Treating pityriasis rosea 

As pityriasis rosea usually clears up by itself within 2 to 12 weeks, treatment is not usually necessary, unless you experience uncomfortable itching.

There are three main treatments:

If these don't work, you may be referred to a dermatologist, who may recommend a treatment called UVB light therapy.

The treatments are described in more detail below.


You can use an emollient as often as you like. Apply it gently in the direction of the hair growth and avoid vigorously rubbing the skin.

Some emollients are designed to act as a soap substitute and are usually recommended because normal soap can irritate the rash. You can buy these over the counter from most pharmacists.

Steroid creams or ointments

Visit your GP if emollients fail to control the itchiness. You may need to try a steroid cream or ointment, such as hydrocortisone or betamethasone cream.

Steroid creams and ointments reduce inflammation of the skin and help to relieve the itching. You usually apply it lightly to affected areas of skin once or twice a day.

If you use the cream as directed by your doctor, side effects are rare.  Some people may experience a slight burning or stinging sensation when first applying the cream. This is usually temporary and should pass once your body gets used to the medication.


If you're having trouble sleeping because of itching, your GP may prescribe a sedating antihistamine, such as hydroxyzine or chlorphenamine. This causes drowsiness, which can help you sleep better. You usually need to take the medication just before you go to bed. 

Antihistamines can make you feel quite drowsy the following morning, so you should avoid driving or using tools or machinery if this is the case.

UVB light therapy

If your symptoms don’t respond to the treatments above, you may be referred for UVB light therapy. This involves the controlled exposure of your skin to ultraviolet light for a few seconds to minutes at regular intervals under the guidance of a specialist. This isn’t the same as using a sunbed.

Some medical trials suggest it can help to relieve itchiness, while others have found it only helps to improve the appearance of the rash (without relieving itchiness) during the first few weeks of the condition.

Natural sunlight has been helpful to some people, but care should be taken not to stay in the sun too long.

Other treatments

A number of other treatments have also been suggested for pityriasis rosea, but their use and effectiveness is debatable. They include:

  • aciclovir – an antiviral medication that was originally designed to treat herpes infections
  • erythromycin – an antibiotic designed to treat bacterial infections, which may improve the appearance of the rash and the associated itch
  • steroid tablets

If you're offered these treatments, you should be aware that evidence of their effectiveness and safety when used to treat pityriasis rosea is limited.

Page last reviewed: 23/03/2015

Next review due: 23/03/2017