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A skin infection occurs when parasites, fungi, or germs such as bacteria penetrate the skin and spread. When this happens, it can cause pain, swelling, and skin color changes.
Skin infections are different from rashes. A rash is an area of swollen or irritated skin. While rashes can be symptoms of some skin infections, a person with a rash does not necessarily have an infection.
There are four types of skin infection:
Some skin infections require medical treatment. People can manage others with over-the-counter (OTC) solutions or home remedies. Read on to learn more about common skin infections.
This common bacterial skin infection occurs when bacteria infect the deep layers of skin and nearby tissues.
Cellulitis can lead to serious complications, and receiving early treatment is important.
Before causing complications, cellulitis appears as swelling that is a different color from a person’s usual skin tone. The area is sometimes warm and tender to the touch.
Cellulitis can develop anywhere on the body. In children, it commonly affects the face, and in adults, it often appears on the lower legs.
Early treatment is key to a successful outcome. If a person does not receive treatment, cellulitis can lead to blood infections and can damage the immune system.
The most common treatment is oral antibiotics. Some people may need to take this medication intravenously.
A person should also rest, elevate the affected area, and cover the area to aid healing.
What it looks like
Cellulitis causes the affected area to swell and change color. On lighter skin, cellulitis may appear red or pink, while on darker skin tones, it may appear purple, brown, or darker than the surrounding area.
Other skin changes may not be well defined, and it may be difficult to tell where they end. The area will likely be hard and warm to the touch.
Warts are noncancerous skin growths that occur when a virus infects the top layer of skin.
Warts are contagious. A person can contract them by touching a wart directly or by coming into contact with something the wart has touched.
Warts are usually visible as raised areas of skin, but they can also be darker and flat. They are more likely to form in places where skin damage occurs, such as on the fingers, nails, and backs of the hands.
A dermatologist can usually remove common warts. Typical techniques include:
- cantharidin, a substance that causes a blister to form under the wart so the dermatologist can clip it off
- electrosurgery, or burning off the wart
- excision, or cutting the wart off
- cryotherapy, or freezing the wart off
The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is responsible for causing a herpes gladiatorum infection on the skin.
In 2016, HSV-1 was present in an estimated
Though a person can treat an outbreak of herpes, the virus always remains, which means symptoms can return at any time. The virus is also highly contagious, and a person can transmit it any time it is active, even if no symptoms are present.
When herpes gladiatorum flares, it can cause:
- swollen lymph nodes
- a tingling sensation in the affected area
- fluid-filled blisters that last between
- patches of discolored skin
Some cases of herpes require no treatment. But a person with an active infection should avoid activities that put them in direct contact with others, such as contact sports and intercourse.
For people with moderate to severe infections, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication.
A yeast infection develops when fungus grows out of control. Yeast infections can occur across the body but are more common in skin folds, such as the armpits, or on parts of the body that clothes often cover, such as the feet.
The most common symptoms of a yeast infection are the formation of a rash and localized itchiness. Some yeast infections can cause blisters or pustules.
Yeast infections appear differently in different areas of the body. For example, a diaper rash that results from a yeast infection may appear as areas of chafed, differently colored skin and not feature any blisters.
A person may be able to treat a yeast infection with OTC creams and ointments. Some yeast infections on the skin may require prescription medication and creams.
Anyone with a yeast infection on the skin should keep the area as clean and dry as possible while the infection resolves.
Lice are tiny insects that live in hair and cause a parasitic infection of the scalp. They exist worldwide and can affect anyone. Contrary to popular belief, lice can live in any type of hair, regardless of how often a person washes it.
Lice spread easily, especially in crowded conditions such as schools and nursing homes. Though a nuisance, lice do not cause serious health issues.
As with many other types of skin infection, itchiness is the most common symptom of lice. This typically develops around the ears and near the neck.
It can take
A person may also be able to see lice in their hair. Nits, or eggs, are small and found at the base of hairs. As a result, a person may initially confuse nits with dandruff.
When the eggs hatch, the lice are called nymphs. In this stage, a person may notice small, fast-moving mites on their scalp. Adult lice are about the size of sesame seeds, and are light gray or tan.
A person can treat lice at home, but should speak with a doctor before doing so.
Treatment typically involves combing the lice and their eggs out of the hair and applying medication that kills the lice and their eggs.
Scabies is another parasitic skin infection. When a person has scabies, mites burrow into the upper layer of skin to lay their eggs. This causes infection and irritation.
Scabies spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact. People living in crowded conditions, such as nursing homes, are
Scabies causes a pimple-like rash that may contain small blisters and areas of scaling. These rashes may appear red or pink on light skin, and brown or black on darker skin.
Additionally, a person with scabies may notice burrows in the skin, and small sores and scales. These skin complaints may cause irritation and feel itchy.
Rashes from scabies can appear nearly anywhere on the body. Some of the most common sites include the:
- webbing between the fingers
- waist or beltline
Scabies treatment involves medications called scabicides. These kill adult mites, and some also kill the eggs. Tested and approved scabicides are only available on prescription.
Since scabies can spread quickly within households and other indoor settings, close contacts of a person with scabies may also require medication.
A person should seek medical advice anytime an unexplained, persistent rash appears on their body.
It is especially important to contact a doctor if the rash occurs alongside a fever or symptoms other than itchiness or pain. Many skin infections require prescription medication or other forms of treatment.
Since many skin infections are easy to contract, people should use caution in public areas.
For example, wearing shoes in public bathrooms and showers can help prevent athlete’s foot, which is a common fungal infection. Avoiding physical contact with people who have scabies or an active herpes infection can help prevent exposure.
People with skin infections should take precautions and avoid physical contact until symptoms are gone or their doctor clears them to do so.
Skin infections are a common occurrence worldwide. These infections can spread easily through physical contact and can affect almost anyone.
Most infections present as rashes or small growths and typically cause irritation and itchiness. Affected areas of skin may appear pink or red on people with light skin, or as brown and black on people with darker skin.
If an unexplained rash appears, seek medical attention as soon as possible.