Self-Care for Skin Rashes

Woman drying face with towel.When your skin reacts to a substance your body is sensitive to, it can cause a rash. You can treat most rashes at home by keeping the skin clean and dry. Many rashes may get better on their own within 2 to 3 days. You may need medical attention if your rash itches, drains, or hurts, particularly if the rash is getting worse.

What can cause a skin rash?

  • Sun poisoning, caused by too much exposure to the sun

  • An irritant or allergic reaction to a certain type of food, plant, or chemical, such as  shellfish, poison ivy, and or cleaning products

  • An infection caused by a fungus (ringworm), virus (chickenpox), or bacteria (strep)

  • Bites or infestation caused by insects or pests, such as ticks, lice, or mites

  • Dry skin, which is often seen during the winter months and in older people

How can I control itching and skin damage?

  • Take soothing lukewarm baths in a colloidal oatmeal product. You can buy this at the drugstore.

  • Do your best not to scratch. Clip fingernails short, especially in young children, to reduce skin damage if scratching does occur.

  • Use moisturizing skin lotion instead of scratching your dry skin.

  • Use sunscreen whenever going out into direct sun.

  • Use only mild cleansing agents whenever possible.

  • Wash with mild, nonirritating soap and warm water.

  • Wear clothing that breathes, such as cotton shirts or canvas shoes.

  • If fluid is seeping from the rash, cover it loosely with clean gauze to absorb the discharge.

  • Many rashes are contagious. Prevent the rash from spreading to others by washing your hands often before or after touching others with any skin rash.

Use medicine

  • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine can help control itching. But use with caution because they can make you drowsy.

  • Using over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream on small rashes may help reduce swelling and itching

  • Most over-the-counter antifungal medicines can treat athlete’s foot and many other fungal infections of the skin.

Check with your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • You were told that you have a fungal infection on your skin to make sure you have the correct type of medicine.

  • You have questions or concerns about medicines or their side effects.


Call 911

Call 911 if either of these occur:

  • Your tongue or lips start to swell

  • You have difficulty breathing


Call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if any of these occur:

  • Temperature of more than 101.0°F (38.3°C), or as directed

  • Sore throat, a cough, or unusual fatigue

  • Red, oozy, or painful rash gets worse. These are signs of infection.

  • Rash covers your face, genitals, or most of your body

  • Crusty sores or red rings that begin to spread

  • You were exposed to someone who has a contagious rash, such as scabies or lice.

  • Red bull’s-eye rash with a white center (a sign of Lyme disease)

  • You were told that you have resistant bacteria (MRSA) on your skin.

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© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.