Heat rash treatment includes a cool shower or bath, patting skin dry, and applying topical itch relievers. Sometimes called prickly heat, the rash involves small reddish-pink bumps that can itch and burn.
Known medically as miliaria, heat rash develops when sweat glands become blocked, and sweat gets trapped under the skin. Heat rash is typically found in skin folds, such as armpits, groin, elbows, and under the breasts. It is common in people who live in hot, humid climates and those who sweat a lot.
Babies are more likely to get heat rash because they have immature sweat glands. It is also more common for people who are obese, over age 65, on certain medications, or on bed rest.
This article discusses how to treat heat rash. It also explains what heat rash looks like and how to prevent it.
Heat rash is also commonly referred to as diaper rash, summer rash, or wildfire rash.
Table of Contents
What Does Heat Rash Look Like?
Usually, heat rash is composed of small, prickly, itchy bumps with a halo around them. This type of heat rash is called miliaria ruba, or prickly heat.
Other than the discomfort, heat rash really isn't much of a health concern. However, if left untreated, the condition can cause pus-containing blisters (miliaria profunda) and lead to infection.
A heat rash most often appears:
- In the folds of the skin, including armpits and elbow creases
- Under the breasts
- In the groin area
- On the legs, chest, arms, neck, and back
Although a heat rash usually goes away on its own in a few days, some simple home remedies and over-the-counter products can help treat the rash or, even better, prevent it in the first place.
Heat rash looks like small itchy bumps with a halo around them. It's usually found in the folds of the skin but can also be on the legs, chest, arms, neck, and back.
Home Remedies and Lifestyle
You can do many things in the comfort of your own home to soothe a heat rash.
Take Cool Baths and Showers
A cool bath or shower can do double-duty:
- It cools down your body.
- A gentle wash can unclog pores that are contributing to the rash.
When you get out, if possible, you should let your skin air-dry rather than rub it down with a towel.
Wear Loose Clothing
When you have a heat rash, be sure to wear clothing that allows irritated skin to heal. Choosing light fabrics and loose-fitting garments that don't chafe is important.
For sports, look for fitness clothing that wicks moisture so you can keep sweat from collecting and exacerbating the rash. Cotton is an alternative to moisture-wicking fabric, which breathes well and allows damp skin to dry.
Get Out of the Heat
You don't want to let yourself overheat when you already have a heat rash. Avoiding heat and staying in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible can help. If you don't have access to A/C, consider fans, especially to keep your bedroom cool overnight.
If you cannot cool down your home, consider going somewhere cooler. That could include the mall, a movie theater, a restaurant, or a friend's house.
Avoid Thick Personal Care Products
Heavy moisturizers, lotions, and ointments can further clog your pores, which can make your heat rash worse. Choose lighter-weight products for the summer months, or skip them altogether while your skin recovers from heat rash.
Apply Cool Compresses
Cold compresses can cool and soothe your skin when you have a heat rash. You can use a wet washcloth or wrap an ice pack in a towel. Just be sure you allow the area to dry thoroughly afterward.
Ice and gel ice packs should never be applied directly to your skin. Use an appropriate cloth barrier to protect your skin.
Take an Anti-Itch Bath
This is easy to do at home using oatmeal, baking soda, or Epsom salt. Any one of those will relieve the itchiness of your heat rash.
Don't use bubble baths or bath bombs, even if their ingredients sound soothing. They may also contain ingredients that dry or irritate your sensitive skin.
You can use home remedies to soothe a heat rash. Take a cool bath, wear loose clothing, get out of the heat, and avoid heavy lotions. You can also try an anti-itch bath with oatmeal, baking soda, or Epsom salt.
How to Avoid Heat Rash
The best way to deal with a heat rash is to avoid getting one. This may take some planning and forethought. However, it'll be well worth it when you—and your child—aren't dealing with an itchy rash.
Allow Your Baby to Go Without Diapers
Plastic diapers don't breathe, meaning they can make your baby sweat and then trap that sweat in the folds of their skin. That's right where it's most likely to cause a heat rash. Especially if you're outside, let your baby run around without a diaper during the heat of the day.
Use Cotton Diapers
If you're someplace where you can't let your baby go without a diaper, consider using cotton diapers on hot days. Cotton is a breathable fabric that will allow your baby's skin to stay much drier than plastic.
Exercise at the Coolest Times
Whether you're working out inside or enjoying the sun, try to reserve your heaviest exertion for the coolest times of the day. If you're near water, take advantage of that to cool off periodically.
If you must exercise when it's hot, find some shade or use cold compresses to keep your temperature from getting too high.
Rinse Off With Cool Water
Before going out in the heat, after coming in, and, if possible, a few times in between, rinse yourself with cool water. It will cool down your skin while washing away the sweat that may clog your pores.
Take Breaks From the Heat
If possible, take a break from the heat by going inside an air-conditioned space. You could also take a dip in the pool or just find a shady spot and drink a cold beverage.
To avoid heat rash in babies, try using cotton diapers or letting them go without diapers while outside on a hot day. For adults, find ways to keep cool, rinse off, and take breaks on hot days.
Usually, home remedies are the best way to treat heat rash. If the rash is itchy and inflamed, talk to your healthcare provider. You might ask whether they suggest using an over-the-counter (OTC) corticosteroid cream.
Some people find applying pure aloe vera gel can help ease the sting of prickly heat. Antihistamines are also sometimes used to treat heat rash.
You can also protect the skin from further irritation by applying anhydrous lanolin. A processed waxy substance derived from sheep's wool, anhydrous lanolin will not clog pores. It is particularly helpful for diaper rash and locations where skin rubbing contributes to heat rash.
Avoid using OTC products such as body powder, creams, and lotions, since they can further block your pores. This is the opposite of what you need to clear up the rash.
For a severe heat rash, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to help relieve the pain and discomfort.
The most severe form of heat rash (miliaria pustulosa) has the potential to develop into a secondary infection. Notify your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following signs of infection:
- A rash only on one side or that is asymmetrical (not under both breasts or both armpits)
- White or light coloring over the red rash
- Flaking skin
- Pus oozing from the rash
- Blisters or boils
If your rash becomes infected, you may be prescribed oral or topical antibiotics.
Call a Healthcare Provider If You or Your Child:
- Has a fever or chills along with the rash
- Has pain, redness, warmth, or swelling around the rash
- Has pus draining from the rash
- Develops blisters or scabs
- Has swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin
A heat rash happens when sweat gets trapped in glands under the skin. It often happens with babies, but it can also happen if you're in a hot climate or are sweating a lot.
Usually, heat rash goes away by itself, but you can help ease it by wearing loose clothing and finding ways to stay cool. You could also try anti-itch baths with oatmeal, baking soda, or Epsom salt.
Call your healthcare provider if you have signs of infection, including chills, fever, pain, swelling, or pus draining from the rash.
A Word From Verywell
If you are susceptible to heat rash, there are ways to prevent it to keep yourself dry, cool, and infection-free. Remember to keep home remedies and any OTC treatments that have worked for you on hand through the summer months.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does heat rash last?
As long as you don't irritate the skin even more, a heat rash will typically go away on its own in just three or four days and shouldn't leave any lasting damage. If it lasts much longer than that or isn't improving, talk to your healthcare provider.
What causes heat rash?
Heat rash is caused by your sweat ducts getting clogged. That means, instead of evaporating like it's supposed to, sweat gets trapped beneath the skin. The hotter you are, the more you sweat, further aggravating the skin.
How do I prevent heat rash?
You can prevent heat rash by keeping your skin cool and dry, washing away sweat or products like sunscreen that may clog pores, and preventing yourself from overheating.
Is aloe vera good for heat rash?
Yes, pure aloe vera gel can help to soothe heat rash. It has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that can help cool and heal prickly heat rash. However, use aloe vera sparingly to avoid further clogging pores.