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  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

What does irritated skin look like?

Is your dermis looking disturbed? Here’s how to help soothe your skin.

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Curology Team
Jul 19, 2022 · 6 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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  2. > Skin Concerns
  3. > What does irritated skin look like?

At some point in your life, your skin may experience a rash—potentially a noticeable discoloration or change in the texture of your skin. It may be scaly, bumpy, or itchy and possibly feel uncomfortable (which if it does, don’t worry—we’re here to help). 

The truth is, your skin might just be irritated. The good news? You have the potential to soothe it yourself. If you’re trying to decipher what your rash really is and how to treat it, you’ve come to the right place.

What is irritated skin?

A rash can be an example of how irritated skin looks. Rashes often present as red skin that is itchy or painful and can involve blisters, red bumps, rawness, or dryness. They can cause discomfort ranging from relatively benign to extremely irritating. 

Sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint why rashes develop. It could be your skin responding to an allergen, toxin, or infection, or it may be a chronic condition like psoriasis or eczema. But one thing’s for sure—whether it’s affecting a small patch of skin or your whole body, irritated skin is disconcerting.

What does irritated skin look like?

There are many different causes and types of rashes. Here are a few common skin conditions associated with irritation and tips to identify them:

1. Rosacea is a common chronic condition that typically appears on the face and can include persistent redness of the cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. It may be accompanied by other symptoms including frequent flushing/blushing and acne-like lesions. Blood vessels (telangiectasias) are sometimes visible at the skin’s surface.¹ It’s important to note that rosacea isn’t the same thing as acne. While there’s no cure for rosacea, the dermatology team at Curology can treat the condition using effective ingredients that help control rosacea’s symptoms. Be sure to check out our ultimate guide to rosacea for more tips.

Rosacea on a young person

2. Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin condition. Researchers believe it’s triggered by environmental and genetic factors as well as abnormalities of the immune system. It’s not contagious. Flare-ups can occur when the skin is exposed to irritants that cause the immune system to overreact, leading to itchy, cracked, red, and sometimes oozy lesions on the skin’s surface.² Common irritants include detergents, soaps, wool or synthetic fibers, dry skin, diet, and stress. Eczema can be treated with heavier moisturizers, but at times, other topical or systemic medications may be needed.

Allergic woman with eczema

3. Irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) can occur when irritants come in direct contact with your skin and cause damage. It can be acute or chronic. Common culprits include solvents, pesticides, and detergents. ICD is also seen with cosmetics, metals (jewelry), and certain topical medications. In theory, it can happen with anything your skin might come in contact with! Acute ICD often presents with redness, mild swelling, and scaling. Chronic ICD often presents with thickened skin, increased scaling, and fissures (little cuts). Treatments include heavy moisturizers and steroids.³

Irritant contact dermatitis

4. Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that presents as patches of skin covered in silvery scales, known as plaques. Plaques are raised patches of dry skin that can develop anywhere on the body, but they most commonly occur on the scalp, elbows, knees, and low back. What causes psoriasis isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought to be abnormalities in the immune system. Treatment can include topical creams, medications, and light therapy, which can help people to manage symptoms.⁴

Young woman suffering from psoriasis

5. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Chickenpox looks like small, itchy, fluid-filled blisters that begin on the face, back, and chest and then spread. Fever, body aches, sore throat, and headaches are common symptoms accompanying the rash.⁵ Chickenpox is more common in children and highly contagious, although it’s less prevalent today thanks to vaccines. Treatment usually consists of attending to the symptoms and waiting for the virus to leave your system.

chickenpox disease on man back

6. Hives, known as urticaria, come on suddenly in response to an allergy. Hives are characterized by itchy welts that may burn or sting and are typically pink to red. They can last a few days to a few weeks. They typically dissipate quickly when the allergen is removed or after taking an antihistamine. Keep in mind that skin allergies aren’t to be confused with skin irritation.

hive allergic skin reaction

How can I relieve the itching from a skin rash?

Itchy skin can wreak havoc on your day, regardless of its cause. Learn how to soothe irritated skin and relieve itching by following these tried and true tips: 

  1. Apply a cold, wet cloth or ice pack where it itches. Leave the ice pack in place for 5-10 minutes or until the itching subsides. Repeat as needed. 

  2. Soak in an oatmeal bath. This method works well for a variety of conditions but is popular for children with chickenpox! 

  3. Keep your skin moisturized. Choose a fragrance-free moisturizer to nourish your skin and help it retain moisture.

  4. Wear breathable natural fabrics like cotton. Loose-fitting clothing is less likely to rub or further irritate the rash. 

  5. Use moisturizer after it’s been in the refrigerator for a cooling effect. 

  6. Avoid heat or other extreme temperature changes. A relatively cool environment with low humidity can work well to combat itchy skin.

  7. Consider over-the-counter antihistamines to potentially relieve some of the irritation. 

6 possible causes for rashes

It might help to think about rashes in two main categories: “outside-in” and “inside-out”. Outside-in rashes are triggered by direct exposure to an irritant like metal or a harsh skincare product. Inside-out rashes may occur due to factors like genetic disposition or an immune response. Here are a few possible causes: 

  1. Certain medications can cause rashes while others can leave your skin extra sensitive to the sun. 

  2. A red rash on the skin can also be caused by fungal infections, viral infections, or bacterial infections.  

  3. Skin injuries from bug bites or infections that occur from scraped or chafed skin may appear as rashes.   

  4. Allergic reactions can occur as a result of your skin’s direct contact with an allergen or to ingesting certain medications or foods. 

  5. Conditions like eczema and psoriasis can result in different rashes.

Can the sun worsen my rash?

Whether sun exposure will worsen your rash can depend on the type and cause of the rash. Medications that leave your skin photosensitive might have negative consequences after sun exposure, and rashes caused by heat or sunburn will likely worsen with continued exposure. But a rash caused by an irritating skincare ingredient or autoimmune disease might not change much in the sun. 

Even so, studies have shown that UV rays increase signs of premature aging and risk of skin cancer.⁶,⁷ Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 is your best defense against harmful UV radiation from the sun, second to staying out of the sun altogether.

Can I develop irritated skin from cosmetics?

Contact dermatitis can result from using cosmetics that irritate your skin. Take a look at all that’s in your routine. Some of the ingredients in the products you use may not mix well with others. Using cosmetics that irritate your skin can cause dry flaking skin. Choose skincare products free of common irritants like alcohol denat (aka denatured alcohol). 

Even if you do everything you’re supposed to and avoid would-be irritants, your skin might still react in ways you may not expect. Good news though! Allison Buckley, NP-C, a licensed dermatology provider at Curology,  wrote a helpful article showing you how to ease into a new skincare routine.

When should you see a doctor about irritated skin?

Irritated skin can be just that—irritating! However, the American Academy of Dermatology⁸ recommends seeking medical advice if the rash won’t go away with conventional home treatment over a short duration or if any of these signs accompany the rash:

  • Difficulty breathing, tightening in the throat, or sore throat

  • High fever

  • Red streaks or tenderness near the rash

  • Possible infection

  • Suddenly spreads or is all over the body

  • Lesions or blistering with open sores

Learning how to tell if your skin is irritated is part of the detective work to help keep your skin healthy and happy. Many times, you can eliminate the irritant to relieve the problem. But sometimes, there’s an underlying cause that requires the professional care of a dermatologist or another healthcare provider. 

We know that irritated skin can be frustrating. Curology uses effective ingredients formulated to work with all skin types. Learn more about building a body care routine to improve your skin.

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FAQs

What is irritated skin?

A rash can be an example of how irritated skin looks. Rashes often present as red skin that is itchy or painful and can involve blisters, red bumps, rawness, or dryness. They can cause discomfort ranging from relatively benign to extremely irritating.

How can I relieve the itching from a skin rash?

- Apply a cold, wet cloth or ice pack where it itches. - Soak in an oatmeal bath. - Keep your skin moisturized. - Wear breathable natural fabrics like cotton. - Use moisturizer after it’s been in the refrigerator for a cooling effect. - Avoid heat or extreme temperature changes. - Consider antihistamines.

Can I develop irritated skin from cosmetics?

Using cosmetics that irritate your skin can cause dry flaking skin. Choose skincare products free of common irritants like denatured alcohol.

When should you see a doctor about irritated skin?

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends seeking medical advice if the rash won’t go away with conventional home treatment over a short duration.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1.  Gallo, R. L., et al. Standard classification and pathophysiology of rosacea: The 2017 update by the National Rosacea Society Expert Committee. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2018).

  2.  Kolb L, et al. Atopic Dermatitis. StatPearls. (January 2022).

  3.  Savina Aneja, MD. Irritant contact dermatitis. Medscape. (November 20, 2020). 

  4.  Nair, PA., et al. Psoriasis. StatPearls. (August 2021).

  5.  Ayoade F., et al. Varicella Zoster. StatPearls. (August 2021).

  6.  Framer KC, et al. Sun Exposure, Sunscreens, and Skin Cancer Prevention: A Year-round Cancer. (June 1996).

  7.  Battie C., et al. New Insights in Photoaging, UVA Induced Damage and Skin Types. (September 2014).

  8.  American Academy of Dermatology Association. Rash 101 in Adults: When to Seek Medical Treatment. (n.d.).

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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