Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is a painful rash that often appears in humid or hot weather. Heat rash happens to everyone from babies to adults, and is typically caused by sweat getting trapped under the skin.
It can appear on any part of the body including the face, and the rash develops when the sweat duct becomes clogged. It typically happens on hot, humid days when sweat stays in contact with skin for long periods of time.
The good news is that heat rash will typically clear on its own eventually, but there are treatment options and home remedies that can expedite its healing. Treatment will vary for babies and adults.
Children have warmer base body temperatures than adults do, and children are also less able to regulate their body temperatures. That means that if you see a rash on your child, it could potentially be a heat rash even if it doesn’t feel particularly hot to the touch.
Treatment options for heat rash in babies and children include:
- Cooling the skin with water. If the rash is in a small area like the face, you can dab a cool washcloth onto the affected area to cool down the skin. If the rash is all over, try a cool bath without soap.
- Use calamine lotion. Calamine lotion is safe for children, but when using it on the face avoid the mouth and eyes. It can help calm itching associated with heat rash.
- Try anhydrous lanolin. Anhydrous lanolin is often found in nipple creams, and it can keep the sweat ducts from getting blocked. If you or your child are sensitive to wool, do not use lanolin as it is sourced from sheep’s wool. If using lanolin for the first time, try a patch test on their forearm before applying to the face.
- Make a paste with oatmeal.
Oatmeal can help calm itchingand inflammation. If you make an oatmeal paste for your child’s face, be sure its room temperature or cool, and not warm or hot which could further irritate the skin.
- Avoid oil-based products. Products that contain oil, especially petroleum or mineral oils, can further clog the sweat ducts.
All of the above recommendations to treat heat rash in children are also appropriate for adults. In addition, adults experiencing heat rash can try the following:
- Wear a sweat-wicking hat. This will draw moisture and sweat away from the body.
- Take cold showers. Showering in cool or cold water will remove sweat from the face while cooling the skin.
Heat rash can be divided into three categories: Miliaria crystallina, Miliaria rubra, and Miliaria profunda. All three will present slightly differently, and here we’ll discuss what each form of heat rash looks like.
This is the least severe type of heat rash and it’s more common in children and babies than adults. It may not itch or burn, and the small clustered bumps on the skin will appear clear or flesh-toned.
The bumps are filled with sweat and you may notice them bursting. Heat rash in children can sometimes look like baby acne.
Miliaria rubra is also what’s known as prickly heat. It’s more common in adults than in children and it causes red, itchy or prickly-feeling bumps on the skin. The affected area may also look inflamed, because sweat pools underneath.
Miliaria profunda is considered the most severe type of heat rash. It is more common in adults than in children or babies. It produces large, flesh-toned bumps on the skin and the bumps may feel tough or hard.
In addition to a noticeable rash on the skin that often looks like a cluster of small pimples, there can be other symptoms associated with heat rash. These include:
- red, inflamed skin
- skin that feels hot to the touch
- itching and burning on the affected area
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent heat rash on the face in both adults and babies.
Babies and children
- Take a break. If you’re outside at the beach or a playground, check in with your child to make sure they are not getting overheated. Signs of overheating include damp clothes, flushed cheeks, and panting.
- Hydrate. Give your child plenty of cool or cold water if they’re old enough to drink water. Staying hydrated helps keep the body’s temperature down.
- Get a breathable pillow case. If your child is experiencing heat rash on their face while sleeping, swap their pillowcase to a breathable fabric like cotton or linen. Heat rash often occurs in skin folds or in areas that don’t get a lot of circulation.
- Go inside where there is a fan or air conditioning. On hot days, make sure to take breaks to cool off in an air-conditioned room or near a fan.
Adults can try the same methods as babies and children. In addition, adults can try the following:
- Apply unscented talcum powder to the face. This can absorb excess sweat and helps prevent the ducts from clogging.
- Apply a cold compress. If you feel your skin overheating, apply an ice pack or a cold compress to the area. Putting your head in the freezer for a minute also works to instantly cool down the face.
If at-home remedies aren’t working or heat rash symptoms seem to be getting worse on you or your baby, or if you’re experiencing the following symptoms, seek medical help:
- sore throat
- a rash that looks infected
- pus or oozing
- a rash that persists for more than a week
Heat rash typically occurs in hot and humid temperatures when the body overheats and sweat ducts become clogged. There are different types, but generally a heat rash will look like red or flesh-toned bumps on the skin.
Symptoms of heat rash include redness, an itching or burning sensation, and inflamed, irritated skin.
You can prevent heat rash on the face in yourself and in your child by staying hydrated, going inside or into water on hot days to cool off, and wiping away sweat.
If you or your child already has heat rash, calamine lotion, anhydrous lanolin, oatmeal paste, and cool compresses can all be helpful at alleviating symptoms and clearing the rash.
Contact a medical professional if symptoms persist or get worse, or if there are other symptoms like fever, sore throat, or oozing.