Skin Rashes

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There are many different types of skin rashes and many different causes of skin rashes. Although most skin rashes are harmless, some do need treatment from your doctor or pharmacist. Some rashes (especially dark red or purple rashes that don't fade with pressure) may even need urgent medical treatment as they can be associated with meningitis and blood infection (septicaemia).

This leaflet is a guide but if you have any concerns, you must telephone or see your GP, especially if:

  • The rash doesn't quickly disappear.
  • You feel unwell.
  • The rash does not fade with pressure (the best way to test this is to press a glass gently against the rash to see if it fades).
  • You are not sure what has caused the rash or have any other concerns.

Skin rashes can be described in the following way:

  • Redness of the skin (called erythema).
  • Flat abnormally coloured areas of skin (called macules). Macules are often either red, dark red or purple, brown or white.
  • Solid raised areas which are up to half a centimetre across (called papules).
  • Solid raised areas which are more than half a centimetre across (called nodules).
  • Areas of red raised skin (called plaques) and scales, which have a flaky silvery-white appearance.
  • Reddish-purple lesions which do not fade with pressure (called purpura):
    • If less than one centimetre across then these are called petechiae.
    • If more than one centimetre across then they are called ecchymoses.
  • Blisters: these are swellings of the skin containing fluid:
    • If a blister is less than half a centimetre across then it is called a vesicle. If filled with yellow fluid (pus) then it is called a pustule.
    • If a blister is larger than half a centimetre across it is called a bulla (plural is bullae).

Skin conditions that can cause itching include (please click the links to separate leaflets which provide further information):

Please click the links to separate leaflets which provide further information.

Red (erythema) but not scaly

Red (erythema) and scaly


  • Red macules may be due to a reaction to a medicine or a viral rash - such as measles or rubella - as well as other causes.
  • A brown macule may be a mole but check with your doctor if a mole changes or you are concerned it might be a melanoma.
  • A white macule may be due to a condition which causes pale patches of skin (called vitiligo) or a skin complaint with flaky discoloured areas (called pityriasis versicolor).
  • If a macule is dark red or purple and does not fade when you put pressure on it then it is a purpura (see below) and you need to see a doctor urgently.  This is because it could be a sign of meningitis or blood infection (septicaemia).


Purpura and petechiae

  • These are dark red or purple and don't fade with pressure. You need to see a doctor urgently because there may be a serious cause that needs urgent treatment, such as meningococcal infection.
  • However, common causes include injury to the skin or repeated coughing. More serious common causes include liver disease such as cirrhosis.
  • Less common causes include vasculitis (eg, Henoch-Schönlein purpura) or a low level of platelets in your blood (eg, idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura).




  • Skin infection by a virus (eg, cold sores due to herpes simplex virus) or bacterial germs (impetigo).
  • Inflammation - eg, psoriasis.
  • Pustular skin reaction to medicine you are taking.
  • Pustules on your face may be acne or rosacea.


Ulcers may be due to venous leg ulcers, pressure ulcers, diabetes skin ulcers or cancerous (malignant) skin ulcers.

Original Author:
Dr Colin Tidy
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Helen Huins
Document ID:
28621 (v2)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member
Now read about Common Childhood Rashes

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