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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : I have been getting red patches on my face and neck that look like sunburn. There is no swelling or bumps. But lately they've been getting more red and prominent — especially around the neck. What might cause this?
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The Trusted Source
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Rebecca Campen, M.D., J.D., is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. She divides her time between clinical practice of dermatology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and private practice in Savannah, Ga.

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July 19, 2011
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A:

A common cause of redness of the face and neck is contact dermatitis.

Your skin may have developed an allergy to an ingredient in a product you use or a product may simply irritate the skin.

Keep this in mind: Just because you have used a product for many years does not mean that the product is not the reason for your redness and/or irritation. Skin can become sensitive to products, even ones you have used for many years. Also, companies may add a new ingredient to which you may be sensitive.

In the summer, sun exposure can cause sunburn. Sun exposure can also act in concert with products applied to the skin. This can lead to "photocontact dermatitis." Oral drugs, such as tetracyclines and certain diuretics, can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. The result is redness on sun exposed areas, such as the face and neck.

Certain conditions, such as rosacea, can be made worse by sun exposure. Red patches can develop on the cheeks, nose, and sometimes the forehead and chin. Sometimes, pink or red bumps appear on these areas. You may also see tiny blood vessels called telangiectasia.

Protect yourself from the sun. Wear sun-protective clothing and use sunscreen. And check the sunscreen ingredients. Some can contribute to facial redness in people who are sensitive to certain ingredients. For example, PABA is a common sunscreen ingredient, but some people are sensitive to it. If your skin turns red where you apply sunscreen, look for "PABA free" sunscreens.

Because perfume can cause skin irritation, use unscented skin products. Try a mild, unscented soap for bathing and an unscented moisturizer if your skin is dry. Avoid spraying or dabbing perfume around your neck.

There are many causes of face and neck redness, so be sure to see your doctor if the problem continues.

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