Inflammation of the Skin: Risk Factors, Triggers and Symptoms

BY Deanna Pai · December 22, 2017

woman looking concerned

Sudden itch? Random rash? There’s a reason for it…but that can be pretty tricky to figure out. Rashes, redness and irritation are common signs of inflammation of the skin, but there are a host of factors that could be behind that inflammation. Here, what you should know about different and most common types of skin inflammation—and what you can do about them.

What is inflamed skin?

Inflamed skin is irritated skin. “Inflamed skin typically means the skin has been irritated from an internal or external cause,” says dermatologist Nada Elbuluk, MD, assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology of NYU. It can appear in a few ways, including itching, burning and discoloration of the skin. Inflammation may look red or pink in early stages (think your average rash or pimple) and can leave behind a light- or dark-brown patch. In darker skin, that initial discoloration takes on more of a purple tone. “The degree of discoloration is often dependent on several factors, including the depth in the skin at which the inflammation is occurring and how long it’s been occurring,” notes Elbuluk.

What are the different types of inflammation? 

There are two types of inflammation in the skin: acute and chronic. The difference between them is a matter of timing, says Elbuluk. Acute inflammation usually lasts six weeks or less and can result from many skin issues, like acne, sunburns and allergic reactions. Chronic inflammation goes beyond six weeks and may be indefinite. It often goes hand in hand with eczema, rosacea and psoriasis—skin diseases that don’t usually disappear in a few days or weeks.

What causes inflammation of the skin, and is it preventable?

Some form of inflammation accompanies most skin diseases. What’s behind those skin diseases, though, depends on the individual. “Risk factors can vary for each condition but may be affected by one’s genetics,” explains Elbuluk. Diet and hormone levels can lead to acne, while everything from the temperature to your skincare regimen can impact eczema. Illnesses or stress may trigger psoriasis. And all of the above can cause inflammation of the skin.

Like most things, there’s no obvious way to avoid skin inflammation. You can try to avoid external trauma to skin, as well as certain illnesses that may trigger it, but there are some chronic and genetic conditions that predispose you to a state of inflammation no matter what.

How can you treat inflamed skin?

There’s good news: Regardless of the severity, you’ve still got treatment options. They primarily depend on what’s causing your inflammation of the skin, the severity of the condition, how long it’s lasted, and how much of the body is affected by it. Anything from topical creams to light therapy to oral medications may help ease your skin inflammation. Those chronic and genetic conditions require more intensive, possibly immunosuppressive treatments—and, obviously, a trip to your doctor.

If your inflammation of the skin comes and goes, you might already know the reason behind it. (Looking at you, hormonal acne.) But if you do suspect an internal illness—or you’re dealing with symptoms that don’t go away after six weeks—it’s worth making an appointment with your derm just to be on the safe side.

Deanna Pai

Deanna Pai is a freelance beauty writer in New York, NY. She's written for Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Glamour, Women's Health and Refinery29 (among others). You can learn more about he... Read More >