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Red Spots on Skin: 8 Potential Causes, With Photos

So you woke up this morning and noticed a mysterious influx of red spots on your skin. First of all, don’t panic. Second of all, don’t Google it. OK, obviously you Googled it a little bit because you’re here, but luckily you ended up in the right spot. The fact is it might be difficult, if not impossible, to self-diagnose this issue because there is a very broad range of conditions that cause the appearance of red spots. We talked to a few experts for a quick lowdown on what the most common causes of red spots are, so consider this article a helpful jumping-off point before you get your cute little butt over to your derm. Here’s a list of some of the top causes of red spots:

According to Dr. Joyce Park, a dermatology resident in NYC and a health and beauty blogger at www.teawithMD.com, this is a harmless, non-contagious scaly rash. “[It] first appears as a large salmon colored patch (called the ‘herald patch’) and then spreads throughout the body as little pink patches,” says Dr. Park. “We don’t know what exactly causes it, but some think it’s associated with a viral infection. This lasts for weeks to months and will usually go away on its own.”

An autoimmune condition that appears as itchy scaly red patches, typically on the elbows, scalp, and knees. “It can be associated with arthritis and heart disease, so this is one you want to get checked out by a dermatologist!” Dr. Park advises. They can give you advice or prescriptions for treating it.

This fungal infection is a common rash that appears as red spots on the chest and back during the summer. “After the initial red rash fades, it leaves behind white circular spots on the skin, and it doesn’t tan easily, so it takes a while for it to go away!” Dr. Park says. “This can be easily treated with Selsun Blue shampoo, and you want to make sure to keep using the shampoo once a week even after the rash fades to prevent it from coming back.”

Noticing rough bumps on your arms, legs, or cheeks? According to Tsippora Shainhouse MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills and Clinical Instructor at the University of Southern California, these are caused by retention of keratin in the openings of the hair follicles and can be exacerbated by dry weather. “While it does tend to improve with age, it can be managed with moisturizers and topical exfoliants, including alpha and beta hydroxy acids, like salicylic, lactic or glycolic acids,” advises Dr. Shainhouse. “If these don’t help, ask your dermatologist about trying a prescription retinoid.”

Dr. Shainhouse says these common, cherry-red bumps on the skin are made up of a group of dilated blood vessels. “We are not sure why they pop up, but most people start to slowly develop them by age 30. They are not dangerous and are not generally itchy or painful and do not usually bleed. They don’t need to be treated, but can be treated with electrocautery, lasers or shave removal.”

These small red bumps that develop on the back, chest, shoulders and buttocks are caused by inflammation and irritation of the hair follicles, according to Dr. Shainhouse, and is sometimes related to bacteria and yeast on the skin. Dr. Shainhouse suggests changing out of sweaty clothing as soon as possible, using salicylic acid-based wipes, using antibacterial and anti-yeast washes in the shower, and maybe even using a topical prescription antibiotic solution.

According to board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. John Diaz, red spots often appear in the face and are caused by broken capillaries. “Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that run through the surface of the skin,” Dr. Diaz says. Some of the most common reasons why these blood vessels break are fluctuation in hormones, sun damage, and skin conditions like rosacea. Luckily if it’s hormonal the red spots will go away on their own, and if it’s sun damage or a skin condition like rosacea, your dermatologist can discuss possible treatments with you.

One good reason to have your mysterious red spots checked out by a derm is the possibility of diabetes. “Because pre-diabetics are more at risk for skin infections, they can develop various types of rashes and bumps,” explains board-certified dermatologist and RealSelf contributor Dr. Joel Schlessinger. Granuloma annulare and eruptive xanthomatosis are common examples of this.

Dr. Schlessinger also suggests looking at the ingredients in the products you’re using. “Although hair dye is the most common culprit, other hair products can also cause skin redness, itching and inflammation, including hairsprays, shampoos and conditioners,” he says. “Often these skin reactions are caused by added fragrances or propylene glycol. Conditioners specifically contain an ingredient called isopropyl myristate that can clog pores and lead to acne if it’s not properly rinsed from skin.” Avoid these culprits for a few weeks and see if your red spots go away.

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