Red spots on your skin can have many causes and you may not be able to figure out why you have them without seeing a provider. They can look at the appearance and severity of the rash, your medical history, and any underlying conditions you have.
What Those Tiny Red Dots on Your Skin Might Mean
Have you noticed red dots suddenly appearing on your skin?
Or maybe a single red dot, and you wonder how long it’s been there on your skin?
Could melanoma skin cancer first appear as a red dot, or is a red little spot on the skin usually harmless?
I have the answers, because I asked these questions to Dr. Oanh Lauring, MD, founder of Lauring Dermatology in Nottingham, MD.
Many people notice “dots” on their skin, and these skin dots or spots appear to be red.
This article is about red dots or spots (which may be elevated) on the skin, rather than red bumps or blemish-like spots.
“Red dots” on the skin can appear in many different ways.
One way is the appearance of pinpoint size specks. Let’s talk about these first.
The closer you examine your skin, the more of these tiny specks you may discover.
Some can be a little larger, like the size that a ball point pen would make, and then even larger yet, like 1-2 millimeters, even up to three mm.
A cherry angioma. Shutterstock/dba87
Upon close inspection, you realize that these “red dots” aren’t necessarily dot shaped, but can be erratically shaped, as small as they are.
They may also appear a dark red, a bit off-red or a dark pink.
Some people have loads of these all over their body (particularly the back and chest).
These are called cherry angiomas and are completely harmless (see the two images above of harmless angiomas, also known as hemangiomas).
They are blood vessels above the surface of the skin, come with age (though there’s an isolated version that’s present since birth and may be quite large), and will never become a problem.
More angiomas. Shutterstock/Timonina
Other causes of red dots or spots on the skin, says Dr. Lauring:
“Pinpoint red dots: causes include leukocyclastic vasculitis (usually benign inflammation of the capillaries that can be associated with infections, medications, autoimmune processes), Schamberg’s disease (benign disorder presenting as cayenne pepper like red dots on the lower legs of older people), extravasation of blood into the skin caused by scratching and damaging the capillaries.
Bigger red or swollen dots around the ankles: may be bug bite reactions (mosquitoes, bed bugs, scabies, chiggers).”
It’s easy to cause this without knowing it. If you notice a new reddish dot, spot or speck under your eyes, under your brows or near the bridge of your nose, don’t fear skin cancer.
This is most likely an extravasation caused by scratching there, or even by simply pressing a nail there to relieve an itch.
One little nail press is all it may take to damage tiny capillaries. This is harmless.
Extravasation is “leakage of red blood cells from after there is trauma to the blood vessel wall,” says Dr. Lauring.
This is what happens when a person plays volleyball for the first time or after a long absence, allowing the ball to smack repeatedly against the bare underside of their forearms. Multitudes of red dots will appear later on.
Extravasation spots disappear in several days, often taking on an orange tinge as they fade.
You should get acquainted with what cherry angiomas look like, versus extravasation spots.
Both can be described as “little red dots on the skin,” yet both look completely different from each other.
Another cause is atopic dermatitis. Psoriasis, too, can create little red dots or spots on the skin.
Melanoma skin cancer can present as a tiny red dot. Images of melanoma on the Web usually show brown, purplish and black blotches.
But melanoma can present as a small red spot on the skin. Below are three images of what this can look like.
A man I know was diagnosed with melanoma at age 27. He showed me two melanoma spots near his wrist: two tiny red dots.
However, do not let this be reason to panic if you discover red dots on your skin.
A small eczema patch
The bottom line: If a “red dot” does not go away, then consult with a dermatologist to make sure it’s nothing concerning.
Angiomas will not disappear, but it’s important to know how to recognize these.
What Causes Little Red Dot on the Skin?
You may develop tiny red spots on your skin for many different reasons. Some of these underlying causes may be quite serious, while others may not raise any concern. It is, however, important to understand when you should go see your doctor and seek medical treatment. Keep reading to learn more.
What Are the Possible Causes of Tiny Red Dots on Skin?
1. “Red Mole” or Cherry Angiomas
Cherry angiomas are quite common and can appear on any area of your body. Also known as senile angiomas, they usually affect people over 30 years of age. They look red because of broken blood vessels inside them.
While the exact cause of these skin growths is not clear, many experts believe it has something to do with genetics. Some people are more likely to get them compared to others. They are more likely to appear in pregnancy and are even linked to climate and exposure to chemicals. You do not usually need to worry about these skin growths unless you notice a change in their shape, size, or color. Talk to your doctor if they bleed often.
If you notice pinpoint, round, tiny red dots on skin, they could be petechiae. These growths develop as a result of bleeding, and this is the reason why they may look brown, red, or purple. They look more like a rash and appear in clusters. The color remains the same even when you press on them. And they may appear on your eyelids or on the inner surface of your mouth.
Causes: While petechiae are quite common, they may indicate different conditions. The most common causes include allergic reaction, local injury, autoimmune diseases, trauma, and viral infections that impair clotting. Certain medical treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, as well as leukemia, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, and other bone marrow malignancies can also cause petechiae to appear. Drugs such as aspiring, heparin, or cortisone may also cause petechiae. They are more common in newborns and become prominent after violent vomiting.
Treatment: Antibiotics are prescribed in case of an infection causing petechiae formation and appearance. If these petechiea spots are the consequence of injuries to the blood capillaries, apply ice packs or cold compressions over the affected region. It is suggested that before applying ice, a paper towel should be put between your skin and the ice pack. This will prevent damage to the skin surface.
3. Keratosis Pilaris
Keratosis pilaris (KP) also causes small red spots on your skin. This genetic disorder affects hair follicles of the skin and often manifests as rough, small folliculocentric keratotic papules. They are also described as chicken skin, chicken bumps, or goose bumps and usually appear on the outer-upper highs and arms.
The condition usually gets better in summer months and becomes worse in winter when skin becomes dry. KP is self-limited and usually improves with age. There is no treatment available for it, but you may use moisturizing lotions and creams to make things feel better.
4. Leukocytoclastic Vasculitis
Leukocytoclastic vasculitis or commonly known as hypersensitivity vasculitis refers to the inflammation of small blood vessels. Leukocytoclastic is a term used to refer to the debris of immune cells or neutrophils within the walls of blood vessels. The disease may only affect your skin or spread to other organs of the body, including central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, heart, lungs, and the kidneys.
Symptoms: When it affects your skin, you notice damaged blood vessels that become leaky. It results in hemorrhage that appears as small areas of purple-red, raised lesions or tiny red dots, also called palpable purpura. These lesions are most commonly found on the legs. They generally do not cause any symptom, but you may sometimes feel pain and itching. More severe vessel inflammation may result in large ulcerated blisters that can be quite painful. They may make you deal with other issues, including vomiting, abdominal pain, muscle aches, fever, blood in the urine, weakness, numbness, and cough.
Treatment: Your doctor will consider your medical history before determining the best treatment option for leukocytoclastic vasculitis. If you experienced a single occurrence of tiny red dots on skin, this is an acute case. The lesion diminishes in this case after removing drug, infection, or food that may be causing the problem. In recurrent or chronic cases, your doctor will consider several other factors to select a treatment option. They may ask for tests to help identify an underlying systemic disease. They may also give corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents in case the disease has spread to your internal organs. Medications such as dapsone and colchicines may help treat chronic cases.
5. Rheumatic Fever
Not seeking treatment for strep throat in a timely manner may result in rheumatic fever. It usually affects children from 5 and 15 years of age. Older children and adults may also contract the fever. It is not a serious illness and when left untreated, it may cause serious issues including permanent damage to your heart, stroke, and death.
As it is a complication of strep throat, you should go for a strep test if your child has certain specific symptoms, such as sore throat with swollen lymph nodes and tiny red dots on skin. They may also have trouble swallowing with thick, blood discharge from nose.
Once the doctor confirms that your child has rheumatic fever, they may decide to use one of the following treatment options:
- Antibiotics will be prescribed to help treat the infection and may also prescribe a long-term treatment to avoid reoccurrence.
- Anti-inflammatory medications will be used to deal with pain. The most common choices are naproxen and aspirin. Some healthcare providers may also use corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
- Your child may need to take anticonvulsant medications for some time if involuntary movements are causing serious problems.
In addition, your child needs to take plenty of rest until pain and inflammation go away completely. It is important to ensure rest for a few weeks at least if the fever causes heart problems.
What’s Causing Pinprick Red Dots on Your Skin?
This may seem harmless, but it may indicate a medical emergency
Kelly Burch is a freelance journalist who has covered health topics for more than 10 years. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Corinne Savides Happel, MD, is a board-certified allergist and immunologist with a focus on allergic skin disorders, asthma, and other immune disorders.
Pinpoint red dots on the skin can be caused by many things, including heat rash, contact dermatitis, or simply scraping your skin against a rough surface. But the appearance of a cluster of pinprick red dots that are flat against the skin and not itchy may be due to a condition known as petechiae .
Petechiae occurs when tiny blood vessels beneath the surface of this skin (called capillaries) suddenly burst, causing a localized grouping of tiny red, brown, or purple dots.
Petechiae is not a condition but a symptom of other conditions, including liver disease, bacterial meningitis, blood-clotting disorders, sepsis, and leukemia. Even prolonged straining and certain medications can cause skin capillaries to spontaneously rupture.
This article looks at some common and uncommon causes of petechiae, including the signs you should worry about and those that require immediate medical care.
Verywell / Theresa Chiechi
What Is Petechiae?
Petechiae are red or purple dots appearing on the skin. They occur when blood vessels break beneath the surface of the skin, creating what is known as a petechial rash.
Petechiae are usually less than 2 millimeters in diameter. The spots are non-blanching, which means they do not disappear when you apply pressure to them.
Petechial rash is a dangerous situation because it is caused by internal bleeding and often indicates a serious underlying medical condition. Petechiae can be caused by a host of conditions that affect the cardiovascular or circulatory systems, including:
Because many of these are serious disorders that require acute medical care, you should contact a healthcare provider immediately if you or your child have a pinprick rash that is not itchy.
How to Tell If You Have Petechiae
If you’re wondering whether a rash is petechial, you can press a clear glass to the surface of the skin. If the spots disappear under pressure, they are blanching, and therefore not petechiae. If the spots remain even under the pressure of the glass, they are non-blanching and likely petechiae.
Bacterial Meningitis and Petechiae
Meningitis is the infection of the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.
One symptom of meningococcal meningitis is a headache accompanied by a petechial rash, known as the meningitis rash. Although the rash is common, it doesn’t always occur, so if you have other symptoms of meningitis—like a stiff neck and headache—be sure to seek medical care immediately.
The meningitis rash is a petechial rash. At first, you might notice petechiae on the arms or other areas of the body. These may be blanching if you try the clear glass test mentioned above, but as the rash becomes more pronounced it will become non-blanching. The meningitis rash can progress from petechial to a purpuric rash, which looks more like bruising than pinpricks.
Petechial rashes can be hard to spot on people with darker skin tones. Look for the rash on lighter areas like the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands. It can also appear on the roof of the mouth or the inside of the eyelids.
Meningitis is a serious disease that progresses quickly. If you have a petechial rash, especially if it is paired with other meningitis symptoms like headache or stiff neck, seek immediate medical attention.
Sepsis and Petechiae
A petechial rash is a common symptom of sepsis, a bacterial blood poisoning that can turn deadly quickly. As with meningitis, a sepsis rash can begin with a pinprick appearance, before progressing into a more bruise-like appearance.
Other symptoms of sepsis, also known as septicemia, include:
- Rapid heart rate and breathing rate
- Changes to alertness or consciousness
People in the following categories are at higher risk of sepsis:
- Those with recent infections of the lungs, skin, intestine, or urinary tract
- Those with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes
- Babies less than 1 year old
- Adults more than 65 years old
Sepsis is extremely serious and can lead to septic shock, which is deadly. If you have petechiae or any other symptoms of sepsis, reach out to a healthcare provider immediately.
A Word From Verywell
Rashes are often harmless, more irritating than dangerous. However, a rash that presents as pinprick red dots on your skin that don’t itch can indicate a serious, potentially deadly, cause.
If you or your child have this type of rash, reach out to your healthcare provider immediately. They can determine whether you have a dangerous infection causing the rash and can help treat the rash and any underlying health conditions that may be causing it.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Johns Hopkins Health. Septicemia.
By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.
What Causes Red Dots on the Skin That Aren’t Itchy?
Your skin’s health and appearance shifts all the time depending on your environment, lifestyle, and health conditions, among other factors.
Sometimes skin problems have an obvious cause, like sunburn or a mosquito bite. But other times rashes or dots appear on your skin that are harder to identify.
Petechiae are red, purple, or brown dots on the skin that are generally painless and itch-free. These dots form when your tiniest blood vessels, called capillaries, break and leak blood under the skin. This blood pools under the surface, creating the appearance of spots.
Petechiae aren’t considered a medical condition on their own. They’re often a symptom of another underlying health problem, such as infection, allergic reaction, or autoimmune disease.
In this article, we will explore some common potential causes of petechiae, symptoms to watch out for, and when to see a doctor.
You can develop petechiae for a number of different reasons, including injuries and infection. In many of these cases, petechiae are a symptom of an underlying health issue.
Here’s an overview of common causes of petechiae:
An allergic reaction to certain medications may cause clusters of red dots to appear on your skin. This could be petechiae or hives. Hives are often itchy, raised welts that are generally larger than petechiae. Medications known to cause petechiae in rare cases include:
Both viral and bacterial infections can cause red dots or other rashes to appear on your skin. Common infections linked to petechiae include:
These include blood cancers, chronic conditions, and blood-related congenital disorders.
Other chronic conditions
Petechiae may come and go as a result of a chronic disease or illness. This includes autoimmune conditions, and certain congenital and connective tissue disorders. For example:
Acute injuries, allergic reactions, and a vitamin K deficiency are also associated with the symptom of petechiae.
Does COVID-19 cause petechiae?
Each new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, seems to appear with new symptoms. Different variants of the virus have caused some level of skin symptoms, including petechiae. This is believed to be related to bleeding and coagulation changes brought on by COVID-19.
Although petechiae has been observed in people with COVID-19, it’s not the most common skin manifestation. One study estimated that only about 3% of people with COVID-19 develop this symptom.
What can cause red dots to appear on the skin?
A person may notice red dots on their skin for a number of reasons, ranging from allergic reactions to heat exposure.
Many causes of red dots on the skin are harmless and resolve on their own. Others may require at-home or over-the-counter (OTC) treatment.
In this article, we discuss some of the possible causes of red dots on the skin, their treatment options, and when to contact a doctor.
Skin rashes come in a variety of sizes, colors, and textures.
Not all rashes require emergency medical treatment. However, people should seek immediate medical attention if they have a rash and notice any of the following symptoms:
- a rash that covers the entire body or open wounds , speaking, or swallowing of the face, eyes, or lips
- light sensitivity
- drowsiness or unresponsiveness
People should also seek immediate attention for any new rashes that are painful and that affect the eyes, inside of the mouth, or genitalia.
When in doubt, a person should seek the opinion of a primary care provider or board-certified dermatologist.
Heat rash, or miliaria, occurs when the sweat glands become blocked, trapping sweat in the deep layers of the skin.
While anyone can have heat rash, this condition is most common among infants and young children with immature sweat glands.
Symptoms of heat rash include:
- clusters of small red bumps called papules
- firm, flesh-colored bumps
- itchy or prickly sensation
- mild or absent sweating in the affected area and soreness
Heat rash usually goes away within 24 hours .
Treatment typically involves using lotions to soothe the itching, irritation, and swelling.
People can also keep the skin cool and avoid tight-fitting clothing.
Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a common skin condition that causes tiny red, white, or flesh-colored bumps on the skin.
It most often affects the outer parts of the upper arms. It can also affect the forearms and upper back, but this is less common.
Symptoms of KP include:
- skin that feels rough or dry
- patches of small, painless bumps on the skin
People can treat the symptoms of KP with:
- moisturizers containing urea or lactic acid
- alpha hydroxy acid
- glycolic acid
- lactic acid
- salicylic acid
- laser or light therapy
Contact dermatitis occurs when a person comes into contact with a substance that irritates their skin or triggers an allergic reaction.
Contact dermatitis symptoms vary depending on the trigger and the severity of the reaction.
Symptoms of contact dermatitis include:
- a rash that appears in geometric patterns or shapes
- dry skin that flakes and cracks
- a bright, flushed skin rash
- clusters of small red dots on the skin , or extremely itchy welts on the skin
- intense itching, tightness, or burning sensation
- fluid-filled blisters that ooze and crust over
- dark, thickened skin
- sensitivity to sunlight
Treatment for contact dermatitis depends on the cause and severity of a person’s symptoms.
Mild to moderate symptoms improve when a person avoids contact with the irritant or allergen. If possible, people should:
- avoid skin care products that contain harsh or irritating chemicals
- avoid nickel- or gold-plated jewelry
- avoid foods or medicines that cause allergic reactions
- wear protective clothing in work environments or areas with poisonous plants
If the dermatitis is limited to a small area, a person can apply 1% hydrocortisone cream.
A doctor can prescribe stronger topical or oral antihistamines for people who do not respond to OTC medication.
Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition.
There are many different types of eczema, including:
- Follicular eczema: This type of eczema affects the hair follicles.
- Papular eczema: This presents as small red bumps on the skin that healthcare professionals refer to as papules.
Alongside red bumps on the skin, eczema can cause:
- extremely itchy skin
- warmth and swelling of the skin
- dry, flaky skin
- clusters of small, fluid-filled blisters
- blisters that leak fluid and crust over
People can manage atopic dermatitis symptoms and even prevent flare-ups with the following treatments:
- taking prescription medications, such as steroids and antihistamines
- undergoing phototherapy or light therapy
- applying a moisturizer to treat dry, cracking skin
- using unscented, nonirritating laundry detergent
- avoiding triggers, such as dry air, stress, and allergens
For severe atopic dermatitis that does not respond to the above treatment options, a person should see a board-certified dermatologist.
Taking bleach baths, which require using half a cup of bleach per 40-gallon tub, 1–2 times per week may also help.
Rosacea is a skin condition that causes skin irritation, redness, and small pimples.
Although anyone can develop rosacea at any point in their lives, this condition most often occurs among adults aged 30–60 years , people with fair skin, and those going through menopause.
Symptoms of rosacea include:
- irritated or red skin on the forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin
- blood vessels that are visible under the skin
- clusters of small bumps or pimples
- thick skin on the face
- red, itchy, or watery eyes
- inflammation of the eyelids
- blurred vision
People can treat rosacea with various strategies and medication. Some strategies that can help relieve rosacea include:
- avoiding triggers, such as ultraviolet light, alcohol, and harsh chemicals
- washing the face with pH-balanced cleansers
- frequently using moisturizers
- wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher
People should also avoid caffeinated products and spicy foods, as these can also trigger rosacea.
Medical treatments for rosacea include:
- brimonidine tartrate
- light therapy
- topical ivermectin
- oral tetracyclines
Certain infections can also lead to red dots on the skin.
If a person suspects an infection of the skin, they should consult a doctor.
Examples of these include:
Chickenpox or shingles
The varicella-zoster virus causes these infections, which produce red, itchy, fluid-filled blisters that can appear anywhere on the body.
Chickenpox usually occurs in infants and young children. However, adolescents and adults can also develop chickenpox.
Shingles occurs in adults who have already had chickenpox. According to the National Institute on Aging , shingles usually affects one area on one side of the body.
This contagious viral infection causes a distinctive rash of small red or pink dots.
The rash usually starts on the face before spreading to the trunk, arms, and legs. Rubella infections also cause a fever, a headache, and swollen lymph nodes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that rubella is a relatively rare infection in the United States due to the widespread use of the MMR vaccine. The vaccine is available for infants and children aged between 9 months and 6 years.
Meningitis is a medical emergency. It is the inflammation of the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain. It typically occurs due to a bacterial or viral infection.
Symptoms of meningitis include:
- stiff neck
- light sensitivity
A rash does not always appear. However, if it does, a person might notice small pink, red, brown, or purple pinpricks on the skin. Also, it will not fade when a person rolls a glass over it.
MRSA (staph) infection
The CDC define Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as “a type of bacteria that is resistant to several antibiotics.”
MRSA often infects the skin, leading to painful areas of inflamed skin. People may also experience pus drainage from the affected skin and fever.
Other bacterial infections of the skin may also cause painful and inflamed areas of the skin. If a person suspects that they are experiencing a skin infection, they should consult a doctor.
Streptococcus bacteria cause this infection.
These bacteria naturally inhabit the nose and throat. They cause a red rash on the neck, under the armpit, and on the groin. The rash consists of small red dots that are rough to the touch.
If a person suspects an infection of the skin, they should always consult a doctor.
People should also speak with a doctor if their rash does not improve despite using OTC or at-home treatments.
People should also seek medical attention if they have a skin rash accompanied by the following symptoms:
- severe head or neck pain or stiffness
- difficulty breathing
- frequent vomiting or diarrhea
If a person suspects a skin infection, they should contact a healthcare professional before trying any home remedies.
To relieve and manage skin rashes, people can try the following home treatments:
- using mild, unscented soaps, body washes, and cleansers
- avoiding bathing or showering in hot water
- keeping the affected skin dry and clean
- wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothing
- avoiding rubbing or scratching the skin rash
- applying a cold compress to relieve swelling and pain
- applying aloe vera to the affected skin to reduce swelling and soothe pain
- using moisturizers to hydrate dry, flaky skin
There are several possible causes for red dots on the skin, including heat rash, KP, contact dermatitis, and atopic dermatitis.
Red dots on the skin may also occur due to more serious conditions, such as a viral or bacterial infection.
If people suspect that they have a skin infection, they should contact a doctor rather than use home remedies.
People can treat some skin rashes and their accompanying symptoms with home remedies and OTC treatments. These include avoiding the source of irritation and using OTC anti-itch ointments.
People can contact a doctor or dermatologist if their symptoms persist despite using at-home or OTC treatments. A doctor or dermatologist can diagnose the underlying cause and make appropriate treatment recommendations.