A shingles rash progresses from bumps to blister-like lesions. Emerging shingles on skin of color may appear slightly darker than the surrounding skin. Some people might notice purple or pink undertones.

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Doctors may refer to shingles as herpes zoster. It is a skin condition that occurs due to the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chicken pox.

Once a person has had chickenpox, the virus becomes inactive but continues to live in the nerve cells of the body. For many people, it remains dormant for life, but approximately 1 in 3 adults experience virus reactivation.

This article looks at the symptoms of shingles on light and dark brown skin. It also explores risk factors, treatment, and when to speak with a doctor.

A person with shingles will develop a painful, itchy rash that appears on one side of the body or face.

A shingles rash can cause erythema, which refers to a change in the color of an area of the skin. A 2021 article suggests that erythema may be more challenging to identify on light and dark brown skin.

Early rash

A shingles rash generally begins as small, closely grouped bumps forming in continuous or interrupted bands on one side of the body.

While it is most common on the torso, it can appear anywhere on the skin and can often develop around the face, neck, and shoulder.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service notes that the rash can be red, but discoloration may be subtle on skin of color. The rash may look darker than the skin around it, or it may appear purple, dark brown, or have a pink hue.

Minor swelling around the bumps may also be present.


As the rash develops, blister-like lesions, called vesicles, appear. On skin of color, these fluid-filled pockets can appear in varying shades of gray, white, or pale pink-purple.

As the condition progresses, the vesicles will rupture, crust over, and begin to heal.

The American Academy of Dermatology notes that the skin around the vesicles will continue to be discolored even after the lesions begin to heal within 7–10 days. The discoloration and base rash can remain for up to 4 weeks.

Skin lesions are not typically the first symptom of shingles.

Early warning signs include:

A shingles rash is painful. People may describe the discomfort as severe once vesicles begin to rupture, and the pain may be unresponsive to traditional medications. Itching, numbness, and tingling sensations are possible, and some people may experience:

In rare cases, experiencing shingles on the face can result in eye damage or blindness. Other rare but possible complications include:

Some people may experience postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is long-lasting nerve pain at the shingles site, even after the rash is completely gone.

Hyperpigmentation and visible scarring are also possible.

A dermatologist or primary doctor will prescribe an antiviral medication to help reduce the severity of symptoms, shorten how long the rash persists, and help prevent the development of PHN.

Common antiviral medications for shingles include:

Over-the-counter and prescription pain medications can help with discomfort, and doctors may recommend corticosteroids to help manage inflammation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following home remedies to help relieve itching:

Seeking medical attention within 3 days of noticing a rash can help shingles clear up faster and reduce the risk of complications such as PHN.

In some cases, such as when a shingles rash appears on the face, immediate medical attention may prevent major complications such as vision or hearing loss.

While rare, untreated shingles can sometimes be fatal.

A shingles rash can cause erythema, which refers to a change in the color of patches of skin. Erythema can be more subtle on skin of color. A shingles rash can appear dark brown, purple, or pinkish in color. The vesicles that develop can be gray or white.

Antiviral medications help reduce symptom severity and duration, while pain medications, anti-inflammatories, and home therapies help relieve discomfort.