Skin on face feels like sandpaper

Keratosis pilaris (ker uh TOH siss pill AIR iss) is a dry skin type. It looks like dry, rough, small bumps that are flesh-colored or pink and can feel like sandpaper or chicken skin. It is usually not itchy.

The most common areas for these bumps are on the back of the arms, front of the thighs and face (cheeks). It can be widespread on the body, but this is less common.

Keratosis pilaris is often hereditary (runs in the family) so relatives may also have these skin bumps. It is not contagious (is not passed from person to person). It is caused by dead skin that plugs the pores, forming the hard, dry bumps.

Contents

Diagnosis

Your child’s doctor can diagnose this during a physical exam. No further testing is needed. Often children with keratosis pilaris will also have other sensitive dry skin problems such as eczema. (See Helping Hand HH-I-104, Eczema.)

Treatment

Keratosis pilaris may never go away completely. There are treatments that can help. Once treatment is stopped, the bumps often return.

  • Using unscented, gentle moisturizers daily can improve how the bumps look. (See Helping Hand HH-IV-130, Dry Skin Care)
  • Some moisturizers (such as CeraVeSA® or Lac-Hydrin®) contain ceramides or a mild acid. These can help remove dead skin cells from the skin’s surface (exfoliate). They may help clear the dead skin plugs. Moisturizers that contain urea may also be helpful.
  • A mild topical (on the skin) corticosteroid can be used if the bumps are itchy.
  • Avoid harsh exfoliators, picking or constant manipulation of the bumps. This can cause more irritation.

Some areas of keratosis pilaris on your child may improve with age. However, this condition typically continues. If your child is not bothered by these areas, then no treatment is needed.

Keratosis Pilaris (PDF)

HH-I-414 3/17 Copyright 2017 Nationwide Children’s Hospital

What Causes Rough Skin Patches & How to Get Rid of Them

Why is my skin rough?

Skin that feels rough to the touch, especially on the hands and feet is often caused by dryness and a build-up of dead skin cells. The skin naturally renews itself; however, this process can slow down with age.5 Certain skin conditions can also accelerate the accumulation of dead cells and lead to rough bumpy skin. In most cases, using a specially-formulated rough and bumpy skin lotion daily can help restore smooth, soft skin.

Rough skin by location

Face: If facial moisturizer doesn’t help improve dry rough patches on skin in spots like around the nose and eyebrows as well as on the hairline, ears and neck, a skin condition may be to blame. Persistent, irritated rough skin with thick scales may be due to psoriasis,2 while red, rough skin on the cheeks may be caused eczema.2

Hands: Rough hands are usually caused by dry skin. The hands are especially prone to dryness because they have fewer oil glands5 and are exposed to a variety of harsh environmental factors. Frequent hand-washing, contact with chemicals and extreme weather conditions all deplete moisture from the skin and can lead to rough skin.7

Feet: Similar to the hands, the feet have a limited number of oil glands—which means this skin can become thick and dry.4 Rough skin on feet can be accompanied by calluses due to friction caused by wearing shoes, and cracked heels that result from the feet supporting the body’s weight.

Arms: There can be several causes of rough skin on arms, including dry skin,4 eczema,3 psoriasis,2keratosis pilaris8 and sun exposure.9

Elbows: Rough bumpy skin due to dryness is common on the elbows, although redness covered with white rough patches on skin of the elbows may be psoriasis.10 Red rough patches on skin inside the elbows can be caused by eczema.3

Neck: Frequently seen in men who shave regularly, rough skin on the neck may be due to folliculitis,11 razor burn or ingrown hairs.

Stubborn patches of bumpy skin that don’t respond to moisturizers and gentle exfoliation may be due to a condition called ichthyosis vulgaris, which prevents dead skin cells from shedding and causes an accumulation that resembles fish scales, or another skin condition.12 If at-home care doesn’t help improve the look and feel of rough, bumpy skin, it’s best to see a dermatologist who may recommend additional treatments.

What the color of your rough skin patches means

The color of rough skin can be an indicator of its cause. Here’s the most common factors that lead to discoloration.

  • Red: Red rough patches on skin areas such as the inside of the elbow, backs of the knees or other parts of the body may be due to eczema.3 Rough bumpy skin on the backs of the arms or thighs is often keratosis pilaris.13
  • White: White, rough skin on the knees and elbows is usually caused by dryness. When seen on the elbows, knees, face or elsewhere, red skin covered with white scales may indicate psoriasis.2
  • Brown: A dark rough patch on skin on the face, arms or legs may be an actinic keratosis, which is a caused by sun damage.14
  • Any unusual areas of rough skin that do not respond to moisturizer should be seen by a dermatologist who can diagnose the cause and recommend the appropriate treatment.

How to get rid of dry, rough skin

Dry skin is a primary cause of rough spots, and skincare products that moisturize and provide gentle exfoliation can be an effective way to help smooth and soften rough bumpy skin associated with dryness. Hyaluronic acid is a beneficial hydrating ingredient because it helps draw moisture from the environment into the skin.15 In addition, lotions and creams with ceramides help restore the skin’s barrier to lock in moisture.16 Salicylic acid and lactic acid exfoliate the skin by encouraging the shedding of dead skin cells, in turn helping to improve the texture of rough bumpy skin.17, 18 Finally, skincare products formulated with a soothing ingredient like niacinamide can help keep the skin comfortable.19

If exfoliating and hydrating skincare products don’t help improve the appearance of dry, rough bumpy skin, or you think your rough skin may be a symptom of another skin condition, it’s best to seek the help of a dermatologist who can diagnose the cause and suggest additional treatment options.

Keratosis pilaris – symptoms and treatment

Keratosis pilaris is a common and harmless skin condition characterised by the development of numerous small, rough bumps on the skin. Treatment to control or minimise symptoms may involve a range of skin care therapies.

The condition can occur any timefrom infancy into adulthood but is most prevalent during teenage years (affecting 50-80% of adolescents). Keratosis pilaris occurs more commonly in the following groups:

  • Females
  • People who are overweight
  • People of Celtic origin
  • People who have eczema and/or dry skin.

Keratosis pilaris is not connected to any serious disease or ill health and for most sufferers the condition subsides in adulthood. The exact cause of keratosis pilaris is unknown but a genetic origin is likely as it has a tendency to run in families (30-50% of those affected will have a family history of the condition).

Symptoms

Keratosis pilaris causes numerous small bumps about the size of a grain of sand. These feel rough and look like permanent goosebumps. The bumps may be skin coloured, red or brown. Often a small coiled hair is noticeable within the bump.

The outer aspect of the upper arm is the area most commonly affected by the condition but it can also affect the thighs, face and buttocks and, less commonly, the forearms and upper back.

Keratosis pilaris is thought to be a disorder of the keratin cells (the sticky cells that line the hair follicle). Instead of exfoliating, or shedding, these cells build up around the hair follicle. The condition is usually more severe in winter and during periods of low humidity.

There is no cure for keratosis pilaris but it can be effectively controlled. Many people achieve very good temporary improvement by following a regular skin care programme but treatment needs to be ongoing and usually requires a combination of therapies. Treatment options include:

  • Moisturising creams to soften the skin – creams that contain urea, salicylic acid, corticosteroids and alpha hydroxy acids may be most effective
  • Prescription creams or gels containing retinoids. However, these are not suitable for young children and pregnant women
  • Photodynamic therapy, pulse dye laser or intense pulsed light – this may reduce the redness but not the roughness
  • Chemical peels, dermabrasion and microdermabrasion
  • Laser-assisted hair removal
  • Surgical extractions
  • Exfoliating with pumice stone or a loofah
  • Using non-soap cleansers.

Oakley, A. (2015), Keratosis pilaris (Web Page). Hamilton: DermNet New Zealand. https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/keratosis-pilaris/
Aiai, A.N. (2017). Keratosis pilaris (Web Page). Medscape Drugs and Diseases. New York, NY: WebMD LLC. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1070651-overview
O’Toole, M.T. (Ed.) (2013). Mosby’s Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professionals (9th ed.). St. Louis, MI: Elsevier Mosby. Last Reviewed – July 2017

Skin problems on the arms

Links to pages about skin conditions that favour the arms.

  • Erythema
  • Red papules/pustules
  • Erosions, crusting
  • Dry scaly and itchy
  • Dry scaly but not very itchy
  • Skin coloured papules
  • Pigmentary changes

Arms: erythema without surface change

Erythema is less pronounced in dark skin.

Sunburn

  • Sun-exposed site
  • Painful
  • Consider phototoxic drugs

Urticaria

  • Weals can arise on any site
  • Spontaneous and inducible types

Arms: red papules/pustules

Acne vulgaris

  • Upper trunk
  • Open and closed comedones
  • Nodules + cysts if severe

Insect bites

  • Crops of grouped itchy papules
  • Central punctum
  • May blister

Lichen planus

  • Inside wrists
  • Firm, violaceous papules + white streaks
  • Favours areas of earlier injury
  • Also examine mouth, lower back, lower legs

Arms: erosions/crusting

Herpes zoster

  • Dermatomal
  • Painful
  • Erythema may precede vesicles
  • Culture/PCR: Herpes varicella zoster

Impetigo

  • Irregular enlarging plaque
  • Honey-coloured crusts
  • Culture: Staphylococcus aureus +/- Streptococcus pyogenes

Scabies rash

  • Burrows between fingers, wrists
  • Nodules in axillae, groin
  • Intense itch, especially at night
  • Dermatoscopy of burrow reveals mite

Arms: dry/scaly and very itchy

May also blister, swell.

Allergic contact dermatitis

  • Acute flares on any site
  • Asymmetrical, odd-shaped patches/plaques
  • Patch tests positive

Atopic dermatitis

  • Patchy or diffuse
  • Acute flares are erythematous
  • Chronic eczema is lichenified

Nummular dermatitis

  • Coin-shaped plaques
  • Consider autoeczematisation from other site

Arms: dry and scaly with minimal itch

Keratosis pilaris

  • Follicular papules
  • Extensor upper arms

Psoriasis

  • Roughly symmetrical distribution
  • Extensor elbows
  • Well-circumscribed erythematous scaly plaques
  • Variable itch

Arms: multiple skin coloured papules

Granuloma annulare

  • Extensor elbows, dorsum of hands and fingers
  • Arranged in rings

Pigmentary changes

Pigmentation is more pronounced in dark skin.

Postinflammatory pigmentation

  • Preceding eczema, psoriasis, acne etc
  • Distribution depends on cause

Vitiligo

  • Most often volar wrists
  • White, smooth surface

See also pigmentary disorders

Scaly skin conditions

Skin diseases that have excessive scale or flaking (papulosquamous disorders) are due to epidermal inflammation or proliferation. We list localised and generalised scaly skin disorders by their duration and .

Localised scaly rash present for < 6 weeks

Dermatophyte infections

  • Irregular annular rash with peripheral scale
  • Acute forms of tinea may also have follicular pustules
  • Tinea corporis – trunk, limbs
  • Tinea cruris – groin
  • Tinea pedis – feet
  • Tinea manuum – hands
  • Tinea faciei – face

Generalised scaly rash present for <6 weeks with fever

  • Scarlatiniform rash (redness then rough spots)
  • Strawberry tongue
  • Peeling starts after 5 days of illness
  • Evidence of streptococcal infection

Kawasaki syndrome

  • Child aged < 14 years
  • Starts as morbilliform or erythematous rash
  • Swelling of hands and feet
  • Oral and ocular signs
  • Lymphadenopathy

Exfoliative dermatitis

  • Scaling stage of erythroderma
  • Starts as morbilliform rash or other pattern
  • Often drug-induced

Generalised scaly rash present for < 6 weeks without fever

Pityriasis rosea

  • Herald patch
  • Oval 2–4 cm pink plaques on trunk with peripheral, trailing scale
  • Spares scalp, peripheries

Acute guttate psoriasis

  • Round 0.5–3 cm red plaques with diffuse scale
  • Trunk > limbs
  • May involve all body sites

Pityriasiform or lichenoid drug eruption

  • New drug (eg hydroxychloroquine)

Localised scaly rash present for > 6 weeks

Seborrhoeic dermatitis

  • In and around hair-bearing scalp, eyebrows, hairy chest
  • Skin folds behind ears, nasolabial fold, axilla
  • Salmon pink, flaky

Psoriasis

  • Localised variant
  • Scalp, elbows, knees or palms and soles

Discoid lupus erythematosus

  • Face, ears, scalp > upper trunk, hands
  • Scale is due to plugged follicles
  • Leads to scarring

Pityriasis versicolor

  • Flaky rash on trunk
  • White, red, brown variants

Keratosis pilaris

  • Upper arms > thighs > cheeks
  • Hair follicles plugged with scale

Annular erythema

  • Crops of slowly enlarging erythematous annular plaques on trunk
  • Trailing scale

Palmoplantar keratoderma

  • Thickened skin of palms and soles
  • Congenital and acquired, punctate and diffuse variants

Crusted scabies

  • Scale is prominent between fingers, elbows, scalp
  • May or may not be very itchy
  • Contacts have scabies

Widespread tinea corporis

  • Irregular annular plaques
  • Peripheral scale

Ichthyosis

  • Dry skin (see below)

Chronic plaque psoriasis

  • Symmetrical well-circumscribed plaques with silvery scale
  • Generalised large or small plaques

Lichen planus

  • Bilateral but asymmetrical firm papules, plaques
  • Polygonal shape
  • Scale is variable

Pityriasis lichenoides

  • Trunk and limbs
  • Skin coloured or red flat or indurated papules/small plaques
  • Mica scale (peels off in one sheet)

Pityriasis rubra pilaris

  • Psoriasis-like symmetrical or erythrodermic scaly rash
  • Orange-red hue
  • Follicular prominence

Cutaneous T cell lymphoma

  • Slowly evolving slightly scaly annular and roundish patches, plaques and sometimes nodules
  • Various morphologies including erythroderma
  • Buttocks, breasts common initial sites

Dermatitis neglecta

  • Build-up of scale due to avoidance of washing

Scaly condition by body site

Solitary scaly lesions

  • Actinic (solar) keratoses
  • Basal cell carcinoma (superficial)
  • Bowen disease (intraepidermal squamous cell carcinoma)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Keratoacanthoma

Scaly Scalp

  • Pityriasis amiantacea
  • Cradle cap
  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis
  • Scalp psoriasis
  • Tinea capitis
  • Cutaneous lupus erythematosus
  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis

Scaly patches on the face

  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis
  • Facial psoriasis
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Lupus erythematosus
  • Pityriasis alba

Scaly patches on arms and legs

  • Pityriasis alba
  • Disseminated superficial actinic porokeratosis
  • Porokeratosis of Mibelli
  • Keratosis circumscripta
  • Flegel disease
  • Kyrle disease
  • Lichen striatus
  • Pellagra

Scaly skin folds

  • Intertrigo
  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis
  • Flexural psoriasis
  • Erythrasma
  • Confluent and reticulated papillomatosis
  • Granular parakeratosis

Scaly patches on the trunk

  • Pityriasis rosea
  • Darier disease
  • Grover disease
  • Pityriasis versicolor
  • Porokeratosis ptychotropica (buttocks)

Scaly patches anywhere or everywhere

  • Dry skin
  • Dermatitis (Eczema)
  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • Tinea infections
  • Psoriasis
  • Paediatric psoriasis. Psoriasis in children
  • Lichen planus
  • Ichthyosis
  • Ichthyosis vulgaris
  • Recessive X-linked ichthyosis
  • Netherton syndrome
  • Harlequin ichthyosis
  • Collodion baby
  • Chronic superficial scaly dermatosis (parapsoriasis)
  • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
  • Erythrokeratoderma
  • Pityriasis lichenoides
  • Pityriasis rotunda
  • Pityriasis rubra pilaris
  • Reiter syndrome
  • Subcorneal pustular dermatosis (Sneddon Wilkinson disease)
  • Secondary syphilis

Scaly palms and soles

  • Acrodermatitis continua of Hallopeau
  • Cracked heels
  • Corn and callus
  • Juvenile plantar dermatosis
  • Exfoliative keratolysis
  • Pompholyx
  • Palmoplantar psoriasis
  • Keratoderma
  • Acquired keratoderma
  • Diffuse hereditary keratoderma
  • Pachyonychia congenita
  • Parakeratosis pustulosa
  • Punctate keratoderma
  • Focal hereditary keratoderma
  • Acrokeratoelastoidosis
  • Porokeratotic eccrine ostial dermal duct naevus

Eczema is a chronic, probably genetic, inflammatory skin condition that causes the skin to become inflamed or irritated and often results in a patch of skin that is lighter in pigment than the skin around it.

“Eczema is especially common in children,” says Dr. Shali. “They often outgrow it, but some people continue to have symptoms on and off throughout their lives.”

Eczema is always itchy, and sometimes itching will start before a rash appears, most often on the face, back of knees, wrists, hands or feet. The areas may appear dry, thickened or scaly, and sometimes the skin can blister. Many people with eczema have allergies as well.

Treatment for eczema focuses on relieving and preventing itching, since scratching can make it worse and even lead to infection. Lotions and creams can keep the skin moist, and cold compresses can provide relief from itching. Other treatments include phototherapy, antihistamines and hydrocortisone.

“The right treatment will depend on your age, medical history and severity of your symptoms,” says Dr. Shali. “Your doctor can determine what is best for you.”

One in five Americans develops skin cancer over their lifetime, making it the most common form of cancer. Fortunately it is also one of the most preventable, because sun exposure is a major factor in its growth, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

“People of every skin color can expect that they will be at risk of developing skin cancer,” said Dr. Doris Day, a board-certified dermatologist New York City and an attending physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, also in New York. “But the good news is, that if caught early, greater than 98 percent of skin cancers are curable, and sometimes not even with surgery.”

Causes & risk factors

People at the highest risk for skin cancer have a family history of the disease, especially if it is melanoma.

“But you can’t control for that because that’s in your DNA,” Day told Live Science. “What you can control for is sun.” People who get too much sun or sunburns have a higher risk for skin cancer, as all wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation, including UVA, UVB and UVC, are known carcinogens, the World Health Organization reports.

According to the Mayo Clinic, other risk factors include:

  • Fair skin.
  • Sunny or high-altitude climates.
  • Many or abnormal moles.
  • Precancerous skin lesions.
  • Exposure to radiation or certain substances, such as arsenic.
  • A weakened immune system, such as people with HIV or AIDS, or people taking immunosuppressant drugs following an organ transplant.

Symptoms & types

Actinic keratosis (AK): Considered the earliest stage of any skin cancer, AK is characterized by dry, scaly spots or patches. It typically appears on areas that are often exposed to the sun, such as the neck, hands, forearms and head. Most people who develop AK are fair-skinned. AK is typically a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma, Day said.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC): The most common variety of skin cancer, BCC often appears as flesh-colored, pearl-like bumps, though it can also include pinkish skin patches. It also develops on sun-exposed areas of skin, but does not grow quickly and rarely spreads.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): This cancer typically appears on sun-exposed skin areas and often resembles a scaly patch, firm bump or ulcer that heals and then re-opens, according to the AAD. It is the second-most common type and can grow deep into the skin if not caught early, causing disfigurement.

Melanoma: About 76,100 new melanoma cases will be diagnosed in 2014, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, and an estimated 9,710 of those people will die. The most common form of any cancer in adults age 25 to 29, melanoma often develops in an existing mole or appears suddenly as a new dark spot. Risk factors include having several large or many small moles; exposure to natural or artificial sunlight over long periods; a fair complexion with light eyes and red or blond hair; and a family history of unusual moles or melanoma.

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Learn more about melanoma at MyHealthNewsDaily.com.

Diagnosis & tests

The first step in diagnosing skin cancer is a skin exam. Those who notice suspicious patches of skin that resemble one of the four types of skin cancer – or observe a rapid, unusual change in any mole’s size, shape or color — should seek prompt medical attention.

Doctors may be able to tell on sight if a skin irregularity is cancerous by using a dermatoscope, a light and magnifier that helps doctors see a few layers into the skin, Day said.

Typically, however, a biopsy will be taken to confirm any irregularities. A small piece or the entire lesion will be removed and sent to a lab for testing. If the biopsy reveals cancer, it will also determine what type, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Once skin cancer is diagnosed, a doctor may initiate additional tests to tell the extent or if it has spread. For melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer by far, the five-year survival rate for patients whose lesion is detected early is about 98 percent in the United States, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. But if the cancer reaches the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 62 percent, and it falls to just 16 percent if the cancer spreads to distant organs.

According to the Internet Journal of Gastroenterology, the most common site of melanoma metastasis beyond the lymph nodes is the small bowel, followed by the stomach, esophagus, rectum and colon.

A well-known method for recalling melanoma symptoms is the “ABCDE,” which stands for:

  • Asymmetrical skin lesion.
  • Border is irregular.
  • Color: melanomas often are multicolored.
  • Diameter: larger moles are more likely to be melanomas than small ones.
  • Enlarging: enlarging or evolving.

Treatment & medication

Small, non-melanoma skin cancers may not require any treatment other than surgical removal. Other skin cancer treatments depend on the size, depth and location of the lesions, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Treatments include:

  • Freezing with liquid nitrogen.
  • Laser therapy to vaporize growths.
  • Mohs surgery, which removes growths layer by layer until no abnormal cells remain. This treatment is usually reserved for larger, recurring skin cancers.
  • Radiation, when surgery isn’t an option.
  • Chemotherapy, which can include topical creams containing imiquimod or diclofenac, or systemic drugs such as dacarbazine (commonly known as DTIC) or temozolomide (Temodar).
  • Biological therapy using drugs such as interferon, interleukin-2 to stimulate the immune system to kill abnormal cells.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT), which uses a combination of lasers and drugs that make cancer cells vulnerable to light.
  • Curettage and electrodessication, which uses a circular blade called a curette and an electric needle to scrape away and destroy lesions.

Some skin cancers, such as melanoma, used to be a death sentence. From 1950 to 1954, just 49 percent of people diagnosed melanoma lived an additional five years. But the five-year survival rate increased to 92 percent from 1996 to 2003, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

“We’ve made great strides in the treatment of melanoma,” Day said. “People used to count down their days and it wasn’t a pleasant way to go.”

Prevention

According to the AAD, sun exposure is the most avoidable risk factor for skin cancer of all types. Preventive measures include:

  • Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
  • Seeking shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest.
  • Wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, hats and sunglasses.
  • Avoiding tanning beds.

People shouldn’t scrimp on the sunscreen, Day said. “It takes one ounce to cover your whole body.” And reapplication is a must, especially after swimming, she said.

With additional reporting by Maureen Salamon, MyHealthNewsDaily Contributor.

Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter @LauraGeggel and Google+. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+.

Additional resources

  • Learn more about skin cancer from the Skin Cancer Foundation.
  • The Mayo Clinic lists the risk factors that may increase the risk of skin cancer.
  • SPOT Skin Cancer is an initiative of the American Academy of Dermatologists to educate the public about skin cancer.

Regardless of your skin type, chances are you’ve experienced red itchy bumps bumps at one time or another. Although they can be caused by many different things, they’re basically a universal sign that your skin is irritated.

In most cases, they can be treated at home or will just go away with time. So, if your bumps aren’t affecting your daily life, they’re not covering your whole body, and you’re not feeling sick otherwise, chances are they’re nothing to worry about, Rebecca Kazin, M.D., dermatologist and associate director at the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, tells SELF.

Sometimes, treating itchy, red bumps with over-the-counter treatments like hydrocortisone cream are enough to make them go away. But if the itchy, red bumps last for over two weeks, or they go away and come back, it’s a good idea to visit your dermatologist. You might need a stronger, more targeted medication to clear things up.

In the meantime, it’s important to consider the cause of your itchy, red bumps. And if they’re on your face, it’s probably a good idea to cut back on your skin-care routine, keeping just the essential gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Keep reading to find out the top 10 causes of itchy, red bumps, plus how you can get some (much-needed) relief.

1. Contact dermatitis

This is a type of skin rash that happens when you touch a certain chemical or substance that you’re sensitive to that may be lurking in cosmetics, skin care, hair care, and even your laundry detergent. Although it’s technically possible to have a reaction to pretty much anything in these products, some ingredients are known to cause more issues than others.

There are actually two types of contact dermatitis—allergic and irritant—although they cause basically the same symptoms (burning, itching, redness).

“In some cases, when the skin comes in contact with a chemical topically, it can either lead to direct irritation or elicit an immune response causing an allergic reaction,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City tells SELF.

Allergic contact dermatitis happens when your skin comes into contact with a substance that it’s actually allergic to. If your dermatitis is due to an allergy, you might not have a reaction the first time you use the substance. But, after a few uses, your skin becomes sensitized to it and you react. If it’s a true allergic reaction like this, you might notice some swelling and redness that goes beyond the area that you applied the product, SELF explained previously.

You can be allergic to basically anything in cosmetics and skin-care products, but some common allergens include botanical extracts, essential oils, fragrances, and dyes. Sometimes, being exposed to sunlight or sweating can trigger your reaction to a compound that you’re allergic to, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) explains, which makes it seem like the reaction came out of nowhere.

Irritant contact dermatitis doesn’t involve an actual allergic response, but it can still be uncomfortable. In this case, your skin is getting irritated for one reason or another due to an ingredient in the product. You’re more likely to get this type of contact dermatitis shortly after using a product for the first time. It’s not always easy to predict what types of products will cause this type of reaction, but some common culprits include preservatives, strong acids in skin-care products, fragrances and dyes.

The treatment for contact dermatitis depends on its severity and the root cause. If you know what caused the reaction, obviously stop using it. Often just avoiding the trigger can clear the reaction, the AAD says. While you wait for it to heal, you should wash your skin with cool water to get the product off and soothe the skin. If the reaction is on your face, stick to a basic skin-care routine composed of gentle products for a few days or weeks. You can also take an over-the-counter oral allergy medication and use an over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone product, both of which will help reduce any itchiness.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis

What is dermatitis herpetiformis (DH)?

Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is an intensely itchy skin disease. It causes clusters of small blisters and bumps. It typically affects people in their 30s to 50s, but it can happen at any age. This lifelong condition affects more men than women.

What causes dermatitis herpetiformis?

Despite its name, the herpes virus does not cause DH.

DH is caused by a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and grains. When you have DH and eat food with gluten, the gluten combines with an antibody from the intestines. As the gluten and antibody circulate in the blood, they clog small blood vessels in the skin. This is what causes the rash.

Who is at risk for dermatitis herpetiformis?

DH is found most often in people of northern European heritage. The following diseases increase your risk of DH:

  • Autoimmune thyroid disease

  • Celiac disease

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Sjögren syndrome

  • Lupus

What are the symptoms of dermatitis herpetiformis?

The following are the most common symptoms of DH. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Clusters of itchy, small blisters and bumps, mostly on the elbows, lower back, buttocks, knees, and back of the head

  • Severe itching and burning

  • Erosions and scratches are often seen on the skin

The gut may also have the same allergy to gluten. This is known as celiac disease. You can have both DH and celiac. Some cases of celiac become cancerous. Because of this, if you have celiac disease, it is important to see a healthcare provider who specializes in the stomach and intestines (a gastroenterologist).

The symptoms of DH may look like other skin conditions. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is dermatitis herpetiformis diagnosed?

In addition to a medical history and physical exam, DH is usually confirmed with a skin biopsy and a specialized type of immunofluorescent stain that helps to detect the IgA antibodies. You may also have a blood tests to find certain antibodies.

How is dermatitis herpetiformis treated?

DH may be well-controlled with treatment. Specific treatment will be determined by your healthcare provider based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, and therapies

  • Expectation for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

The symptoms of DH may go away if you cut all gluten from your diet. Healing may take several weeks to months. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe a medicine called dapsone. This medicine suppresses the skin response and may improve symptoms. However, the medicine has some side effects, including anemia. If dapsone is prescribed for you, your healthcare provider will carefully monitor your blood count.

Can dermatitis herpetiformis be prevented?

There is no known way to prevent this disease. You may be able to prevent complications by avoiding foods that contain gluten. Although difficult, sticking to a gluten-free diet can reduce the amount of medicines needed to manage the disease.

What are the complications of dermatitis herpetiformis?

People with DH often have celiac disease, which may develop into intestinal cancer. Thyroid disease may also develop.

Living with dermatitis herpetiformis

It is important to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations about a gluten-free diet and medicines. Iodine and some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) can trigger the condition. So, you may be told to avoid iodized salt and certain NSAIDs.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If your symptoms worsen or you develop new symptoms, call your healthcare provider.

Key points about dermatitis herpetiformis

  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is an intensely itchy skin disease. It causes clusters of small blisters and small bumps.

  • DH is caused by a sensitivity to gluten.

  • The symptoms of DH may clear when all gluten is cut from the diet.

What does it mean when acne is itchy?

Share on PinterestThe ingredients in some acne treatments may cause itching.

Some evidence suggests that many people with acne experience itching. In one 2008 study, 70% of people with acne reported some itching. Another 2008 study found that that mild-to-moderate itching was common among teenagers with acne.

Factors other than acne itself — such as the side effects of medication or acne products — can cause itching or make itching worse. Also, different forms of acne may be more or less likely to itch. The following sections discuss these causes and risk factors.

A side effect of acne treatments

Many ingredients that are effective in clearing acne can also cause dry skin and itchiness as a side effect. Salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoids can all cause dryness, peeling, and itching in some people. These symptoms are usually due to the development of mild irritant contact dermatitis.

In some cases, the dryness and itching may resolve with time and proper moisturizing. However, some people may need to reduce the frequency of use or strength of the product.

People who use prescription retinoids, including tretinoin, may find that starting at a lower strength and gradually increasing it over time can help alleviate some of the itching and dryness. A dermatologist can help a person determine what strength is right for them.

In addition, using the product less frequently can help alleviate any itching, peeling, and dryness. Using the product once a day or every other day and gradually increasing the frequency may allow the skin to adapt to it, which can help reduce itching.

Using moisturizer alongside the treatment may also help.

Dermatologists often recommend that people use gentle cleansers while undergoing acne treatment. Using harsh cleansers can make dryness and irritation worse.

An allergic reaction to acne products

Some people may be allergic to an active ingredient, preservative, or thickening agent in an acne treatment product. As a result, they may find that using it causes some mild itching, swelling, or burning. This response to an allergen is called allergic contact dermatitis, and it is different than irritant contact dermatitis.

Although the allergic reaction is usually not serious, a person should stop using the product if they suspect that they are allergic to it.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) say that severe allergic reactions to acne products are very rare. However, any signs of a severe systemic allergic reaction require a person to seek immediate medical attention. These signs include:

  • trouble breathing
  • a swollen or tight throat
  • swelling in the face, lips, or tongue
  • hives
  • feeling faint

Cystic acne

Cystic acne is a severe form of acne that produces cysts deep under the skin. These may appear as painful lumps or very large and red eruptions on the skin. Cystic acne may sometimes cause an itching or tingling sensation.

Some people may find that applying warm or cold compresses directly to the cyst provides relief. However, it is best to avoid applying excessive amounts of acne products on top of the cyst as this may cause more dryness and make irritation and itching worse.

A dermatologist may treat cystic acne with prescription-strength creams, antibiotics, or other medications. In many cases, cystic acne requires treatment with isotretinoin.

Bacterial folliculitis

An acne-like breakout that itches may not be acne at all. According to the AAD, some types of folliculitis may look similar to acne and cause itching.

Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicles, and it is often due to bacteria infecting the follicles. It can cause small, round pimple-like eruptions on hair follicles, and the eruptions may itch.

Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacterium that may cause bacterial folliculitis. Irritation or inflammation of the hair follicles can allow bacteria inside to cause red bumps. Bacterial folliculitis has a range of causes and risk factors, including:

  • using a hot tub, leading to hot tub folliculitis
  • excessive rubbing or chafing of the skin
  • wearing tight clothing, especially in hot and humid conditions or when exercising
  • shaving, waxing, or plucking hair

People can help prevent folliculitis by:

  • changing out of wet or tight clothing after exercising
  • using a clean, sharp razor for shaving
  • avoiding using hot tubs that are not well-maintained

The AAD say that warm compresses can help bring relief from bacterial folliculitis. Keeping the skin clean and dry is also beneficial. A topical benzoyl peroxide wash — 10% for the body or 4% for the face — can often be effective in treating and preventing bacterial folliculitis. However, people should take care when using it as it can bleach fabric and hair.

If the folliculitis does not go away with these remedies, the person should see a dermatologist. The dermatologist may order a test called a bacterial culture and, if necessary, prescribe antibiotics.

Pityrosporum folliculitis

Certain types of fungus can also cause folliculitis. A type of yeast called pityrosporum may produce an itchy, acne-like rash.

Pityrosporum folliculitis may cause red or pink pimple-like bumps to appear on the chest, shoulders, and back. It may be difficult to identify because it looks like acne, but it does not respond well to acne treatments. A characteristic difference between the two conditions is that pityrosporum folliculitis is often very itchy, whereas acne is not.

The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology say that pityrosporum folliculitis happens when there is an overgrowth of yeast on the skin. Possible causes of this overgrowth include:

  • wearing synthetic clothing that does not allow the skin to breathe
  • using oily skin care products
  • having oily skin
  • having a lowered immune system
  • using steroids, including prednisone
  • taking birth control pills
  • taking antibiotics
  • sweating

Antibacterial products will not treat pityrosporum folliculitis, but some people may find that using antifungal skin products can help. These products include treatments for dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis, which also occurs as a result of yeast overgrowth.

In addition, a person may find that pityrosporum folliculitis gets better if they keep the skin clean and dry and wear breathable clothing. If the bumps and itching do not go away with these measures, the person should see a dermatologist.

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