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Have a rash on one side of your face? Here's how to treat it

Skin conditions, allergens, and infections can all cause rashes. These are some ways you can help prevent and treat them.

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Curology Team
Sep 09, 2022 · 7 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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Here at Curology, we currently focus on the diagnosis and treatment of acne, rosacea, and anti-aging concerns. We do not treat many of the conditions mentioned in this article. This article is for information purposes.

What do you do when you develop a rash on one side of your face—or the whole thing? It’s a frustrating and often scary experience, but it’s important not to panic. First, take a deep breath, and do some backpedaling to figure out what could have caused it (more on that in a bit). 

Rest easy knowing that there are many treatments for rashes (depending on their cause). Here, we’ll break down the potential contributing factors to rashes and share a list of ways you can treat or help prevent them from appearing or spreading on your skin. 

What is a rash?

In simple terms, a rash is an area of skin that’s irritated and/or inflamed. Skin with a rash can develop changes in color (often redness) and texture. Some rashes can look like dry, flaky skin, while others can have pustules or papules similar to acne. Rashes can appear in many shapes and sizes, depending on the underlying cause. What causes a rash on your face—or any other part of your body—can often be determined by your dermatology provider upon close examination and careful exploration of your medical history. Sometimes a biopsy is needed to fully diagnose it, and in some situations, the cause is never established. 

What you need to know about dermatitis

Dermatitis is the medical name for skin inflammation (oftentimes a rash). While it’s not contagious, dermatitis can develop when an irritant comes in contact with your skin. More specifically, this is called irritant contact dermatitis. Common culprits include plants, dyes, soaps, and cleaning products. Even new facial products can cause irritant contact dermatitis. 

Allergic contact dermatitis is your body’s immune response to an allergen—it’s an allergic reaction. It’s less common than irritant dermatitis, and it can hours or days before a rash appears after coming into contact with whatever the allergen happens to be.¹ Fragrances, metals in jewelry (like nickel), and certain skincare products are all common allergens.

Another common type of skin rash is perioral (periorificial) dermatitis, which is a rash around facial orifices, like the mouth, nose, and eyes. 

So many colors, shapes, and sizes

Rashes don’t tend to spontaneously appear—they have an underlying cause (even if it’s difficult to determine). Some rashes result from skin infections, and others indicate specific skin disorders, like eczema and psoriasis. Here are some common causes of skin rashes. 

  • Eczema also called atopic dermatitis, causes a rash that’s often red, itchy, and scaly. It’s an inflammatory skin condition triggered by a variety of factors including genetics and the environment. Exposure to an irritant causes the immune system to overreact.² 

  • Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that appears as patches of silvery scaly skin, known as plaques. These raised patches of skin can develop anywhere on your body but most often appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, and back.³ 

  • Impetigo is caused by bacterial infections of the skin. It’s more common among infants and young children, and it often shows up as red blisters that ooze before turning into a honey-colored crust.⁴ This can appear as a rash on one side of the face of a toddler or on both.  

  • Shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus as chickenpox. It’s a painful rash that causes the skin to blister. It often only affects one side of the body. Shingles are contagious while the rash is in the blister stage.⁵  

  • Rosacea is a rash on the cheeks of adults (usually on both cheeks and on other areas of the face as well). Rosacea is chronic and requires long-term treatment to help control the symptoms. Wearing sunscreen with an SPF 30+ and limited direct sunlight can help. (It’s also one type of rash that Curology can help you treat!)

  • Childhood illnesses like chickenpox, measles, rubella, roseola, scarlet fever, fifth disease, and hand-foot-mouth disease. Most of these are rare due to the conventional use of modern vaccines. Diaper rash is another common rash seen in childhood.

Closeup acne on woman's face rash

How to help prevent rashes?

Knowing what would cause a rash on your face is the best way to prevent it in the first place. That’s usually easy when it’s something like poison ivy or certain jewelry. But some common threads among many rashes, like stress and temperature, can cause a flare-up or aggravate an existing rash. Here are some common sense things you can try to help prevent rashes or decrease their severity. If these don’t do the job, it’s best to see a dermatology provider. 

  • Practice stress reduction techniques. Stress has been shown to worsen skin reactions, including vulgar psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and acne.⁶ Try using breathing and mindfulness techniques to reduce stress in your life.  

  • Avoid scratchy materials and harsh soaps or detergents. Material like wool and harsh soaps can be irritating. Avoid these things if your skin is reactive. 

  • Cleanse. Keeping your skin clean may help prevent certain rashes—provided your cleanser isn’t the cause. So choose a facial cleanser that’s right for you! 

  • Moisturize. Dry skin can be flaky, irritated, and inflamed. Use a rich moisturizer to hydrate your skin and seal it in moisture. “I tell my patients to apply moisturizer throughout the day when their skin feels dry,” says Nicole Hangsterfer, a certified physician assistant at Curology. 

  • Stop scratching. Okay, we know this might seem impossible, but as difficult it may be, fight the temptation to scratch itchy, irritated skin. Scratching only further aggravates the area. Myth buster: Some people believe you can spread a rash from poison ivy, oak, or sumac by scratching. Unless you have residue from the plants on your hand, you can’t! That said, scratching will likely exacerbate the condition.⁷ 

  • Avoid extreme temperatures, sweating, and overheating. Sudden changes in temperatures and extreme temperatures can aggravate an existing rash, cause a heat rash, or cause a flare-up of a preexisting skin condition.

Is my rash fungal or bacterial? 

Not all rashes are caused by microorganisms like fungi, bacteria, or viruses. In fact, many aren't, like eczema and psoriasis. But they do exist. A fungal infection can cause a rash that’s typically red, scaly, and itchy. Ringworm (when on the feet it’s commonly called athlete’s foot)⁸ forms a circular-like rash (hence the name), and the fungus that causes ringworm can live on the skin and on the surfaces of other household items like socks.

Ring worm infection dermatophytosis on skin

Rashes caused by a bacterial infection can be red, swollen, and painful. The skin may also feel warm and tender to the touch.⁹ Common examples of bacterial rashes include cellulitis and impetigo.

What does a viral rash look like? 

Viral infections can present with rashes, like shingles, chickenpox, and herpes. Viral rashes can manifest in many ways, including spots, bumps, or blotches. Some start on the torso or face before spreading to other parts of the body. Viral rashes can be accompanied by a variety of symptoms including fever, muscle aches, or headache.¹⁰ In certain cases, the virus causing the rash can be contagious.

Rash shingles on skin

When should I be worried about a rash on my face?

For things like poison oak, ivy, or sumac, a soothing gel or over-the-counter hydrocortisone lotion can help. But if your rash gets worse or spreads to other parts of your body, or if you are experiencing additional symptoms, it’s likely time to seek medical advice. If you experience shortness of breath or fever or if the rash is painful and spreads quickly, seek care from a healthcare provider right away.¹¹  

If your rash is recurring, there may be medications or treatments you can try once it’s been diagnosed. So, it’s worth getting checked by your dermatology provider. There are typical treatments to help manage the discomfort of rashes. 

Taking care of your skin is a hedge against developing certain rashes

We don’t diagnose or treat most rashes at Curology—we recommend seeing an in-person healthcare professional for that. But we can help you develop a skincare program to improve your skin’s health and treat common skin concerns like acne, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, or texture. Curology members are paired with a licensed dermatology provider who will prescribe you a custom cream with three active ingredients. Our skincare products are designed by dermatologists to be non-comedogenic, dye-free, paraben-free, and hypoallergenic—made to keep your skin healthy! 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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FAQs

What is a rash?

In simple terms, a rash is an area of skin that’s irritated and/or inflamed. Skin with a rash can develop changes in color (often redness) and texture. Some rashes can look like dry, flaky skin, while others can have pustules or papules similar to acne. Rashes can appear in many shapes and sizes, depending on the underlying cause.

How to help prevent rashes?

Here are some common sense things you can try to help prevent rashes or decrease their severity. If these don’t do the job, it’s best to see a dermatology provider:

  • Practice stress reduction techniques

  • Avoid scratchy materials and harsh soaps or detergents

  • Cleanse

  • Moisturize

  • Stop scratching

  • Avoid extreme temperatures, sweating, and overheating

Is my rash fungal or bacterial?

Not all rashes are caused by microorganisms like fungi, bacteria, or viruses. In fact, many aren't, like eczema and psoriasis. But they do exist. A fungal infection can cause a rash that’s typically red, scaly, and itchy.

What does a viral rash look like?

Viral infections can present with rashes, like shingles, chickenpox, and herpes. Viral rashes can manifest in many ways, including spots, bumps, or blotches. Some start on the torso or face before spreading to other parts of the body. Viral rashes can be accompanied by a variety of symptoms including fever, muscle aches, or headache.

When should I be worried about a rash on my face?

If your rash is recurring, there may be medications or treatments you can try once it’s been diagnosed. So, it’s worth getting checked by your dermatology provider. There are typical treatments to help manage the discomfort of rashes.

• • •

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

  1. American Academy of Dermatology. Eczema types: contact dermatitis overview. (n.d.).

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

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

  4. Allmon, A., et al. Common skin rashes in children. American Family Physician. (2015, August 1).

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Shingles (Herpes Zoster). (n.d.)

  6. Pondeljak, N., et al. Stress-induced interaction of skin immune cells, hormones, and neurotransmitters.Clinical Therapeutics. (May 2020).

  7. American Academy of Dermatology. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac: What does the rash look like? (n.d.). 

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ringworm. (n.d.).

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cellulitis: All you need to know. (n.d.).

  10. Keighley, Caitlin L, et al. Viral exanthems. Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases. (April, 2015).

  11. American Academy of Dermatology. Rash 101 in adults: When to see medical attention. (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

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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