Common skin conditions in children
It can be worrying when your child gets a rash or marks on their skin and you aren’t sure what they are.
Most common childhood skin conditions aren’t serious and can often be treated at home. However, there may be some times when you need to get medical advice.1
Below are some of the most common skin conditions that can happen in children and babies and what you should to do if your child gets them.
Impetigo is the most common skin condition in young people in the UK.2 It causes sore, red spots and blisters on the skin. The blisters may dry and look like cornflake-shaped scabs on your child’s face. It may also cause swollen glands (pea sized lumps under chin or neck). 2,4
Impetigo can appear anywhere on the body, but it is most common on the face and hands.2 It can pass from person to person and normally gets better within 7 to 10 days. 3
It can be treated with an antibiotic cream which is applied to the affected area. 3
If your child is prescribed an antibiotic in any form, they must finish the full treatment as advised by your doctor.3
To avoid the spread of impetigo, keep your child off school until 2 days after they have started antibiotic treatment.3
Eczema is a common condition that causes itchy, red, dry and cracked skin. It can be very uncomfortable. The condition may affect your child throughout their life, but it can get better over time.5
Eczema normally appears in skin creases like the knees, elbows, neck, hands and cheeks. Sometimes it may flare up and be more noticeable, causing more irritation.5
There is no cure for eczema, but it can be managed with medicated and over-the-counter creams to soothe affected areas of skin.5
Scarlet fever is an infection caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus. It is very contagious.7
Scarlet fever can make your child feel poorly. You may find that they have a high temperature, a sore throat and swollen glands on their neck as well as a rash on their chest and tummy. The rash may spread and get bigger.6
The rash looks like raised bumps that feel rough (like sandpaper). On pale skin the rash will look pink or red. The rash might be more difficult to see on darker skin tones. 6
If your child has scarlet fever, they may be prescribed antibiotics by the GP. After taking the antibiotics, they will no longer be contagious after 1 day of taking the medicine. If your child doesn’t take any medicine, they will be contagious for 2 to 3 weeks after the first sign of symptoms.6
Symptoms of scarlet fever can last for 1 week. Your child should stay off school until the day after their first dose of antibiotics.6
Measles is a contagious illness that can cause your child to have cold-like symptoms that lead to a rash around their mouth and neck.8,9
The rash might also appear inside of their cheeks and lips. It will look like small white spots.8
After 3 days of having symptoms, the rash may spread across the body to the hands and feet. The rash will be red or darker depending on your skin tone.8,9
Measles can be very serious in some people. The best way to protect your child against measles is for them to have the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.8
There is currently no treatment for measles. This is because it is a virus.9 Your doctor will advise you to ensure your child gets lots of rest, drink lots of water and take pain relief where appropriate.10
You should not send your child to school if they have measles. The earliest time your child can return to school is 4 days after the rash appears. However, to avoid the spread of the virus, your child should stay off school until the rash clears.10
Chickenpox is an extremely itchy rash that is very common in children. It causes small red spots all over the body. The spots may be more difficult to see on darker skin tones. 11
The spots turn into blisters and then scab over.11
It is important to keep your child off school for at least 5 days after the spots appear, because chickenpox is highly contagious.11
It can be scary if you don’t know what is wrong with your child. It may not always be necessary to call an ambulance, but there are some symptoms that can be serious and need to be treated as soon as possible.
Call 999 or go to A & E as soon as possible if you notice that your child or baby has:
These could be symptoms of meningitis or sepsis, which if left untreated can be fatal.
If your child is sick but doesn’t have these symptoms, you can call the 111 service for advice and guidance.
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- Rashes in babies and children. nhs.uk. Published October 20, 2017. Accessed August 8, 2023. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rashes-babies-and-children/
- British Association of Dermatologists. Accessed August 8, 2023. https://www.bad.org.uk/pils/impetigo/
- Impetigo. nhs.uk. Published October 19, 2017. Accessed August 8, 2023. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/impetigo/
- Swollen glands - Illnesses and conditions. Accessed August 8, 2023. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/glands/swollen-glands
- Atopic eczema. Accessed August 8, 2023. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/skin-hair-and-nails/atopic-eczema
- Scarlet fever. nhs.uk. Published October 19, 2017. Accessed August 8, 2023. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/scarlet-fever/
- Scarlet fever - Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment | BMJ Best Practice. Accessed August 9, 2023. https://bestpractice.bmj.com/topics/en-gb/3000301
- Measles. nhs.uk. Published October 20, 2017. Accessed August 9, 2023. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/measles/
- Measles. Accessed August 9, 2023. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/measles
- Scenario: Management | Management | Measles | CKS | NICE. Accessed August 9, 2023. https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/measles/management/management/
- Chickenpox. nhs.uk. Published October 19, 2017. Accessed August 8, 2023. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chickenpox/
Published: September 2023
Next Review: September 2026
Reviewer: Mital Thakrar