Some of the most common children's illnesses come with spots and rashes on the skin. Working with expert family NHS GP Dr Philippa Kaye, we've compiled a guide, with real-life pictures, to help you identify the 22 most common childhood, toddler and baby spots and rashes - and how they appear on different skin colours, including white and black skin.

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We've included:

  • Images of certified real cases
  • Appearance and location of spots or rash
  • Most common age for this condition
  • Symptoms to look out for
  • Other conditions each rash may commonly be mistaken for
  • What to do if you think your child has one of the conditions we've identified

Please note that this article is for guidance only. If you have any concerns about your child's health, it is always best to consult your doctor or health professional.

Here are the most common children's rashes and spots in pictures...

1. Chickenpox

What does a chickenpox rash look like?

Crops of spots, which then turn into small fluid-filled, itchy blisters. "Over a few days, the blisters crust over, forming little scabs," says Dr Philippa.

Where on my child's body? Anywhere, including on the scalp. They may appear in clusters or spread all over.

At what age? Any age, including babies.

How common? Extremely common.

How can I tell it's chickenpox and not something else?

"Initially, the little spots look like lots of other things," says Dr Philippa. You might mistake them for insect bites, impetigo (see number 7, below) or hand, foot and mouth (see number 10, below). "But," says Dr Philippa, "it's the blistering rash that follows that's the classic sign."

Are there other chickenpox symptoms?

"Often a child may have a fever, aches and pains and loss of appetite for a few days before the rash appears," says Dr Philippa. "By the time the rash appears, they are often feeling well again – but the rash can be very itchy."

What do I do if I think my child has it?

Treat the fever and soothe the itch. "And, as it’s very infectious, you should keep your child at home until all the spots have crusted over," says Dr Philippa.

2. Heat rash or prickly heat

Heat rash or prickly heat

What does heat rash look like?

Tiny, pin-sized, red or pink bumps or blisters.

Where on my child's body? Anywhere but most often in skin creases and/or in places tightly covered by clothing, says Nina Goad from the British Association of Dermatologists.

At what age? Any age.

How common is it? Pretty common, especially in young babies, and obviously more common during hot weather. 

How can I tell it's heat rash and not something else?

Heat rash is an obvious 1st guess if it's a hot day and your child has been running around and/or is wrapped up/dressed warmly or has been positioned close to a heat source (such as a radiator).

Are there other heat rash symptoms?

Your child's skin will feel hot, and it's likely your child's cheeks will look hot, too. The rash can feel itchy, stingy or prickly.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

It usually goes away on its own but you can ease symptoms with fluids and a cool bath. "You don't need to see a doctor," says Dr Philippa, "unless you're worried your child is very dehydrated."

3. Meningitis

meningitis rash
Pic: MeningitisUK.org

What does a meningitis rash look like?

Pinprick spots which spread quickly and then become purple or red blotches. The pinprick spots can be harder to see on black skin but may be more visible on the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands. The rash doesn't fade (or 'blanch'), even for a few seconds, when pressed with a glass.

Where on my child's body? Anywhere.

At what age? Any age.

How common is it? It's pretty rare, thanks to childhood immunisations.

How can I tell it's meningitis and not something else?

"A non-blanching rash can occur for other reasons," says Dr Philippa, "but if your child is also unwell or too sleepy to wake up, then you should seek urgent medical help.

What are other meningitis symptoms?

Your child will probably, and suddenly, be very unwell, with some or all of the following symptoms: high fever, floppiness, cold fingers and toes, drowsiness/unresponsiveness, looking blue, an odd cry.

More like this

What do I do if I think my child has it?

You should seek urgent medical help.

4. Measles

Measles

What does a measles rash look like?

A fine rash that looks red on white skin but not black skin. It starts small, then becomes blotchy, and the surface of the skin feels rough, like sandpaper.

Where on my child's body? It often starts on the head or neck and then moves down the body.

At what age? Any age but most common between the ages of 1 and 4.

How common is it? "Measles is not as common as it was because of the MMR immunisation," says Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol. "But anyone who has not been properly vaccinated is potentially at risk."

How can I tell it's measles and not something else?

A measles rash can look similar to a rubella, roseola or scarlet fever rashes. But children with measles often have small, greyish-white spots (called Koplik’s spots) on the inside of their cheeks before the main body rash appears.

What are other measles symptoms?

"Children with measles are generally unwell with high fever, sore, red eyes, a dry cough and a runny nose," says Dr Philippa. "They may also show sensitivity to light."

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"Phone your GP," says Dr Philippa. "You will be seen but you may have to wait in a side room to avoid infecting others. Give your child plenty of fluids and age-appropriate doses of medications to reduce the fever."

5. Eczema

What does an eczema rash look like?

"Very dry skin with inflamed patches that are red (on white skin) or either paler or darker (on black skin)," says Dr Philippa. "The skin may crack and blister and look scaly."

Where on my child's body? Anywhere but, in babies, it's more common on the face and arms. For toddlers and older children, it's more common on hands, insides of elbows and backs of knees.

At what age? From as early as 2 months. 

How common is it? It's the most common skin condition in young children, affecting 15 to 20% of those between 0 and 5 years.

How can I tell it's eczema and not something else?

It's the location, says Dr Philippa, on the 'flexural aspects' of the body. "That's the insides of the elbows, wrists and knees," she explains, "as well as under the neck and on the face."

What are other eczema symptoms?

It's incredibly itchy – so much so that your child might find it hard to sleep. Scratching the itch can also cause secondary infections, leading to large, weepy or crusty areas of skin.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"Avoid using soaps and perfumed products," says Dr Philippa."Instead, use simple emollient products, putting on moisturising cream at least 4 times a day. See your GP if things don't improve."

6. Rubella or German measles

rubella rash

What does a rubella rash look like?

Tiny, flat spots, which merge to form patches. The spots look pinkish-red on white skin; they can be harder to see on black skin but might feel rough and bumpy.

Where on my child's body? It usually starts on the forehead and behind the ears, and then spreads to the face and body.

At what age? Any age.

How common is it? "Less common since the advent of the MMR vaccine," says Dr Philippa, "although cases have been on the up in places like the US, where uptake of the vaccine has reduced."

How can I tell it's rubella and not something else?

Your child may have swollen glands at the back of the neck or beneath the ears. The rash spreads very rapidly (within hours) but then fades quickly (within 2 days).

What are other rubella symptoms?

Often, a child will feel unwell – cough, sore throat, runny nose – for 1 to 2 days before the rash appears. Then they have a fever. Rubella can also cause aching wrists, fingers or knees.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"Phone your GP," says Dr Philippa. "If you need to go in, expect to have to wait in a side room to avoid infecting others." Rubella causes a mild illness in children but can seriously affect a baby in the womb, if passed on to a pregnant woman.

7. Impetigo

What does impetigo look like?

There are 2 types of impetigo: bullous impetigo and non-bullous impetigo, says Dr Clive Grattan, consultant dermatologist at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, London. "Bullous impetigo causes large, painless, fluid-filled blisters, and non-bullous impetigo causes sores that rupture quickly and leave a yellowy brown crust (as above)."

Where on my child's body? Usually clustered around the nose and mouth (though it can appear anywhere on the body).

At what age? It's most common among 2 to 5-year-olds.

How common is it? "It is pretty common in childhood," Dr Philippa says, "and it's highly contagious."

How can I tell if it's impetigo and not something else?

Impetigo can look a bit like cold sores (see number 20, below) or chickenpox (see number 1, above) but it doesn't tingle like cold sores do. Also, impetigo (a bacterial infection) tends to attack skin that's already damaged by things such as cuts, scratches or insect bites.

What are other impetigo symptoms?

There aren't really any. "Children are generally not unwell with impetigo," says Dr Philippa, "although, of course, it can be very uncomfortable."

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"Take them to the doctor," says Dr Philippa. "They will be treated with antibiotics (usually in a cream). It should clear up within a week or so."

8. Ringworm

What does ringworm look like?

An inflamed, itchy and/or scaly circle of skin that spreads outwards, leaving paler skin in the centre. (It's actually a fungal infection and has nothing to do with worms.)

Where on my child's body? "It can occur anywhere on the body or scalp," Dr Philippa says. "When it’s on the scalp, the rash doesn’t tend to be so round – you may notice it under a bald spot on your toddler’s head."

At what age? Generally between the ages of 2 and 10.

How common is it? Pretty common.

How can I tell if it's ringworm and not something else?

Ringworm does look similar to discoid eczema (see number 5, above) but, unlike discoid eczema, has a lighter, 'healed' centre and is often confined to one circular patch.

What are other ringworm symptoms?

There aren't any. "Ringworm doesn’t make you unwell, although, occasionally, it can be itchy," says Dr Philippa.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"Your local pharmacist may be able to advise on an appropriate antifungal cream or go to your GP for advice," says Dr Philippa. It is (slightly) infectious but your child doesn't need to stay off school.

9. Slapped cheek or Fifth disease

What does Slapped Cheek disease look like?

"A bright red rash on the cheeks, which can look slightly lacy or raised," says Dr Philippa. "It looks as the name sounds – as if you have been slapped round the face!"

Where on my child's body? The rash starts on the cheeks and, approximately 4 days later, spreads over the chest, stomach and legs.

At what age? Usually between the ages of 4 and 10.

How common is it? Very common. It is the 5th most common disease in children – and is spread by droplets of saliva.

How can I tell if it's Slapped Cheek and not something else?

The rash can look like a rubella rash at first (number 6, above) but, as its name suggests, it's the burning cheeks that are the telltale sign. The rash also lasts longer than rubella (which tends to disappear within 2 days).

What are other Slapped Cheek symptoms?

"Children tend to be unwell for a day or so before the rash appears, with a fever, cough or runny nose and decreased appetite," says Dr Philippa.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"If your child has a fever," says Dr Philippa, "give them fluids and age-appropriate doses of painkillers." There's no need for them to stay off school– once the rash appears, your child is no longer infectious. Do contact anyone who is pregnant and has been in contact with your child, though: Slapped Cheek is risky in pregnancy and they will need to seek medical advice.

10. Hand, Foot and Mouth disease

What does Hand, Foot and Mouth look like?

"A rash on the palms of hands and soles of feet which can then turn into small blisters," says Dr Philippa. "Ulcers or white lesions also appear in the mouth."

Where on my child's body? On the hands and feet, with ulcers appearing in the mouth.

At what age? 2 to 10 years old.

How common is it? Fairly common.

How can I tell it's Hand, Foot and Mouth and not something else?

It's sometimes mistaken for chickenpox but, as the name suggests, the spots tend only to form on the hands and feet and in the mouth.

What are other Hand, Foot and Mouth symptoms?

Fever, reduced appetite and a sore throat are all early symptoms.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

Dab calamine lotion on the spots if they're itchy and avoid acidic fruit juices while your child's mouth is sore (ice lollies may help). "Give fluids and age-appropriate medicine to bring the fever down, if required," adds Dr Philippa.

11. Nappy rash

nappyrash

What does nappy rash look like?

Sore, angry patches or spots that may look shiny and glazed. They can sometimes look pimply, too.

Where on my child's body? On or around your baby’s bottom and genitals.

At what age? Any child who wears nappies can get it. 

How common is it? Mild nappy rash is extremely common. A severe rash is rare.

How can I tell it's nappy rash and not something else?

If it's in the 'nappy' area and looks sore, it's probably nappy rash (also called 'irritant dermatitis'). There are other kinds of dermatitis that can affect the same area but those rashes aren't itchy or sore.

What are other nappy rash symptoms?

You might seem some blisters, and your baby could be distressed and clearly uncomfortable.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

Change nappies often, and let your baby go nappy-free whenever possible. Try using warm tap water, rather than wipes, to clean your baby's bottom, then pat dry and moisturise with a barrier cream. See your GP if it doesn't clear up.

12. Roseola

What does a roseola rash look like?

A splotchy rash with spots that are about 2 to 3mm wide, some with raised areas.

Where on my child's body? "It tends to start on the trunk – chest and back, before spreading to the rest of the body," says Dr Philippa.

At what age? It’s most common in children aged 6 months old to 3 years.

How common is it? It's very common.

How can I tell it's roseola and not something else?

It's often mixed up with measles but measles goes from head to foot, rather than starting on the trunk like roseola. On the thighs and bottom, the rash may be surrounded by a fine halo.

What are other roseola symptoms?

It usually starts with an abrupt, high fever – and once that's gone, the rash will appear. Your child may also have a sore throat, slightly swollen glands, diarrhoea, a cough and a runny nose.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"No specific treatment is required, bar plenty of fluids, rest and treating any fever," says Dr Philippa. It's usually all over in 2 to 3 days.

13. Hives (or urticaria or nettle rash)

What does a hives rash look like?

White, yellow or red, slightly raised, itchy weals of different sizes and shapes, often surrounded by redness.

Where on my child's body? It can appear anywhere, although it tends to be limited to one part of the body. It can then fade, and reappear elsewhere. 

At what age? Any age

How common is it?  "Fairly common," says Dr Philippa, "One in 5 people will get hives at some point in their lives."

How can I tell it's hives and not something else?

A hives rash appears suddenly, and the weals can fade or change shape or be replaced by others .

What are other hives symptoms?

There aren't usually any other symptoms. But, says Dr Philippa, if the rash is accompanied by swelling of the face or neck, puffy eyes or difficulty breathing, you should seek urgent medical help.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

As long as there's no facial swelling (see above), just wait for the rash to disappear of its own accord (usually within a few days). Antihistamines can help calm the itch (talk to your pharmacist about the appropriate dose). It's worth knowing that hives are often caused by an allergen, such as nettles (hence 'nettle rash'), nuts, fish, egg, strawberries, a wasp/bee sting or antibiotics.

14. Molluscum contagiosum

What does a molluscum rash look like?

"Small, pearly, raised dome-shaped lesions which often have a central dimple in them," says Dr Philippa. "If you squeeze one, a thick, yellowish substance would come out – but don’t do this as you'll spread the infection!"

Where on my child's body? It can appear anywhere but children are most likely to have it on their arms, face, neck, chest, bottom and stomach.

At what age? Any age but it's more common in children under 5 and children with allergies.

How common is it? Common in childhood.

How can I tell it's molluscum and not something else?

The spots look a bit like warts but, as they tend to come in patches of 20 or so, you'll probably quickly know it's molluscum, not warts.

What are other molluscum symptoms?

The spots may be itchy but your child won't feel otherwise unwell.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"Nothing," says Dr Philippa. "Left alone, the spots will disappear and heal without scarring. They can take a long time to disappear, though – generally 18 months or longer." Molluscum is mildly contagious – it's spread by touching clothes or sharing towels and bedding – but you don't need to keep your school off school or nursery.

15. Scarlet fever

What does a scarlet fever rash look like?

"Raised pinhead spots that spread fast," says Dr Philippa. "On white skin, it looks pink or red; on black skin, less so but, in all skin types, as the rash fades – after 2 to 3 days – the skin feel rough and sandpapery. The cheeks can be flushed but the area around the mouth is not usually affected."

Where on my child's body? The neck, tummy, chest and back – but not, usually, around the mouth.

At what age? It's most common in children aged between 5 years and 15 years.

How common is it? "It is relatively common, though less usual in children under 3 years," says Dr Philippa.

How can I tell it's scarlet fever and not something else?

It can look like a bad sunburn but it'll have other symptoms (see below). And also the tongue often has a white coating with red spots, which, after a day or two, comes off to reveal a strawberry-red swollen tongue.

What are other scarlet fever symptoms?

"A fever and sore throat that often starts a few days before the rash appears," says Dr Philippa. Your child may also lose interest in food.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"See a GP," says Dr Philippa. "Scarlet fever is an infectious, notifiable disease that's usually treated with antibiotics." Your child will need to stay at home until the days after the fever subsides or 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment.

16. Lyme disease

What does a Lyme disease rash look like?

"The classic rash of early Lyme disease looks like a bullseye: a very large (10cm to 15 cm) circular ring, which may be raised, around a central tick bite," says Dr Philippa. "It tends to appear within 4 weeks of the bite but can take up to 3 months."

Where on my child's body? It can occur anywhere on the body.

At what age? It's most common in children aged 5 to 9 years old.

How common is it? "That depends where you live: it's  more common in more rural regions," says Dr Philippa.

How can I tell it's Lyme disease and not something else?

Ringworm can look similar but, with ringworm, the circular rash is smaller (1cm or 2cm) and has a raised and sometimes crusty edge.

What are other Lyme disease symptoms?

"Early stage Lyme disease can have no symptoms or may be associated with headaches, joint pains, swollen glands, fatigue and fever," says Dr Philippa. "The rash is not always present."

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"See your doctor, " says Dr Philippa. "The treatment for Lyme disease – which is an infection transmitted through a tick bite – involves a course of antibiotics."

17. Milk spots (or milk rash or milia)

milkspots
Pic: Dr P. Marazzi/Science Photo Libary

What do milk spots look like?

Tiny, pearly white or yellowish spots on the face that feel hard to the touch.

Where on my child's body? Usually around the eyes, cheeks, bridge of the nose and across the forehead, although they can also appear on your baby’s back and chest.

At what age? A baby's first few weeks, often from newborn.

How common is it? Very common in very young babies.

How can I tell it's milk spots and not something else?

Milk spots are often confused with baby acne (see no 21) but baby acne usually doesn't appear till your baby's 3 to 6 months old, while milk spots are very much a newborn thing.

What are other milk spot symptoms?

There usually aren't any; the spots aren't itchy or painful.

What do I do if I think my baby has them?

Leave them alone – they will disappear on their own. Picking them could cause scarring as this will break the skin surface, which acts as a natural protective barrier.

18. Scabies

What does a scabies rash look like?

"Scabies can be quite difficult to see at first," says Dr Philippa. "You may be able to to see little silvery lines with a darker dot a the end – the burrows of the mites that are causing it. Then there may be a more widespread rash of small bumps, spots, blisters and scabs."

Where on my child's body? Between the fingers, on the hands and wrists, son the feet, in armpits and groin. In babies, on the face, scalp and neck too. 

At what age? Any age .

How common is it? Pretty common.

How can I tell it's scabies and not something else?

The full scabies rash can look like acne pimples or mosquito bites but what sets it apart from these is the super-itchiness that comes with it.

What are other scabies symptoms?

Intense itching, especially after a warm bath or shower and at night.

What do I do if I think my child it?

"It's very infectious, so you'll need to treat it quickly," says Dr Philippa. "Scabies is treated with a skin cream/lotion to kill the mites, and the treatment is repeated after a week." Your child should stay off school until the treatment is started, and there are various washing/vaccuming tasks you'll need to do.

19. Cradle cap

cradlecap

What does cradle cap look like?

Flaky, scaly skin that may be yellowy brown or look like dead skin.

Where on my child's body? On your baby's forehead and scalp and maybe in the nappy area.

At what age? From 2 weeks to 6 months (though, once started, in can continue beyond 6 months).

How common is it? Fairly common in newborns and very common in babies at around 3 months.

How can I tell it's cradle cap and not something else?

It's pretty identifiable – those scaly patches on the head don't look like anything else.

What are other cradle-cap symptoms?

No: the scales can be red and sore but they shouldn't be itchy.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"The important thing is never to pick or scratch off the scales," says midwife and specialist health visitor Karina Dyer. "This will only make the skin more sore. Leave them to drop off naturally instead. If it persists though, see your GP."

20. Cold sores (fever blisters)

What do cold sores look like?

Small clear itchy/painful blisters, surrounded by inflamed skin, that appear in clusters. They quickly crust over.

Where on my child's body? On the face, most often around the mouth and lips.

At what age? From about the age of 5. Rare (but serious) in newborns

How common is it? Extremely common.

How can I tell it's a cold sore and not something else?

Cold sores can look a bit like impetigo (see number 7, above) though impetigo spots don't tingle like cold sores do and impetigo can appear on parts of the body other than the mouth.

What are other cold sore symptoms?

"A cold sore tends to be felt before the lesion appears, with a tingling/burning sensation in the area," says Dr Philippa.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

"You can get over-the-counter antiviral ointment from your local pharmacy," says Dr Philippa. "It is best to apply this as soon as you notice the tingling sensation; you don’t need to wait for the lesion to appear." See a GP if your baby gets a cold sore or if your child gets repeated attacks.

21. Baby acne

What does baby acne look like?

Similar to teenage acne: a mixture of blackheads, whiteheads and raised spots that may look 'angry' and/or be filled with fluid or pus.

Where on my child's body? On the face, especially the cheeks.

At what age? Spots usually first appear at between 3 to 6 months

How common is it? Not very common but more common in boys than girls.

How can I tell it's baby acne and not something else?

Baby acne is sometimes mistaken for milk spots (see number 17, above) but milk spots usually only appear in the 1st few weeks of life, whereas baby acne tend not to appear until your baby is 3 months or older.

What are other baby acne symptoms?

Your baby might also have mild skin inflammation around the acne.

What do I do if I think my child has it?

See your GP, who may prescribe an antibiotic cream. "If it’s a severe case," says paediatric dermatologist Dr Tim Clayton of Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, "your GP may refer you to a dermatologist."

22. Oral thrush

oral thrush on baby's tongue

What does oral thrush look like?

A white 'furring' on your baby’s tongue and white spots inside the mouth.

Where on my child's body? On the tongue and inside the mouth.

At what age? Usually, babies under 6 months

How common is it? Very common

How can I tell it's oral thrush and not something else?

The white 'furring' on the tongue can look like leftover milk but when (gently) wiped away, it will leave sore red patches.

What are other oral thrush symptoms?

Your baby may be reluctant to feed and may pull away from the breast or bottle. They may also be miserable and hard to settle.

What do I do if I think my baby has it?

See your GP. Your baby will probably be prescribed an antifungal gel or liquid to be drop onto their tongue after every feed. And, if you're breastfeeding, you will probably be given an antifungal cream to rub on your nipples and areola after each feed.

23. Erythema neonatorum (erythema toxicum)

toxicum

What does erythema neonatorum rash look like?

A flat blotchy rash with pimply, clear or yellow, blistery spots in varying sizes.

Where on my child's body is it?All over but, most obviously, the trunk, face, arms and nappy area.

At what age? 2 to 4 days after birth.

How common is it? Very common

How can I tell it's erythema neonatorum and not something else?

It can look like a skin infection but, in such a newborn baby who is otherwise well, it's much more likely to be erythema neonaturum.

What are other erythema neonatorum symptoms?

There aren't any.

What do I do if I think my baby has it?

"Ask your GP or midwife to take a look, if you're worried," says Dr Philippa. "But there is no treatment: the rash will go away on its own in 2 to 3 days."

About our expert Dr Philippa Kaye

Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.

A note about our images. We have tried, where possible, to include pictures of all the spots and rashes we've featured on both black skin and white skin. Unfortunately, there is a definite lack of black-skin images of skin conditions in the picture libraries we depend on. We are particularly grateful to @Brownskinmatters on Instagram for letting us use some of their pictures. You can contribute to their work to build a database of dermatological conditions on non-white skin at their Go Fund Me page.

Pics: Getty Images/Science Photo Library/MFM users/@Brownskinmatters

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