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Stress rashes often appear as raised discolored bumps called hives. They are commonly found on the face, chest, neck, or arms, and may itch, burn or tingle.
Everyone deals with stress from time to time, and stress can have an effect on more than just your emotional health. Stress can also cause physical symptoms, such as a rash, that can amplify your stress.
Luckily, a stress-induced rash generally isn’t cause for concern. In fact, it can often be treated easily at home. Read on to learn how to identify a stress rash and the best way to treat one.
Stress rashes often take the form of hives, also called wheals or welts. Hives can appear anywhere on the body. Areas affected by hives are generally raised, itchy, and swollen and are sometimes warm to the touch. These blotchy areas can be as small as a pencil tip or as large as a dinner plate.
Sometimes these patches may connect to form even larger welts. These wheals can range in size from less than a centimeter to big patches covering large areas of the skin.
- In Black or Brown skin, hives may appear as a raised patch that’s slightly pink or a slightly darker shade than your natural skin tone.
- In white or pale skin, hives usually appear as red or pink discolorations.
Areas affected by hives will likely itch. You may also experience a tingling or burning sensation when touching the affected areas.
A single hive generally fades in about 24 hours. But new hives may form as old hives disappear. If you have multiple appearances of hives, you may experience these symptoms for about 6 weeks. This is considered “acute hives.”
Though less common, your symptoms may persist beyond 6 weeks. If this happens, your hives are considered chronic.
Hives are often the result of your immune system reacting to an allergen (such as food or pollen). Hives can also be caused by other factors such as viral infections, other illnesses, drug reactions, or environmental triggers. Stress is considered to be an environmental trigger.
Stress can come from anywhere, but common triggers for stress rashes are:
- starting college, getting married, or other major life events
- new jobs or challenging promotions
- an overly ambitious new exercise routine
- quitting smoking or a drastic change to your diet
- a death in the family or other sources of grief
- anxiety over friends or loved ones going through hard times
- a period of insomnia or poor sleep hygiene
In addition to these common events, a history of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, somatoform disorder, or other
When you’re stressed, it
These chemicals can change how your body responds to various functions. This change in response can cause inflammation, sensitivity, and other discomforts to the skin.
Sometimes hives go away on their own without treatment. Otherwise, the condition can generally be treated at home. The most common treatment for hives is an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine. Antihistamines can relieve symptoms such as itching.
Common OTC treatments include:
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- fexofenadine (Allegra)
- loratadine (Claritin)
- calamine lotion
- hydrocortisone cream
- anti-itch creams such as Sarna or CeraVe
Natural home remedies for a stress rash
- placing a cool compress on the affected areas
- taking a lukewarm shower or a soothing oatmeal and milk bath
- using fragrance- and dye-free lotions
- staying hydrated and limit your alcohol and caffeine intake
- making an herbal poultice to lower the amount of skin inflammation
avoidinghot showers or high humidity
- avoiding tight clothing or anything that rubs on your skin
Managing your stress
- going to therapy or a support group
- practicing meditation or yoga
- exercising regularly (in ways that don’t aggravate your hives)
- making time for personal hobbies, such as baking, dancing, or kickboxing
- eating a balanced diet
- getting plenty of sleep and rest
Once you identify techniques that help you relax and reframe your outlook, you may find that your skin condition improves.
In the meantime, you can try using OTC medications as needed to alleviate any inflammation and irritation. If your symptoms persist or if you think they’re the result of an underlying condition, consult a doctor. They can work with you to determine your next steps.
Medical treatments for a stress rash
If your symptoms worsen or last longer than 6 weeks, you should consult a doctor. Hives that last beyond 6 weeks are considered chronic and may or may not go away on their own within a year.
- prescription-strength antihistamines
- corticosteroids, such as prednisone
- a monoclonal antibody, such as omalizumab (Xolair)
- cyclosporine, which can be used to treat inflammation
- montelukast (Singulair), or other allergy medications
- other medications that lower the amount of redness and swelling
- immunosuppressant medications, which would rarely be used
If you experience swelling of the lips or face, trouble breathing, or wheezing, you should use 911 or local emergency services. These can be life threatening complications, and you may need an epinephrine shot for treatment for anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.
It’s possible to confuse a stress rash with other common skin conditions. These include:
- Heat rash. If you live or work in hot, humid conditions, you may be experiencing a heat rash. This happens when your pores become blocked and sweat is unable to escape.
- Stress acne. This is acne that’s triggered by stress and anxiety, and it has most of the same symptoms as standard acne.
- Pityriasis rosea. This is a common type of rash that often goes away on its own. Pityriasis rosea typically starts with a large patch of red, raised skin but isn’t usually itchy.
- Rosacea. This is another common skin condition. Depending on the type, rosacea often causes small, red — sometimes pus-filled — bumps to form on the skin. The skin can thicken in these areas. In some cases, rosacea can be caused by stress.
- Contact dermatitis. This is usually an acute condition that causes a red, itchy rash to appear on the skin. You may also experience bumps or blisters, swelling, and tenderness with contact dermatitis.
- Eczema. This is a chronic condition that may be triggered by stress that can also make your skin red and itchy. Although eczema begins most commonly in children, it can occur at any age.
If you have a preexisting skin condition, such as psoriasis or rosacea, you may also find that stress worsens your symptoms. If this occurs, stress is considered a trigger for these conditions.
If you’re experiencing itchy welt-like patches that resolve in several days or with OTC treatment, then they’re probably hives. However, if you’re unsure, a rash can be a symptom of something else, such as an underlying medical condition or an allergy to a medication, and should be looked over by a doctor.
If the bumps are hard or filled with pus or something other than clear fluid, they may be a sign of an underlying medical condition or a serious allergic reaction.
You should also consult a doctor if you have:
- a rash over your whole body
- a fever or swollen lymph nodes
- pain stemming from your hives
- blisters that leak yellow or green fluid
- peeling skin alongside your hives
- bumps that are hard or filled with pus
- hives that involve a mucous membrane
- a rash that doesn’t resolve
If you develop a rash or hives after taking a new medication, you should consult a doctor immediately.
If you suspect your rash is the result of a preexisting condition for which you’re currently finding treatment, you may benefit from a consultation. A doctor can confirm your suspicions and take the appropriate next steps.
Contact a doctor if you suspect the rash is caused by an allergen. Severe allergic reactions may result in anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical treatment.
Rashes caused by stress may vary in how they’re treated and how long they last. A stress rash with hives will likely disappear with time and mild to moderate treatments.
You may need to see a doctor or therapist to treat stress-related skin conditions such as acne, dermatitis, or severe or long-lasting hives. If you have chronic conditions such as psoriasis and rosacea, you should work with a doctor to develop an appropriate treatment plan.