Shingles scabs form as the rash is healing. Taking care of scabs and avoiding breaking them can help support recovery.

The main symptom of shingles is a painful rash with blisters. Eventually, these blisters turn into scabs.

Scabs, including shingles scabs, indicate that your skin is healing and help protect the skin underneath. It can take several weeks for the scabs to heal fully.

This article will cover how to care for your shingles scabs and promote healing.

Shingles scabs develop when your blisters dry up and begin to heal. The blisters that form on the rash usually start to scab within 7 to 10 days. These scabs are usually dry and flat and can be red, brown, purple, or yellowish.

Since shingles blisters affect just one side of the body, the scabs will only appear on that side. This is different from other skin conditions, which typically affect both sides of the body.

The following images show what shingles scabs look like:

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As shingles heals, the rash will start to scab over.
Photo credit: Zay Nyi Nyi/Shutterstock
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Shingles scabs are usually dry and flat and can be red, brown, or yellowish in color.
Photo credit: helovi/Getty Images

See more pictures of shingles.

The shingles rash typically takes about 2 to 4 weeks to heal. The exact time frame may be different for each person. It depends on several factors, including the severity of your rash and how soon you get treatment.

However, even after the scabs have cleared up, some people may have pain and discomfort that lasts for several weeks or months.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10 to 18% of people who get shingles experience long-term nerve pain, a complicated called postherpetic neuralgia.

Learn more about shingles treatment and recovery.

If your blisters begin to scab, it means your shingles rash is starting to get better. Scabs can feel itchy, but scratching them can negatively affect your recovery. It’s best to protect your scabs to ensure they aren’t broken or removed from your skin.

Taking proper care of shingles scabs can help promote healing and avoid complications like scarring.

Until all your blisters have scabbed over, it’s still possible for the virus that causes shingles and chickenpox to be transmitted to others who have not had chickenpox. In the meantime, it’s best to avoid contact with people who haven’t received the chickenpox vaccine, newborns, elders, and those who are immunocompromised.

Learn more about how shingles can spread the varicella-zoster virus.

Here’s what you can do to care for shingles scabs and reduce discomfort:

Self-care tips

  • Apply topical lidocaine or capsaicin: Topical creams that contain capsaicin or lidocaine can help block pain messages from your skin to your nerves. If over-the-counter products aren’t effective, your doctor can prescribe lidocaine or capsaicin patches that contain stronger formulations of these ingredients.
  • Soak in oatmeal baths: A cool oatmeal bath may also help ease the pain and itchiness of shingles scabs. This is because of the anti-inflammatory properties of oatmeal.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing: Baggy, loose-fitting clothing will feel more comfortable than clothing that rubs against your skin.
  • Take medication as prescribed: Depending on the severity of the pain, a doctor may prescribe oral medication that blocks pain signals to your nerves. It’s important that you take this medication exactly as described.
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What to avoid

  • Avoid touching or scratching your scabs: This can break the scabs and cause scarring. You might also introduce harmful bacteria into your skin that can cause an infection.
  • Avoid thick ointments: Thick ointments can keep the scabs moist, which may increase the risk of infection. Try to keep your scabs dry instead.
  • Avoid wrapping your scabs: Avoid bandages or dressings, which can stick to your scabs. It’s best to keep them uncovered and dry.
  • Avoid tight clothes: Tight, restrictive clothing can rub against the scabs and further irritate your skin.
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Even as your blisters start to scab, you might still develop new ones for about a week.

It’s best to contact a doctor within 72 hours of developing a shingles rash. The sooner you can get a proper diagnosis, the sooner you can start treatment for shingles.

Early treatment with an antiviral medication for shingles can help shorten the length of your infection and reduce the risk of possible complications.

You should also contact a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • blisters or scabs that won’t heal
  • signs of a skin infection, like pus or swelling
  • worsening or ongoing pain after the scabs heal
  • persisting fatigue or fever after the rash heals
  • new blisters or scabs
  • redness that is spreading to other locations

To help ease the pain and sensitivity of the shingles rash and scabs, a doctor may prescribe oral or topical medications.

Is shingles still contagious when scabbing?

The fluid inside shingles blisters can spread the virus that causes shingles. Your rash may start to scab while blisters are still present. Until all of the blisters have scabbed over, shingles can potentially be contagious.

What is the crusting stage of shingles?

The crusting stage of shingles occurs as the rash starts to heal and scabs form over the blisters.

How do you know when shingles is healing?

Scabbing over is a sign that the shingles rash is healing. It may take 2 to 4 weeks for the rash to heal fully.

Shingles causes a painful, sensitive rash with blisters. As these blisters dry up, they form scabs. Shingles scabs are typically flat and dry and can be dark red, purple, brown, or yellowish in color.

The shingles rash often heals in a few weeks. However, the pain and discomfort might linger for longer.

To prevent complications, avoid scratching your scabs or wearing tight clothing. Remedies like topical lidocaine or capsaicin cream and oatmeal baths may help ease discomfort. If your scabs get worse or don’t heal, contact a doctor as soon as possible.

Even if you have already had shingles, getting the Shingrix vaccine can help prevent you from getting them again. It can also reduce the risk of severe infection and complications. Learn more about the shingles vaccine.