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What Are the Common Causes of a Flaky Rash?

Dan Harkins
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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A rash on the skin can be caused by a range of inflammatory contacts. Called dermatitis, this condition often results in a flaky rash that itches or burns. The problem is often caused by allergic reactions to various consumer products, bug stings or caustic plants. Dermatitis can also appear as a result of any number of medical conditions, from eczema, psoriasis and shingles to lupus, arthritis and even chicken pox.

A flaky rash can appear on any skin surface when the oils naturally produced by the epidermis are not made. Cold weather is a natural cause of this problem, but only in a minor way. On the head, this can result in excessive dandruff. This condition is officially called dermatitis, but a more specific variety is called seborrheic dermatitis. The latter results in certain areas breaking out like behind the ears, over the eyes, around the mouth and nose, and on the scalp.

Various conditions can cause this flaky rash, from allegies to latex or rubber, alcohol-based lotions or shampoos, certain cosmetics products and clothing dyes. Plants like poison oak or poison ivy are iconic causes of dermatitis. This condition can become even more marked with age, emotional strain, oily skin and poor hygienic practices.

Dermatitis is only the first suspect. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, typically manifests in a red flaky rash that often itches. Psoriasis is another common skin condition resulting in a rash at the joints and on the scalp and fingernails. Medications can cause allergic reactions that lead to a rash, as can the bite or sting of various bugs.

Some doctors may suspect a viral condition that is causing a flaky rash, particularly if other symptoms are present. Impetigo is a viral condition of the top layers of skin, creating painful red sores. Shingles, chicken pox, measles, rubella, hand/foot/mouth disease, roseola and scarlet fever all can create a flaky rash due to a bacterial infection, particularly if the areas are incessantly scratched and not properly moisturized.

According to the National Institutes of Health, some serious conditions also can cause this problem. Rheumatoid arthritis is one ailment that could result in occasional rashes. The autoimmune disease lupus erythematosus could result in a rash all over the body or, in about half of sufferers, in butterfly-like patches over the nose and cheeks. A childhood disorder called Kawasaki disease also results in a rash. With these more serious conditions, several other symptoms usually are present.

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Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.
Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On Jan 12, 2013

@Perdido – It is awful to have flaky patches all over. My husband got a bumpy, flaky rash on his arm from rubbing against some poison ivy, and within a few days, it had spread to his arms, back, and stomach.

The problem is that once you scratch this kind of rash, you can spread it to other parts of your body. You know how when you scratch an itch, it often makes other areas feel like they are itching? Well, when you move your infected fingers to another spot to scratch, you are putting the poison ivy there, too.

He had to have steroid cream, as well as oral steroids. Simple itch creams wouldn't do anything for it.

He kept the cream, and he now uses it whenever he has an outbreak. It's prescription strength, so it can handle the rash.

By orangey03 — On Jan 11, 2013

Dandruff is pretty persistent. I have to use a medicated shampoo twice a week to keep it from coming back.

I am so tempted to scratch at the flakes to get rid of them. The only problem is that when I do this, my scalp turns red and bleeds. Then, I get unsightly scabs in place of the flaky rash.

By Perdido — On Jan 11, 2013

I tried a new perfumed lotion last winter that made me break out in a rash. Instead of just little red bumps, I got flaky patches.

My skin was so dry that it didn't even feel like skin. I was glad that I'd only applied the lotion on my forearms, because it would have been awful to have looked like this all over.

I applied an antihistamine cream after washing the lotion off. I had to keep using the cream for a week for the rash to fully disappear.

By StarJo — On Jan 10, 2013

I had chicken pox as a child, but I remember the itching more than I do the rash. I know that I had red bumps all over my body, because I still have a few deep craters that serve as a reminder.

I was nine when I had it, so I didn't bother really looking at what was itching. I just wanted to scratch all the time.

My mother had to put mittens on my hands to keep me from turning my body into a canvas of scars. I think I remember her putting calamine lotion on my itchy spots, but nothing really helped me.

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
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