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Find out more about sweat rash

Find out what sweat rash is, what causes it and who is at risk of getting it. Learn about sweat rash symptoms, treatment and prevention.

What is sweat rash?

Sweat rash can be itchy and even painful, but you don’t have to worry about catching it: it’s not contagious. Also known as intertrigo, sweat rash is an inflammatory skin condition. It shows up between the folds of your skin as a reddish rash, where your skin rubs together and where there is less air circulation.

You will normally see it under your arms, in the crease of your neck, on the backs of your knees, under your breasts, in the groin area and between abdominal skin folds. The areas between your skin folds are warm and moist, which creates a welcome environment for germs to grow.

Sweat rash is often accompanied by an infection caused by Candida yeast, other types of fungus or bacteria.

What causes sweat rash?

The factors that can cause inflammation of your skin or worsen it include: moisture, heat, lack of air circulation and friction between skin folds. Additionally, sweat, urine and feces can contribute to this condition.

Who is at risk at getting sweat rash?

You are more likely to get a sweat rash if you:

  • are overweight,

  • have diabetes,

  • have a weakened immune system,

  • have a splint, brace or artificial limb,

  • are exposed to high heat and humidity,

  • use clothing and shoes that are too tight,

  • are confined to bed for a long period of time.

Sweat rash is most common in the summer months or amongst people who do a lot of sports. Infants often get intertrigo because of their chubbiness, short necks and flexed posture – while adorable, those baby skin folds are ideal for moisture to collect, so it’s important to clean them regularly.

Sweat rash symptoms

Intertrigo starts as a red rash or small bumps or spots in your skin folds. After that you can experience symptoms such as: 

  • red rash with scaling on the periphery 

  • stinging skin, 

  • burning skin, 

  • broken skin (in the space between fingers or toes), 

  • blisters 

If it is not infected, the rash is usually symmetrical. It can appear on both sides of your skin folds, under both arms or both breasts. The reddish area can quickly become inflamed and raw. Your skin may start to crack, bleed, ooze, and crust over, and the surrounding area may become scaly. 

If a secondary infection develops, which can be caused by bacteria, fungus or yeast, the intertrigo becomes more inflamed and may develop a foul-smelling odor. 

Female athlete with white towel around her neck holding water bottle and smiling, happy after Canesten sweat rash treatment

Sweat rash treatment

The treatment of intertrigo will depend on if it is just an inflammatory condition or if you also have an infection. If your skin is only showing the signs of inflammation (such as redness, itching or burning), you can use a cream that is anti-inflammatory. If you have sweat rash associated with infection, you should treat it with a topical (a drug placed directly on your skin) anti-fungal.  

Canesten offers different range of products which contain different active ingredients that will be appropriate for you depending on the severity of your symptoms: 

  • Canesten Plus is an anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal treatment that helps provide rapid relief from your symptoms while also attacking the fungal infection.
  • Canesten Once Daily Bifonazole Body Cream is a convenient and effective treatment for fungal skin infections like sweat rash, requiring only one application of the cream per day

Keep your infected areas cool, clean and dry to avoid sweat rash. 

You should see a doctor if your symptoms persist. In cases of bacterial infection, your doctor might prescribe an oral antibiotic. 

If you are pregnant or elderly, anti-fungal medication might not be suitable for you. Your doctor can recommend an alternative treatment. 

Sporty man with black watch tying shoe

Preventing sweat rash

You can try and lower the risk of getting intertrigo. These tips can help you:

  •  Keep your skin cool, dry and exposed to air.

  • Pat rather than rub your skin. Dry-rubbing may damage your skin and spread infection.

  • Always wash your hands after applying a treatment to avoid spreading infection.

  • Clean your skin gently, moisturise or apply a skin barrier protectant cream.

  • Use fragrance-free soaps and other skin products to minimize irritation.

  • Don’t wear tight clothing or shoes that can constrict the affected area. If your toes are affected, wear open-toe shoes.

  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes that may rub your skin and choose natural fabrics (like cotton) over synthetic fibers (like lycra and nylon) as the latter reduce the amount of air which reaches the skin.