your body weeks to make new skin cells to replace dead ones. But the process moves a lot faster when you have psoriasis. This can lead to red, dry, and scaly patches. When you have a flare-up, it can show up on different parts of your body.

Shingles. This infection is caused by the varicella zoster virus. That’s the same one that gives you chickenpox. It typically shows up as a red, blistering, painful rash. Call your doctor right away if you notice rashes around one eye, the side of your neck or face, or your upper body.

Lupus. It’s an autoimmune disease. That’s when your body, or immune system, attacks itself. It can cause redness and swelling. Some people with lupus form a butterfly-shaped rash on their forehead.

Atopic dermatitis. It’s a type of eczema that causes dry, itchy, and red skin. It often shows up on your hands, feet, and the inside of your elbows. You can also get it on your face and legs. Symptoms usually include itchy, red or brownish-gray patches.

Contact dermatitis. This type of eczema is caused by things that irritate your skin and lead to an allergic reaction. Examples include poison ivy or certain ingredients in soap or lotion. The rash could form in minutes or hours and last weeks. It may be painful and may become swollen and infected. If this happens, talk to your doctor about treatment options.

Stasis dermatitis. It’s a type of eczema that shows up on your feet, legs, or both. It happens when veins in your legs leak blood. It builds up in your lower legs and makes them look red, scaly, and dry. Early signs include orange-brown spots sometimes called “cayenne pepper spots.” In severe cases, it can permanently harden your skin and make it look bumpy.

Cellulitis. This is when bacteria infect deep layers of the skin. Adults usually get it in their legs. Babies may get it on the face or neck. Red and swollen skin that’s warm and a bit sore is often the first sign. Call your doctor right away if you have these symptoms.

Spider veins. These harmless red or purple web-like veins mostly form in your thighs, ankles, and calves. It happens when small blood vessels right under the skin break. Certain medications, pregnancy, and weight gain can cause them. They may be permanent or go away over time.

Redness and other symptoms may show up differently if you have darker skin. The affected area may be brown, purple, or gray.

Eczema sometimes causes hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation. That’s when your skin gets darker or lighter in certain areas.

A dermatologist, or skin doctor, can help you figure out exactly what’s causing your redness.

They’ll check your body and ask about your medical history. That’s because some skin conditions run in families. Treatment depends on what you have.

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:

  • Anti-itch creams
  • Hydrocortisone creams
  • Antibiotic or antiviral drugs
  • Laser treatment
  • Acne creams
  • Prescription-grade cream or ointment, shampoo, moisturizer, or other body products