The Not-So-Jolly Christmas Tree Rash

If you were to hear someone off-handedly mention “Christmas tree rash,” the first image to pop into your head is likely to be something jovial and utterly Christmas-y. Unfortunately, the Christmas tree rash has absolutely nothing in common with this winter holiday other than the shape of the rash’s formation, and it’s not nearly as cool as it sounds.

What is a Christmas Tree Rash?

Although the street name Christmas tree rash is thrown around a lot, the actual medical term for this condition is pityriasis rosea. It’s a rash that is thought to be triggered by some underlying viral infection, but in most cases doctors just aren’t sure what triggers this type of rash. It typically starts out as a large red spot called the herald or mother spot. It can usually be spotted either on the chest of the back, as this is generally where the rash occurs. This spot is called the mother spot because it seems to be the source of reproduction for the rash, causing a flurry of bumps, patches, and spots to develop all around the area.

If you haven’t seen this type of rash before, then stick with the description of a Christmas tree, because it’s a fairly accurate one! The primary spots move up the center of the abdomen or along the spine, creating a makeshift tree trunk, from which point other spots and bumps will spread in long, downward strokes to curve around one’s sides. This creates a makeshift point from between the shoulder blades or the upper portion of one’s chest.

The Rash of Unknown Origins

Multiple studies have been done on the Christmas tree rash and enough evidence has made researchers confident that the pityriasis rosea rash is not caused by bacteria, fungi, or even an allergic reaction; hence the reason why it is suspected to be the result of an underlying virus. Another factor that supports this theory is that people who have experienced pityriasis rosea in the past are much less likely to experience it again, which is usually the case with many viral infections. There also does not seem to be any evidence to support the idea that this type of reaction could run in families, like other types of dermatitis rashes. Based on the information gathered through studies, it would seem that this kind of rash can affect anyone of any age, race, or gender, although it does seem to happen a little more often in women than men, as well as adolescent individuals and young adults. It may be possible that this type of reaction is one borne of stress, especially given the age groups that seem to be affected slightly more than others.

Suggested Treatments

There’s no doubt that having to sport this kind of comically-shaped rash is definitely no fun at all, but there is silver lining to this cloud: the rash itself is harmless. If you’ve broken out in this type of rash then don’t be surprised at all if your doctor advises you to simply ignore it and let your body take care of the rash naturally. In reality, it’s basically a superficial occurrence because it rarely causes significant itching or other types of physical discomfort. For some, about 25 percent of infected individuals, the rash may cause mild itching for a while. Without any medical aid, your body would probably overcome the rash in about three to six weeks, although you should know that in some cases this type of rash has lasted as long as three months. If you don’t think you can tough it out then there are other options that you can pursue. It may be worthwhile to see a to obtain a prescription called erythromycin, which seems to have the ability to get rid of the rash up to 67% faster that the body would on its own. This medicine doesn’t work as a miracle rash-eraser, but it usually does help to speed up the overall elimination of the rash.

There are a few drugs that have seemed to contribute to the formation of this type of rash, such as bismuth and captopril, so if a person who has recently been taking one of these medicines were to suddenly break out in a tree-shaped rash on their back or torso, then the logical form of treatment would be to discontinue the use of the medicine. If that is not an option for you then ask your doctor about erythromycin. 


The rash itself isn’t contagious, so you can still go about your everyday schedule as usual. –But there is one thing that you should bear in mind: if there is, in fact, a viral basis behind the formation of this rash then there is a viable chance that you will pass this on to others. That being said, if the rash is your only symptom of the virus then you shouldn’t feel guilty about going to the grocery store or work. Or if your child has the rash then you shouldn’t feel inclined to keep them out of school (unless your doctor recommends this action). After all, it’s not like you have a highly contagious and heavily symptomatic form of the flu!