People can develop a rash during stressful times, which is sometimes referred to as a stress rash. This often appears as hives on the face, chest, or neck.

Hives consist of raised bumps on the skin. The color of these may vary, as it depends on a person’s skin tone. If someone has a pre-existing skin condition, stress may act as a potential trigger and worsen symptoms.

This article explores a stress rash in detail, how to recognize one, and the causes and treatments. It also examines other similar rashes that may appear on the face.

People often link a stress rash to a response to emotional stress. A 2018 study looking at medical students highlights that various skin conditions, including rashes, may develop due to stress.

For some people, a stress rash appears as hives. Although it can present anywhere on the body, anecdotal evidence suggests they tend to appear more commonly on the face, chest, and neck area.

For people with a pre-existing skin condition, a stress rash may not appear as hives. Instead, it could make their symptoms worse or trigger a flare-up. Some examples of skin conditions where this may be the case include:

Depending on a person’s skin tone, hives may appear as red, dark, or purple patches. They can also appear raised and will often itch.

Stress rash sizes can vary. In some people, the affected patch may be small or take up larger areas of the face. Sometimes, one patch may join with another to affect a majority of the face.

It is usually harder to identify a stress rash in people with pre-existing skin conditions, as the symptoms can be similar. As stress can prevent the skin from healing properly, a sudden onset of worsening skin conditions may indicate a stress rash.

When a person experiences stress, the body releases the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can negatively affect the immune and inflammation systems. This may make the body more susceptible to illnesses and allergens.

In those with pre-existing conditions, the weakening of the immune system combined with cortisol’s effect on the inflammation system may cause a flare-up or worsen symptoms.

In the first instance, a person may consider certain home remedies to help ease stress rash symptoms. Some of these include:

Virgin coconut oil: A 2019 study suggests virgin coconut oil may provide anti-inflammatory and skin protection effects.

Aloe vera: Aloe vera may reduce itching and soothe the skin.

Cold compress: Soaking a towel or flannel in cold water and placing it on the affected area may help relieve itching.

Chamomile oil: Research suggests chamomile oil may provide antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory effects. A person could add one or two drops to a mild moisturizer and apply the mixture on the affected areas.

Sometimes, home remedies may not be effective, or a person may wish to try medicinal treatments. Pharmacies may offer over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as antihistamines to help relieve itching, or calamine lotion to ease other rash symptoms.

In more serious cases, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroids or antibiotics to help reduce swelling, redness, and itching.

Home and OTC treatments are suitable options for someone with a stress rash. However, if they frequently experience stress, they may want to focus on eliminating its source or seek psychological support.

Psychological support offers someone the opportunity to discuss their emotions while providing coping mechanisms to deal with stress.

In some cases, people could mistake a stress rash for another condition. Other conditions similar to a stress rash include:

Rosacea: This commonly affects the face. The skin appears red, resembling blushing or sunburn. Some people with rosacea may experience a burning, itching, or stinging sensation in the affected areas.

Atopic eczema: Atopic eczema is a chronic skin disorder that periodically flares up. It can cause dry, flaky, red, or itchy skin.

Psoriasis: This is a chronic skin condition where the skin can appear red and flaky with white scales.

Heat rash: Heat rash occurs as a result of excessive sweating. If a person lives in a hot and humid climate, or they engage in lots of physical activity, a heat rash may appear.

Contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis occurs when a person encounters an allergen, causing a rash.

Shingles: This is a viral infection where a person develops a rash over one side of their body. People with shingles may also experience a fever, headache, or upset stomach.

Most minor rashes improve in appearance within a couple of days.

A person should speak with a doctor if the rash does not start to get better by this time. They should also consult medical advice if the rash worsens or they experience other symptoms, such as a fever.

If a person with a rash suddenly has difficulty breathing or swallowing, they should seek emergency medical help.

Psychological stress can cause a person to develop a rash on their face. This typically takes the appearance of hives. If a person has a pre-existing skin condition, periods of stress may cause symptoms to flare-up or worsen.

Although there are treatments for stress rash, if a person experiences these regularly, they should look to address the source of stress or seek psychological support.