What Causes Skin Inflammation?


If you are someone with sensitive skin, seborrheic dermatitis, inflammatory skin disorders, or atopic dermatitis, you might be familiar with inflammation. It’s such a taxing part of having skin sensitivity, so much you can’t think of aesthetic things like, “how do you get freckles.” Inflammation is one way that the skin reacts to an irritant.

But there are lots of misconceptions around inflammation. We assume that any irritation such as redness, flaking, and itchiness is inflammation, but actually, that isn’t the case! Inflammation is a very specific and particular reaction from the body. In this article, we will explain what skin inflammation is from its causes, why it occurs, and how to treat it! 

What is skin inflammation?

Inflammatory skin conditions are reactions produced by your body in response to an irritant. It is in fact a response from the body’s immune system!

The immune system is crucial to keep our body healthy by detecting, fighting, and neutralizing foreign invaders. It is, in fact, a very complex system of cells and proteins that defend the body against bacterial infections and viral infections.

You can think of your immune system as an enormous army within you ready to attack and protect you. The immune system actually keeps track of every germ or infectious microbe that we have encountered so that it has a playbook of how to destroy the germ once we encounter again it. This is what we mean by building up immunity against infections and germs!

When the immune system fights against these foreign germs and microbes, inflammation in the skin can occur. Usually, the skin gets inflamed due to an infection, some underlying diseases or conditions, and allergic reactions.

How do I know if my skin is inflamed?

There are a number of symptoms that you can look out for to know whether you are experiencing acute inflammation or chronic inflammation. A rash is one of the most typical manifestations of inflammation. The type of rash will differ depending on what caused the inflammation. Here are the common symptoms of a rash that was caused by inflammation: 

1. The rash is smooth or scaly in texture

2. The rash might feel itchy or having a burning and stinging sensation

3. The rash can either be elevated or flat

4. The rash might be red

5. The area affected by the rash might feel warm and tingling

6. The rash area could have some blistering or even pimples (check “what are pimples made of” here)

7. The rash area feels raw 

8. There might be some cracking of the skin that can bleed 

9. The skin area affected by the rash is thicker

What are the causes of skin inflammation?

So we have established that skin inflammation happens because of your body’s immune system reacting against an irritant or infection. The cells of the immune system involved in combating and causing inflammation are different in type. The cells that produce a reaction will release several substances which cause the blood vessels to widen in width which makes the vessels more permeable.

Permeability of the vessels is important as it allows the response to travel to the area of infection quicker. This widening of blood vessels causes the symptoms of inflammation that can be visibly seen, including redness, warmth, and swelling. Even if you search, “what’s the best eye cream,” it won’t help inflammation of the skin around the eyes go down if that’s where it pops up.

Here are some of the top causes of skin inflammation:

Dysfunction of the Immune System

The immune system is not perfect and of course, it can function improperly sometimes. Instead of responding only to infections and bad microbes, it can sometimes respond even to healthy cells. This is the case of psoriasis, a skin condition in which the immune system attacks healthy skin tissues.

Psoriasis occurs when the skin cells multiply ten times faster than usual skin cells, resulting in bumpy patches topped with white scales. People diagnosed with celiac disease might also have a skin condition known as dermatitis herpetiformis that occurs after eating food that has gluten in it.

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions can also cause inflammation. The immune system might detect something foreign and go into overdrive, essentially producing an overreaction that results in an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions can occur from just about anything, from medicines to foods.

There is also a condition called contact dermatitis which occurs when you come into contact with a substance that you are allergic to such as certain ingredients in products or toxic substances in plants like poison ivy. Bacteria, fungi, and viruses can also be a cause of allergic reactions.

Sensitivity to the Sun

Sensitivity to the sun is also known as photosensitivity. It is an extreme sensitivity to UV rays present in the sun and light sources. People who have photosensitivity often have a greater chance of getting sunburnt from being under the sun for a long time. Using the best sunscreen can help protect you, but only to some extent. There are medical conditions like systemic lupus erythematosus that can cause photosensitivity.

The heat

Sometimes, the skin reacts to heat negatively and produces a heat rash. Heat rash is also known as prickly heat or miliaria. Heat rash is developed when the sweat ducts trap perspiration under the skin, resulting in blisters for less severe cases and deep, painful, red lumps which are the more severe kind. Heat rash feels like a very prickly heat or it can also be very itchy.

Diagnosing and Treating Skin Inflammation

You will need a doctor to medically diagnose your skin inflammation. First, the doctor will do a physical examination and look at your medical history. They can often determine the cause of inflammation just by examining the rash if it is caused by an infection. They might also ask questions about the foods you ate recently or the medications you took, or perhaps something uncommon you might have come into contact with. They’ll also run some blood tests to check if it might be due to some genetic disease or underlying condition.

Should they detect a potential allergy, they will conduct a skin test by injecting an allergen into the skin to test if there is an allergic reaction to it.

Once the diagnosis is done, the doctor will then prescribe medication such as antibacterial or antifungal creams to counter the cause of the inflammation. These can range from topical creams to oral medication. Potential topical treatments include corticosteroid creams to target the inflammation, immunomodulators for the immune system like calcineurin inhibitors, antibacterial creams, and anti-itch creams like hydrocortisone. Potential oral medications include antihistamines or antibiotics.


Skin inflammation can be a distressing experience, and if you are unsure of what is causing it, never try to treat it yourself. Always seek medical advice if you suspect your inflammation is due to something more serious. Your dermatologist can provide insight on how to deal with it, or even answer questions like, “what is hydration,” and others.

Stay tuned for more of our skincare topics such as “how to get rid of dark circles,” “why you should not pick on your nose acne,” and more.

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