Pityriasis rosea

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Pityriasis rosea is a harmless skin condition that usually starts with a small circular red patch on the skin. It’s then followed by a widespread rash across the body, which can be itchy. Read more to find out the symptoms and what you can do about it.

What is pityriasis rosea?

‘Pityriasis’ means scaly and ‘rosea’ means pink. The skin condition usually starts with a scaly red patch (called the herald or mother patch) that grows into a wider rash. This happens usually within 2 weeks, and can spread to your chest, upper arms, thighs or necks. The condition usually gets better on its own without around 12 weeks.

Although pityriasis rosea can affect anyone, it’s more common among older children and young adults.

What causes pityriasis rosea?

The exact cause of pityriasis rosea is unknown but it’s not contagious and usually gets better on its own – within 2 months. We do know that the condition can happen after a viral infection, it’s more common during winter and certain medications like antibiotics and vaccines can cause it, too.

What are the symptoms of pityriasis rosea?

The key symptoms of the skin condition include:

  • Feeling unwell

You may start to feel unwell a few days before the first rash appears, including a running nose, fatigue, headache and/or high temperature

  • Mother or herald patch

You will then get the first scaly patch that’s usually oval or circular and can be red or pink. This can be itchy and is generally larger than the rash that follows.

  • Wider rash

A few days later, you’ll get a wider rash. The rash tends to be made up of smaller patches in clusters that are symmetrical. The colour of the patches can vary. For light-skinned people, the patch colour is pinky or red, however, for darker skin, it can appear as grey, dark brown or black. Overall, it lasts between 2-3 months.

People with darker skin may experience a dark patch after pityriasis rosea has healed, called hyperpigmentation. This eventually fades.

How is pityriasis rosea diagnosed?

A doctor can diagnose the condition by taking a look at the rash and discussing your symptoms.

If there is doubt over the diagnosis then you may be referred for further investigation.

How is pityriasis rosea treated?

Pityriasis rosea usually goes away on its own. However, some treatments can help manage itching:

  • Mild corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone cream

  • Emollients to help with the itching

  • Antihistamines to reduce inflammation

  • Other stronger steroid cream/UV light might be recommended if the previous treatments aren’t working and your rash is very itchy

If your child has pityriasis rosea there is no need to keep them off school.

When should I speak to a doctor about pityriasis rosea?

If your rash is painful, very itchy, or doesn’t clear up after 2 months, speak to a doctor.

How can Livi help?

A Livi healthcare professional can discuss your symptoms and take a look at your rash. They can refer you for potential investigation or prescribe and suggest creams or medications that can help with the itchiness.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi