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What Is a Papule?

A papule is an area of abnormal skin tissue that is less than 1 centimeter around. A papule has distinct borders, and it can appear in a variety of shapes. Papules are often called skin lesions, which are essentially changes in the color or texture of your skin. Oftentimes, papules cluster together to form a rash.

In most cases, papules are not serious and can be relieved with home treatments. However, if the papules appear soon after you start a new medication, consult your doctor immediately. Also, if you suspect the papule is from a tick bite, you may want to consult your doctor, as ticks can carry Lyme disease.

How Will I Recognize a Papule?

Papules are usually small, only getting to be about the width of your fingernail. Your papule may have a dome shape or it may be flat on the top. Your papule may even be umbilicated, meaning it has a small impression that looks like a navel.

Why Do I Have Papules?

Papules can be caused by a number of conditions that affect the skin, but dermatitis, chickenpox, and eczema are among the most common.


Dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) is the most common cause of a papule. Dermatitis is a condition characterized by a rash, which can be made up of papules. Contact dermatitis is the most common form of dermatitis. This type is caused when certain materials touch the skin, creating an irritation or allergic reaction. Common culprits include:

  • latex and rubber
  • makeup
  • soap
  • chemicals and dyes on clothing
  • poison ivy or other such plants
  • jewelry


Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease that develops after an individual is infected with the varicella-zoster virus. Chickenpox can create an extremely itchy rash of papules on the skin.

This disease is easily spread through coughing and sneezing, and can be of serious detriment to babies, adults, and those with weakened immune systems. If you have never had chickenpox or have never been vaccinated against the disease, you have a greater risk of being infected.


Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is another common cause of papules. This condition is characterized by itchy, scaly rashes, blisters, and skin that is extremely dry. Eczema’s exact cause is unknown. An individual with eczema is often bothered by certain triggers. However, this condition is not caused by an allergy. Eczema is most commonly seen in infants, and this condition often disappears by adulthood.

Cutaneous Candidiasis

Cutaneous candidiasis is an infection of the skin that is caused by a fungus, most commonly Candida albicans. Cutaneous candidiasis may also be called a skin or yeast infection. The fungus causes diaper rashes in babies, and oral thrush or a yeast infection in adults.

Other Potential Causes

Though less common, the following may also cause papules:

  • an adverse reaction to a medicine
  • lichen planus (a non-contagious skin disease that often occurs on the wrist and is characterized by reddish-purple, shiny bumps)
  • psoriasis (a skin condition characterized by red, tough skin and flaky, scale-like patches)
  • shingles (a painful rash and blisters caused by a virus – herpes zoster)
  • leprosy (a disease characterized by skin sores, muscle weakness, and nerve damage)
  • acrodermatitis (a childhood skin condition that has been associated with viruses such as hepatitis B)
  • bug bites

When to See Your Doctor

If you’ve recently started a new medication and think you have developed papules as a result, talk to your doctor about your concern. Don’t stop taking any medications without letting your doctor know first. You might also want to see your doctor if you have papules as the result of a bug bite, like a tick. Some bugs, such as ticks, can carry harmful diseases like Lyme disease. Lyme disease can cause symptoms ranging from an uncomfortable rash to brain inflammation. Talk to your doctor if your symptoms don’t get better after attempting home treatment.

Treatment of Your Papule

In most cases, you can treat your papule effectively at home. Avoiding materials that irritate your skin can help clear the papules. Some additional treatment steps include:

  • not scrubbing your skin during cleaning
  • using warm, not hot, water and gentle soaps when washing
  • not putting makeup or lotions on the affected area
  • attempting to rule out any new makeup or lotion as the cause by discontinuing their use
  • letting the affected area get as much air as possible

If you or your child has papules as a result of chickenpox, the only treatment is letting the disease run its course. However, talk to your doctor if your child is a newborn or infant, has eczema, or if he or she already has a weakened immune system. These may present more serious complications.

If eczema is the culprit, you might want to try bath products made of oatmeal that can soothe your skin.

How You Can Keep Papules From Developing

Once you know the cause of your papules, it’s likely you’ll be able to prevent them. According to the Mayo Clinic, the chickenpox vaccine, for example, is effective in preventing chickenpox in about 90 percent of those who receive it (MayoClinic). Breast-feeding babies younger than four months is believed to reduce their risk of having childhood eczema. Keeping your skin clean and dry can help prevent cutaneous candidiasis.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Carmella Wint
Medically reviewed on: Nov 07, 2016: Nancy Choi, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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