A person may notice red dots on their skin for a number of reasons, ranging from allergic reactions to heat exposure.

Many causes of red dots on the skin are harmless and resolve on their own. Others may require at-home or over-the-counter (OTC) treatment.

In this article, we discuss some of the possible causes of red dots on the skin, their treatment options, and when to contact a doctor.

Skin rashes come in a variety of sizes, colors, and textures.

Not all rashes require emergency medical treatment. However, people should seek immediate medical attention if they have a rash and notice any of the following symptoms:

People should also seek immediate attention for any new rashes that are painful and that affect the eyes, inside of the mouth, or genitalia.

When in doubt, a person should seek the opinion of a primary care provider or board-certified dermatologist.

Heat rash, or miliaria, occurs when the sweat glands become blocked, trapping sweat in the deep layers of the skin.

While anyone can have heat rash, this condition is most common among infants and young children with immature sweat glands.

Symptoms of heat rash include:

  • clusters of small red bumps called papules
  • firm, flesh-colored bumps
  • itchy or prickly sensation
  • mild or absent sweating in the affected area
  • inflammation and soreness
  • dizziness
  • nausea

Treatment

Heat rash usually goes away within 24 hours.

Treatment typically involves using lotions to soothe the itching, irritation, and swelling.

People can also keep the skin cool and avoid tight-fitting clothing.

Learn more about the treatment options for heat rash here.

Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a common skin condition that causes tiny red, white, or flesh-colored bumps on the skin.

It most often affects the outer parts of the upper arms. It can also affect the forearms and upper back, but this is less common.

Symptoms of KP include:

  • skin that feels rough or dry
  • patches of small, painless bumps on the skin
  • itching

Treatment

People can treat the symptoms of KP with:

  • moisturizers containing urea or lactic acid
  • alpha hydroxy acid
  • glycolic acid
  • lactic acid
  • retinoids
  • salicylic acid
  • laser or light therapy

Learn more about home management for KP here.

Contact dermatitis occurs when a person comes into contact with a substance that irritates their skin or triggers an allergic reaction.

Contact dermatitis symptoms vary depending on the trigger and the severity of the reaction.

Symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • a rash that appears in geometric patterns or shapes
  • dry skin that flakes and cracks
  • a bright, flushed skin rash
  • clusters of small red dots on the skin
  • hives, or extremely itchy welts on the skin
  • intense itching, tightness, or burning sensation
  • fluid-filled blisters that ooze and crust over
  • dark, thickened skin
  • sensitivity to sunlight

Learn more about contact dermatitis here.

Treatment

Treatment for contact dermatitis depends on the cause and severity of a person’s symptoms.

Mild to moderate symptoms improve when a person avoids contact with the irritant or allergen. If possible, people should:

  • avoid skin care products that contain harsh or irritating chemicals
  • avoid nickel- or gold-plated jewelry
  • avoid foods or medicines that cause allergic reactions
  • wear protective clothing in work environments or areas with poisonous plants

If the dermatitis is limited to a small area, a person can apply 1% hydrocortisone cream.

A doctor can prescribe stronger topical or oral antihistamines for people who do not respond to OTC medication.

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition.

There are many different types of eczema, including:

  • Follicular eczema: This type of eczema affects the hair follicles.
  • Papular eczema: This presents as small red bumps on the skin that healthcare professionals refer to as papules.

Alongside red bumps on the skin, eczema can cause:

  • extremely itchy skin
  • warmth and swelling of the skin
  • dry, flaky skin
  • clusters of small, fluid-filled blisters
  • blisters that leak fluid and crust over

Treatment

People can manage atopic dermatitis symptoms and even prevent flare-ups with the following treatments:

  • taking prescription medications, such as steroids and antihistamines
  • undergoing phototherapy or light therapy
  • applying a moisturizer to treat dry, cracking skin
  • using unscented, nonirritating laundry detergent
  • avoiding triggers, such as dry air, stress, and allergens

For severe atopic dermatitis that does not respond to the above treatment options, a person should see a board-certified dermatologist.

Taking bleach baths, which require using half a cup of bleach per 40-gallon tub, 1–2 times per week may also help.

Learn more about the treatment options for eczema here.

Rosacea is a skin condition that causes skin irritation, redness, and small pimples.

Although anyone can develop rosacea at any point in their lives, this condition most often occurs among adults aged 30–60 years, people with fair skin, and those going through menopause.

Symptoms of rosacea include:

  • irritated or red skin on the forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin
  • blood vessels that are visible under the skin
  • clusters of small bumps or pimples
  • thick skin on the face
  • red, itchy, or watery eyes
  • inflammation of the eyelids
  • blurred vision

Treatment

People can treat rosacea with various strategies and medication. Some strategies that can help relieve rosacea include:

  • avoiding triggers, such as ultraviolet light, alcohol, and harsh chemicals
  • washing the face with pH-balanced cleansers
  • frequently using moisturizers
  • wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher

People should also avoid caffeinated products and spicy foods, as these can also trigger rosacea.

Medical treatments for rosacea include:

Learn more about the treatment options for rosacea here.

Certain infections can also lead to red dots on the skin.

If a person suspects an infection of the skin, they should consult a doctor.

Examples of these include:

Chickenpox or shingles

The varicella-zoster virus causes these infections, which produce red, itchy, fluid-filled blisters that can appear anywhere on the body.

Chickenpox usually occurs in infants and young children. However, adolescents and adults can also develop chickenpox.

Shingles occurs in adults who have already had chickenpox. According to the National Institute on Aging, shingles usually affects one area on one side of the body.

Rubella

This contagious viral infection causes a distinctive rash of small red or pink dots.

The rash usually starts on the face before spreading to the trunk, arms, and legs. Rubella infections also cause a fever, a headache, and swollen lymph nodes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that rubella is a relatively rare infection in the United States due to the widespread use of the MMR vaccine. The vaccine is available for infants and children aged between 9 months and 6 years.

Meningitis

Meningitis is a medical emergency. It is the inflammation of the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain. It typically occurs due to a bacterial or viral infection.

Symptoms of meningitis include:

  • fever
  • stiff neck
  • headache
  • nausea
  • light sensitivity
  • confusion
  • vomiting

A rash does not always appear. However, if it does, a person might notice small pink, red, brown, or purple pinpricks on the skin. Also, it will not fade when a person rolls a glass over it.

MRSA (staph) infection

The CDC define Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as “a type of bacteria that is resistant to several antibiotics.”

MRSA often infects the skin, leading to painful areas of inflamed skin. People may also experience pus drainage from the affected skin and fever.

Other bacterial infections of the skin may also cause painful and inflamed areas of the skin. If a person suspects that they are experiencing a skin infection, they should consult a doctor.

Scarlet fever

Streptococcus bacteria cause this infection.

These bacteria naturally inhabit the nose and throat. They cause a red rash on the neck, under the armpit, and on the groin. The rash consists of small red dots that are rough to the touch.

If a person suspects an infection of the skin, they should always consult a doctor.

People should also speak with a doctor if their rash does not improve despite using OTC or at-home treatments.

People should also seek medical attention if they have a skin rash accompanied by the following symptoms:

If a person suspects a skin infection, they should contact a healthcare professional before trying any home remedies.

To relieve and manage skin rashes, people can try the following home treatments:

  • using mild, unscented soaps, body washes, and cleansers
  • avoiding bathing or showering in hot water
  • keeping the affected skin dry and clean
  • wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothing
  • avoiding rubbing or scratching the skin rash
  • applying a cold compress to relieve swelling and pain
  • applying aloe vera to the affected skin to reduce swelling and soothe pain
  • using moisturizers to hydrate dry, flaky skin

There are several possible causes for red dots on the skin, including heat rash, KP, contact dermatitis, and atopic dermatitis.

Red dots on the skin may also occur due to more serious conditions, such as a viral or bacterial infection.

If people suspect that they have a skin infection, they should contact a doctor rather than use home remedies.

People can treat some skin rashes and their accompanying symptoms with home remedies and OTC treatments. These include avoiding the source of irritation and using OTC anti-itch ointments.

People can contact a doctor or dermatologist if their symptoms persist despite using at-home or OTC treatments. A doctor or dermatologist can diagnose the underlying cause and make appropriate treatment recommendations.