Introduction 

Pityriasis rosea is a relatively common skin condition that causes a temporary skin rash of raised, red scaly patches on the body.

The rash can be very itchy and usually clears within 2-12 weeks, but on rare occasions can last up to 5 months. It doesn’t usually leave scars, although some people have discolouration of their skin afterwards, which can last for a few months.

In many cases, a single pink or red oval patch of scaly skin called a “herald patch” appears on your chest, back or tummy about 5-15 days before the rash develops.

Read more about the symptoms of pityriasis rosea.

When to see your GP

If you have an unexplained rash, see your GP for a diagnosis. They will usually be able to confirm if it is pityriasis rosea, or something else such as eczema, psoriasis or a fungal skin infection.

If there is some uncertainty, you may be referred to a dermatologist.

If you develop blisters or soreness, or your eyes, genitals or mouth are affected, seek medical advice immediately as this may indicate another, more serious condition.

Why it happens

It's not known what causes pityriasis rosea. It’s possible that the rash may be the result of a viral infection, although there's currently no evidence to support this.

Pityriasis rosea isn’t contagious and can't be spread to other people by physical contact, so there's no need for someone with the condition to be kept away from others.

Treating pityriasis rosea

In most cases, pityriasis rosea will clear up without any treatment. The rash usually goes away within 12 weeks, although it can sometimes last for up to 5 months.

Emollients (moisturisers), steroid creams and antihistamines can be used to help relieve the itchiness.

Read more about treating pityriasis rosea.

Who is affected

Pityriasis rosea can affect anyone, but older children and young adults (aged 10-35) are most commonly affected.

The condition affects women more often than men. It’s also more common during spring and autumn.

Most people only experience one episode of pityriasis rosea in their lifetime. Around 1 in 50 people have repeated episodes.

Pityriasis versicolor

Pityriasis versicolor is another common skin condition that can be confused with pityriasis rosea, as the rash may look similar.

However, there are important differences between the two. Pityriasis versicolor is caused by a yeast infection and can be treated with antifungal creams or anti-dandruff shampoos. 

Read more about pityriasis versicolor.

A typical "herald patch", often the first sign of pityriasis rosea 

Page last reviewed: 23/03/2015

Next review due: 23/03/2017