Causes and treatment of pimples on the legs
Pimples often appear as one or more red or white, potentially itchy or painful, bumps on the skin. In some cases, they form a pink-red rash on the adjacent skin or produce pus. They may also make a person feel uncomfortable, exposing their legs in front of others.
Still, pimples on the legs are often not a major or long-lasting problem. In most cases, the causes are not of significant concern. A person who develops a pimple on the leg can often treat it at home, using over-the-counter (OTC) medications and other home remedies.
Learn about the causes and treatments of pimples on the legs here.
Common causes of small bumps or pimples on the legs include:
Folliculitis, an inflammation of the hair follicles, is a common cause of pimples on the legs.
Folliculitis is inflammation of the hair follicles. This can be from a bacterial or fungal infection that makes the hair follicles become inflamed or blocked. Symptoms of folliculitis are red bumps that may appear as a rash.
The most common causes that pose a risk of developing folliculitis include:
- tight clothing
- heat and sweat
Almost anyone can develop folliculitis. However, some people may be more at risk of developing folliculitis than others. These risk factors include:
- being overweight
- frequent use of public or private hot tubs
- injuries to the skin
- underlying health conditions that reduce the body's ability to fight infection
In most cases, folliculitis will clear on its own and does not pose a major threat. However, if it does not clear up, it could progress into a more serious infection or cause boils to form.
Boils are large, pus-filled bumps that are commonly caused by Staphylococcus bacterial infection.
If any skin infection becomes worse, a person should seek medical attention, as soon as possible.
Keratosis pilaris is another common skin condition that causes small, red bumps to appear on the skin. Similarly to folliculitis, keratosis pilaris may itch, feel dry, or feel rough to touch.
The American Academy of Dermatology report that approximately 40 percent of all adults and up to 50–80 percent of teens experience keratosis pilaris.
Keratosis pilaris occurs when a protein called keratin and dead skin clog the skin's pores. Keratin is found in the nails, hair, and skin. While anyone could develop it, keratosis pilaris is more likely to occur in people with eczema or dry skin.
While keratosis pilaris is a harmless condition, some people may want to speak to their doctor about treatment. In some cases, doctors may recommend moisturizing ointments or creams to help alleviate the symptoms.
Insect bites can trigger hives.
Hives are described as itchy red or skin-toned welts that are slightly raised above the rest of the skin. When pressed in the center, they turn white. Hives can appear on the legs and nearly anywhere else on the body.
Some people may mistake hives for a pimple on their leg due to their similar appearance.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, approximately 20 percent of people will develop hives at some point in their lifetime.
Hives can occur at any age but tend to be associated with underlying conditions, such as:
- viral hepatitis
- autoimmune disease
- bacterial infections, including Strep throat
- infectious mononucleosis
Also, there are several potential triggers that can cause hives. These may include:
- insect bites
- reaction to medications
Hives are often not a serious cause for concern unless other symptoms occur with them.
One of the most common causes is insect bites, which are often itchy but not serious.
Eczema, which is also called atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition where itchy patches appear along with red bumps. These patches may form pimple-like blisters that ooze a clear liquid, or they could be dry and scaly.
A person with eczema tends to go through periods where rashes appear, often referred to as flares. Between flares, the skin may return to normal.
There are many potential triggers of eczema flares. These can include:
- contact with certain fabrics, such as wool
- various cleaning products
- perfumes or cosmetics
- heat and sweat
Researchers are still not sure of the causes of eczema. However, they have started to take note of certain patterns in eczema's occurrences. Some observations include:
- It is more common in cities with higher pollution levels and cooler temperatures.
- A child born to an older woman is more likely to develop eczema.
- Eczema tends to run in families.
- Females are slightly more likely to get eczema than males.
- There appears to be a connection between eczema and the person or their family having seasonal allergies.
The American Academy of Dermatology suggest that approximately 90 percent of eczema cases are diagnosed before a child's fifth birthday, and the condition is far less likely to start when a person is an adult. However, an adult has about a 50 percent chance of still showing some symptoms as they age if they had eczema as a child.
Treatments for pimples or bumps on the legs will depend on the underlying cause.
The following are some of the common treatments that are used based on the cause of the pimples.
Using an electric razor can help prevent leg pimples.
Folliculitis typically does not require treatment. It should clear on its own within a few days. However, if it progresses to a more advanced form or does not go away, a person should see a doctor.
For folliculitis due to shaving, the best treatment is often prevention. A person can help prevent folliculitis by:
- using an electric razor rather than a disposable razor
- using extra shaving cream or soap to lessen skin irritation
- avoiding shaving for a set period of time after a folliculitis episode
Treatment of folliculitis depends on what causes it to occur. A doctor may suggest:
- moisturizers that are oil-free, available online.
- topical steroids
- topical or oral antibiotic therapy
- antifungal therapy
Typically, it is not necessary for doctors to treat bumps on the legs that are due to keratosis pilaris. In some cases, if the condition does not clear on its own, a person may wish to speak to their doctor about medicated moisturizing creams.
A doctor may discuss laser therapy as an option in more extreme cases
Treatment for most hives starts with prevention. Insect bites commonly cause hives, which means using repellants and limiting exposed skin when outdoors to stop bites from occurring. If a hive occurs, there are some topical OTC anti-itch creams available online.
If other symptoms accompany the hives, a person should seek medical attention. There may be additional concerns, such as a specific allergy or intolerance, that a doctor will need to assess and treat.
A doctor may suggest various treatment options when treating eczema. Some typical treatments include:
A doctor may be able to suggest strategies for avoiding the potential triggers.
A person with eczema should also be aware of their increased susceptibility to skin infections and should avoid people with chickenpox or cold sores. Exposure to herpes simplex virus can lead to eczema herpeticum, which is a severe infection that spreads quickly.
In most cases, little red bumps on the legs are not a major cause for concern. A person should seek medical attention if they are not sure of the pimples' origins. Also, they should look out for signs of infection, as these would require medical attention. Signs of infection to watch for include:
- worsening rash
- red streaks coming from the pimples
- swelling around the pimples