Red Circles on Skin That Aren’t Ringworm

There are a number of different conditions that can cause red circles to appear on your skin. Some can be genetic, or a reaction to an allergen, while others are caused by bites or infection. They are often accompanied by other symptoms, which can help diagnose their cause. Some of these conditions are curable, while others aren’t, but in most cases there are ways of controlling the symptoms. Superdrug Online Doctor can quickly provide diagnosis and recommend treatment if you need it.

Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Development

Medically reviewed by

Dr Babak Ashrafi

Last reviewed: 21 Mar 2023

What Are Red Skin Circles?

Red skin circles are a common symptom of a number of different skin conditions. They can appear in the form of a rash but can also greatly vary in appearance depending on what has caused them. They are often accompanied by other symptoms such as itching, pain, or dry skin. These additional symptoms can often help your doctor determine what has caused them.

Red skin circles may also look different on darker skin tones. There has unfortunately been less research on red skin circles on non-caucasian skin tones, so people with darker skin may need to speak to a dermatologist or use an online skin diagnosis service to help identify their skin condition(s).

What is Ringworm?

Ringworm is a common skin infection, caused by a fungus. It is not caused by worms or any other type of parasite - the name comes from the circular or ring shaped rash you develop with the condition. Ringworm can occur on various parts of the body, and there are different names given to it depending on where it occurs. Areas that ringworm can affect, and what we call the condition when it does, include:

  • body - tinea corporis
  • scalp - tinea capatis
  • feet - tinea pedis (commonly known as athlete’s foot)
  • groin - tinea cruris (commonly known as jock strap)

You can catch ringworm by making direct skin contact with a person, animal, or object that is already infected. It can also be passed on through close contact with infected soil, although this is much less common.

The most common symptom of ringworm is a circular or ring shaped rash. This can look red, silver, or darker than the surrounding skin depending on your skin tone. Other symptoms include:

  • scaly or cracked skin
  • swollen skin
  • itching
  • hair loss
  • blisters

It is worth noting that there are a number of skin conditions which may give the appearance of ringworm, but are in fact an unrelated condition.

Common Causes of Red Circles on Your Skin


Acne is a common skin condition which most people experience at some point in their lives. Commonly linked to changes in hormones, it is often experienced during puberty but can develop at any age. It is most common on the face, back, and chest, and often causes clusters of spots which can be painful to the touch. There are several types of spots associated with acne, including:

  • blackheads – small and black or yellow in colour, often filled with pus
  • whiteheads – similar in appearance to blackheads, but often firmer and do not leak when squeezed
  • papules – small red bumps which may be painful to the touch
  • pustules – similar to papules, but with a white tip caused by a buildup of pus
  • nodules – larger hard lumps which build up beneath the surface of the skin and are sometimes painful
  • cysts – large pus-filled lumps which carry a greater risk of causing scarring

Acne can not be cured but the symptoms can be controlled using treatments like creams, lotions, gels, or oral antibiotics.


Angioedema is a swelling underneath the skin, often caused by a reaction to a medicine or something you are allergic to. The swelling mostly affects the hands, feet, lips, tongue, and genitals, and is often accompanied by a raised, itchy rash.You should contact a doctor to confirm the diagnosis or Y call 999 if it is accompanied by breathing difficulties or dizziness as these are signs of a severe allergic reaction. The swelling will usually get better after a few days, but in some cases taking antihistamines will help with recovery.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema, a condition which can cause dry, cracked, or itchy skin. It is usually a chronic condition which can develop shortly after birth, although it can occur for the first time in people of all ages. It often only appears in small patches, but it can become a more widespread inflammation across the body. Inflamed skin can turn red, purple, brown, or silver depending on your skin tone, and this may be harder to spot on darker skin.

Atopic dermatitis often occurs in people who suffer from allergies. It can run in families, and often develops alongside other conditions such as asthma or hay fever. There is no cure, but the symptoms can be managed with topical treatments and various self-care techniques.

Cercarial Dermatitis (swimmer’s itch)

Cercarial dermatitis, otherwise known as swimmer’s itch, is a rash caused by a parasitic worm. It’s most commonly caught by swimming or wading in fresh water sources such as ponds or lakes. The parasite can not survive in the human body, but can leave small red pimples or blisters on the areas of the skin which have made contact with water, and these may tingle, burn, or become itchy. This can last for several days but will eventually disappear without treatment. You can soothe the itching sensation with a damp cloth or ice pack, and bathing with Epsom salts.

Cherry angiomas

Cherry angiomas are common skin growths that can occur on most areas of the body. They can range in size from a pin point to a quarter of an inch, and are a bright red colour as they contain a high concentration of red blood cells. They are normally not a cause for concern unless they are bleeding often or make sudden changes in size, shape, or colour. The cause for cherry angiomas is not known, but they are more common in people over the age of 30 and become increasingly common the older you get.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema which is caused by contact with a particular substance. It is most commonly triggered by irritants such as soaps, detergents or solvents. Common symptoms include cracked, blistered, dry, or itchy skin, most commonly on the hands and face. Contact dermatitis can often be treated by avoiding the substances that have caused it, however this is not always possible. Your doctor may prescribe moisturisers or topical corticosteroids in these cases.

Granuloma annulare

Granuloma annulare is a rash that looks like a circle of small bumps, often pink, purple, or skin coloured. It’s caused by the tissue under the skin becoming hypersensitive and inflamed, although it is not clear what causes this to happen. It is most commonly found on the back of the hands, elbows, ankles, and feet and is more frequent in women than men. It is not normally painful and is not contagious. There is no really effective treatment for granuloma annulare and the rash usually disappears over a number of months.

Heat rash

Heat rash is caused by sweat glands becoming blocked, often from excessive sweating. Trapped sweat then causes a rash which can be very itchy and may be accompanied by mild swelling. The rash is often red, but may be less obvious on darker skin tones. It can not be passed on to other people, and will usually improve after a few days. If you have heat rash it is advised to keep your skin cool and to stay well hydrated. A damp cloth or ice pack can also be used to help calm the itching sensation.

Lichen planus

Lichen planus is a rash triggered by the immune system. What causes it is not fully understood, but there is evidence to suggest it can run in families. It often appears as clusters of shiny, raised blotches on the body or inside the mouth. It is often red, purple or white in colour and is commonly found on the the wrists, scalp, mouth, and genitals. Lichen planus on the skin will usually improve within 9 to 18 months, but may last for several years in the mouth. While uncomfortable, it is usually not a serious condition or contagious. Your doctor may prescribe a cream or ointment to help soothe the itching and control the rash.


Lupus is an autoimmune disease which can cause skin rashes, often on the nose and cheeks. The causes are not fully understood, but it has been suggested that puberty, childbirth, and menopause may all be possible triggers. Other symptoms of lupus include:

  • joint and muscle pain
  • extreme tiredness
  • headaches
  • mouth sores
  • high temperature
  • hair loss
  • sensitivity to light

Lupus can be life threatening in severe cases so it is important to speak to your doctor if you regularly experience any of the above symptoms. It is treated with a variety of medications, creams, and injections depending on the symptoms and their severity. Lupus is not contagious.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by bites from infected ticks. A circular or oval shaped rash will often appear within 1 to 4 weeks of being bitten. This rash can have a darker or lighter area in the centre similar to a bullseye on a dartboard. It is often pink, red, or purple in colour and may look like a bruise. This means it can be more difficult to spot on darker skin tones. The skin can be flat or slightly raised, although the rash is usually not itchy. Lyme disease can be treated with a course of antibiotics


Petechiae are small spots on the skin formed when blood vessels called capillaries break down. They are usually red or brown, and often appear on the arms, legs, stomach, and buttocks. There are a number of conditions that can cause petechiae and it can also be a side effect of certain medications. Some of the conditions which cause petechiae can be serious, so it’s important to speak to your doctor if you think you might have it. A helpful test is to press down on the spots. Since petechiae is not a rash, the spots will not turn white when pressed down on. If you also have a fever, sensitivity to light, a new headache or vomiting it’s important to seek urgent medical review as these can be signs of a more serious condition. Treatment will depend upon the cause of the condition, but may include antibiotics or corticosteroids.

Pityriasis rosea

Pityriasis rosea is a skin infection most common in children and young adults. A single circular patch of raised skin will typically appear first, followed by a widespread rash that can continue to spread for several weeks. This rash comes in the form of raised, scaly patches that can be up to 1.5cm in size. It often develops on the chest, back, stomach, neck, upper arms and upper thighs. The rash is often itchy but not painful. In the days leading up to the rash appearing some people have reported headaches, high temperatures and joint pains.

The cause of pityriasis rosea is not currently fully understood. It is not contagious and will normally start to improve without treatment within 12 weeks, but treatments including creams and ointments can be prescribed by your doctor if you experience discomfort and itching.


Psoriasis is a condition caused by the overproduction of skin cells. The resulting buildup of cells causes flaky patches of skin which may form into scales. These patches can appear anywhere on the body but are most common on the elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back. They are often contained in small patches, and their colour can vary depending on your skin tone. There is no cure for psoriasis, but a number of treatments such as creams, light treatments, and medications exist to help improve the symptoms.

Purpura (blood spots)

Purpura, also known as blood spots, occurs when blood vessels burst and cause blood to pool under the skin. They are often dark red or purple and can range in size from small dots to large patches. They are often benign, but in some cases may indicate a more serious condition, such as a blood clotting disorder so it’s important to contact a doctor urgently if you develop purpura. Treatment depends on the cause of the burst vessels, and the spots may disappear without intervention in some cases. In more severe instances your doctor may advise you to stop taking blood thinning medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen, or prescribe corticosteroids.

Should I See a Doctor About Red Circles on My Skin?

There are a number of reasons you may have red circles on your skin, and this symptom alone is often not enough to require medical attention. You should, however, speak to your doctor or call 111 if you experience any of the following along with a rash:

  • joint or muscle pain
  • fever
  • extreme tiredness
  • hair loss
  • sensitivity to light
  • drowsiness
  • vomiting
  • Headache
  • feeling very unwell

You should immediately call 999 if you or someone you are with experience difficulty breathing, dizziness, or collapsing as this may indicate a severe allergic reaction.

How Do I Know What’s Causing the Red Circles on My Skin?

It can be difficult to determine the cause of red circles on the skin. There are a number of conditions, circumstances, or biological reactions that may be affecting them, and you may not be displaying any additional symptoms. If you are looking to better understand the cause of red circles on your skin, you may wish to contact your chemist, GP, a dermatologist or use an online service such as Superdrug’s Online Skin Diagnosis.


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