What is heat rash on the face?

The medical name for heat rash is miliaria. It's a skin reaction caused by material temporarily blocking your sweat glands. The blocked glands get irritated and inflamed, and your skin will be red and bumpy, and it may feel itchy.

Heat rash usually isn't dangerous but it can be uncomfortable. It typically shows up under clothing, such as workout gear. Heat rash can happen anywhere on your body that you have sweat glands, including your face.

Heat rash on the face can be caused by face masks, scarves, or other face coverings blocking the sweat glands.

Symptoms of heat rash on the face

Heat rash causes clusters of itchy, red bumps on the skin. Sometimes the spots can be filled with fluid, like blisters. In extreme cases, the rash can develop into pustules that look like pimples.

Heat rash may feel painful or itchy. It is sometimes called "prickly heat" because people describe a prickly feeling when they get heat rash.

Types of heat rash on the face

There are four main types of heat rash:

  1. Miliaria crystallina: Small blisters that look like beads of sweat. There is no swelling around them. They usually appear on the head, neck, and torso.
  2. Miliaria rubra: Patches of very itchy red bumps. There might be swelling in the surrounding skin. They tend to appear in areas like the groin or armpit or in places where clothing rubs the skin.
  3. Miliaria pustulosa: Similar to miliaria rubra but the bumps come to a head, similar to a pimple.
  4. Miliaria profunda: This happens when irritation goes deeper than the surface layer of skin. It causes larger bumps and may take longer to clear up.

Causes of heat rash on the face

Unlike sunburn, heat rash isn't caused by sun exposure. Heat rash usually shows up in spots that were covered up. Clothing or other skin coverings cause sweat glands to get blocked so the skin gets irritated and inflamed.

People often get heat rash under tight-fitting fabrics like workout clothes. Wearing a mask, gaiter, or other face-covering can cause heat rash on your face and neck.

Heat rash is most likely to happen in hot, humid conditions. However, heat rash can occur in any climate and at any time of year. Friction from clothing can also lead to heat rash. People can get heat rash after exercising at a gym or doing physical work while wearing snug fabrics.

Who gets heat rash on the face?

Anyone can get heat rash but some people are more at risk than others:

  1. Adults who are physically active in hot conditions
  2. Babies who do not have fully developed sweat glands
  3. Patients on bed rest

People who wear face coverings for long periods may be more susceptible to heat rash on their face.

Diagnosis for heat rash on the face

There is no test for heat rash. You only need to consult with your doctor if the rash doesn't go away after a few days or if it seems to be getting worse.

Your doctor will look at the skin where the rash occurs. They will also ask you when the rash appeared and what you were doing or wearing before it happened.

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Treatments for heat rash on the face

Heat rash usually clears up on its own after a few days. The most important thing is to keep the area cool and dry. In rare cases, you may need medication for heat rash.

Home care

Home care for heat rash is easy and usually effective. There are several things you can do to relieve your symptoms:

  • Cool shower or bath: Rinse the rash with cool water, then let it air dry.
  • Cold compresses: Gently place a cool, damp cloth over the rash to relieve pain or itching.
  • Stay indoors: If possible, stay inside in a space with a fan or air-conditioning until the rash gets better.
  • Wear loose clothing: Light fabrics that don't sit tightly on the skin will feel better and allow the rash to heal.
  • Over the counter treatments: Ask your doctor about over-the-counter medicines like calamine lotion or antihistamine creams to relieve itching.

Do not put heavy creams or any products with oil in them over the rash. That could make it worse by blocking the sweat glands even more.

Medications

If heat rash doesn't clear up or it gets worse, see a doctor. Sometimes, the rash can get infected. If this happens, you may need prescription-strength treatments such as antibiotics or topical steroids.

Complications from heat rash on the face

If heat rash gets infected, it can lead to scarring. If you have heat rash on your face, you will want to do what you can to avoid scars. If your rash on your face isn’t going away or is getting worse, talk with your doctor to be sure you know what’s causing it and to determine the best treatment to avoid scarring.

Prevention of heat rash on the face

You can prevent heat rash by taking care to avoid strenuous activity in hot and humid conditions. If you have to work in the heat, take cool showers afterward. Wearing loose clothing and keeping skin clean helps prevent sweat glands from getting clogged up.

To prevent heat rash on your face, make sure any mask you wear doesn't rub or chafe. Keep masks clean by washing them with gentle detergent. It might help if you change masks during the day to prevent oil, mucus, or saliva from transferring from the mask to your skin.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2021
References
Avail Dermatology: "Difference Between Heat Rash, Sun Poisoning, and Sunburn."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Coronavirus: Tips to Avoid 'Maskne' Skin Irritation."

National Health Service UK: Heat Rash (Prickly Heat)."

OSF Healthcare: "Heat rash, sun rash – What's the difference?"

St. Clair Hospital: "Heat rash."

University of Michigan Medicine: "Heat Rash."

UPMC Pinnacle Health: "Forehead Rash: Here's What You Should Know."