Itchy, uncomfortable rashes can erupt just about anywhere on the body, including on and around the breast area.
Rashes on the breast or chest are usually temporary and often self-resolving. But in some instances, a breast rash may be caused by a more serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. This can include infections and rare forms of breast cancer.
We’ll go over different causes and signs of a breast rash to show their distinctive features and help you make informed decisions about your care.
Melanin and rash appearance
The color of a breast rash is determined, in part, by the amount of melanin you have in your skin. Melanin is a molecule that gives skin its color. More melanin makes skin darker, and less melanin makes skin lighter.
In people with darker skin, breast rashes may appear white, gray, or purple. In people with lighter skin, breast rashes are typically pink, red, or even orange-ish.
It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of potential diagnoses, as some rashes have similar clinical presentations. Here’s an introduction to some of the common and rare causes of skin irritation around the breast.
Hair around the nipples is common for many people. If you tweeze or shave them, ingrown hairs can result. Ingrown hairs are hairs that curl and grow back into the skin.
They can cause red, pimple-like bumps and pus-filled blisters. They can also cause painful cysts on your skin.
If you have ingrown hairs on your nipple, using a warm compress may help ease them out, reducing inflammation and eliminating bumps.
Should your ingrown hair remain irritated or pus-filled, your doctor will likely recommend using a topical antibiotic ointment on the skin. If the infection persists, they may prescribe an oral antibiotic.
A heat rash can occur when sweat remains on the skin for an extended period of time. Heat rash can make the skin look red and bumpy. It can be itchy and painful, but sometimes it might not cause any sensations.
The skin under the breast can become warm and wet from perspiration. This is most likely to occur in hot, humid weather or during exercise. Wearing too many layers, or clothes that don’t breathe enough, can contribute to heat rash.
This rash usually resolves on its own, but home remedies can be used to alleviate irritation. Skin can be calmed down by taking a cool shower or using a cold compress. Topical application of corn starch can also have soothing effects.
If a heat rash is painful or releases pus, call your doctor as this may be a sign of infection. You should also seek medical attention if fever or chills accompanies your rash.
Hives can look like small or large raised bumps on the skin that itch, sometimes intensely. Hives can occur anywhere on the body and may look red, pinkish, or inflamed. As the American Academy of Dermatology explains, hives often clear up on their own within a few days, although they may reoccur depending on the trigger.
Hives are usually caused by an allergy or sensitivity to something you ate or came in contact with. They can also be caused by anxiety or stress. Some hives are idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause.
You can take an antihistamine to reduce or resolve the itching. If your hives are accompanied by swelling in your throat or trouble breathing, contact emergency services immediately. This could be a sign of anaphylaxis, a life threatening allergic reaction.
There are many kinds of bugs that can bite exposed skin and get under clothing. Mosquitoes are a frequent culprit. Their bites can occur anywhere on the body, including the chest.
A mosquito bite may look like a small, round, raised welt on your skin. They can occur alone, or in a cluster, and almost always itch. However, it’s important not to give in and scratch a mosquito bite, which can irritate it further, or break the skin and lead to infection.
The inflammation from a mosquito bite will usually resolve on its own within a few days. Skin can be calmed with home remedies like oatmeal baths, aloe vera, or a mild corticosteroid cream to reduce itchiness.
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If you’re allergic to mosquitos, you may have a more severe reaction, which could look like a larger inflamed area of skin or hives around the bite. An allergic reaction may bring about anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention.
Bed bugs are a particularly difficult pest to deal with, as they can quickly make themselves at home in your mattress, furniture, and clothes. Removing them requires a thorough cleaning and sometimes professional treatment.
These small bloodsuckers typically bite the arms and shoulders of their sleeping victims. If you wear loose PJs or sleep nude, you may also get bites on your chest and breast area.
Bed bug bites often appear as bumps in a straight line or zigzag pattern and can have a darker center. They may itch or cause a burning sensation, although some people do not experience any noticeable symptoms.
The bites resolve on their own but will continue to recur for as long as you have an infestation. It’s important to promptly clean and treat your entire living space to allow you — and your skin — to rest easy.
These areas include:
- groin area
- under the breasts
Inverse psoriasis causes shiny red patches of skin which may itch and become inflamed. During flare-ups, you may be at higher risk for yeast or bacterial infections, especially when skin patches contain lesions that crack.
Another skin condition with similar presentation to inverse psoriasis is intertrigo. Intertrigo’s rash also occurs in skin folds, especially under the breasts. However, the intertrigo rash may be accompanied by a bad smell and not respond to topical medications for psoriasis. Anti-fungal cream is usually required.
Eczema consists of multiple types, including atopic dermatitis, and usually has its onset in childhood. Eczema is a weakening of your skin’s protective barriers, meaning it’s easier to experience irritation.
This condition can occur anywhere on the body. If on or around the breast, eczema may cause the skin to become dry, discolored, and itchy. Eczema can erupt on nipples, the sides of the breast, or underneath.
During an eczema outbreak, you may see rash-like bumps or a swath of reddened skin. Most people with this condition experience flare-ups and then periods of remission. Dry, hot air may worsen symptoms.
Common treatment approaches include:
Paget’s disease of the breast is a rare cancer that causes eczema-like symptoms on the skin of the nipple and areola. Paget’s disease usually affects only one breast but can also occur in both.
Estimates suggest 1 to 4 percent of cisgender women with breast cancer have this form of the disease, according to the National Health Service. It is very rare in men.
- red, scaly rash on nipple which may extend to the areola
- ulcerated, open sore on the nipple
- itching or burning
Your symptoms may improve on their own, only to return. It’s best not to assume that only eczema is causing these ebbs and flows.
Any rash that starts at the nipple should be evaluated by a doctor for potential Paget’s disease.
IBC accounts for around
By the time IBC is diagnosed, it has often already spread aggressively. It’s important to see your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms on one or both breasts:
- swelling of the breast or nearby lymph nodes
- red skin on more than one third of the breast
- skin is warm to the touch
- puckered, pitted, or thickened skin
- any changes in the appearance or size of a breast
- inversion of the nipple
- tenderness, itching, or pain
Clogged milk ducts can cause an infection in breast tissue called mastitis. It most commonly appears in people who are breastfeeding, usually during the first 6 to 12 weeks.
Mastitis can also occur in people who are not breastfeeding, although this is rarer. Menopausal and postmenopausal cisgender women may get periductal mastitis, a form of this condition caused by thickening of the milk ducts.
Mastitis is known to cause the following symptoms, among others:
- inflammation and pain in one or both breasts
- redness or discoloration of breast skin
- a pitted, rash-like appearance which looks similar to inflammatory breast cancer
- muscle aches
If you’re breastfeeding and have mastitis symptoms, continuing to breastfeed is often the best approach. This may help the clog break apart. You cannot transmit mastitis to your baby.
Using warm compresses may also be beneficial for alleviating symptoms and opening up the clog.
If your symptoms do not resolve, see your doctor. In some instances, you may need oral antibiotics to clear up the infection.
Many rashes will resolve on their own or with the help of topical creams. It’s important to promptly have a doctor evaluate your rash to receive the care you need.
Certain symptoms of a breast rash can be signs of an infection or a more serious disease. Red flags that indicate you should see a doctor immediately include:
- nipple suddenly becoming inverted
- one or both breasts changing size or texture
- skin on breast taking a pitted appearance (like the skin of an orange)
- pus coming from the rash
If a rash on your chest or breast area is accompanied by trouble breathing, nausea, or other signs of anaphylaxis, call emergency services immediately.
Any breast rash should be evaluated by a doctor. Many rashes are not dangerous and resolve on their own or with at-home treatments.
Bug bites, hives, skin conditions like psoriasis, and more serious medical issues like inflammatory breast cancer are all possible causes of a breast rash. Consider keeping a diary and taking photos to document your symptoms for your healthcare professional. This may aid in diagnosis.
Depending on your diagnosis or suspected condition, your doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as a dermatologist, oncologist, or another type of internist. Blood work, tissue biopsy, and other types of testing may be ordered to gather more information on your rash.
There are many possible causes for a breast or chest rash. It’s important to try to not jump to worse-case conclusions. However, rashes should not be ignored. It’s important to keep a close watch on your skin and symptoms and seek medical assistance if needed.