Prickly Skin

The Causes of Prickly Skin

Most of us are familiar with the sensation of prickly skin. This is a condition that most of us will experience at least once in our lifetime, although some of us experience it much more often than others. Prickly skin is a quirky condition that can be caused by a number of things. The people who experience this sensation are so varied that it can oftentimes be difficult for scientists to put it down to a definite factor.


Prickling of skin can be described in a number of ways. To some it may feel as though the skin is being pricked by tons of tiny needles. In this circumstance, the sensation is often accompanied by burning or itching. As one could imagine, this can be very uncomfortable for the person experiencing it, especially if they are unable to avoid the “trigger.” To others, prickly skin may simply feel and look like goose bumps. Goose bumps are small bumps that form on the skin. Depending on the cause behind these bumps, they may appear red and be accompanied by itching, or they may simply appear as skin-colored bumps with no real discomfort associated with them. Goose bumps can affect the entire body in one go or they can be localized, such as on the chest, back, arms, legs, or scalp.


Prickly skin can be caused by a number of things. The most likely cause behind this condition is a change in temperature. A sudden change from warm to cold often produces prickly skin or goose bumps. This is caused by the tiny muscles located in the skin bunching up tightly. This is what produces the little bumps you see on the skin. The muscles react this way in an attempt to prevent the body’s heat from escaping too rapidly—kind of like an adjustable insulator. The forcefulness of this reaction and too-cool temperatures can result in shivering.

Another possible cause is heat. When one experiences excessively warm temperatures, hot flashes, or even embarrassment, the body can produce a reaction known as “prickly heat.” Prickly heat causes the skin to produce red, itchy bumps accompanied by burning or prickling sensations. Prickly heat occurs when the body’s sweat glands become blocked by dead skin cells, dirt, or bacteria. When the temperature becomes warm the glands try to produce sweat even though the glands are blocked, resulting in a buildup of sweat on the skin. The rash may be localized or it may occur all over the body. Embarrassment was mentioned earlier as a potential cause of this, and you may be wondering why. Some people experience a rise in body temperature when they become embarrassed or nervous. This reaction usually causes a flush in one’s skin color, but if the sweat glands are blocked, prickly heat may result.

Treatment Methods

Prickly skin is not a cause for serious concern. The symptoms will go away by themselves and usually do not take long to do so. If the prickling sensation is a result of a change from warm temperatures to cool temperatures, then the treatment should consist of getting the body back to a warmer temperature. A sweater or a blanket may be all one needs to cure the goose bumps or chills. If prickling occurs as a result of heat, one should wash the area using a cotton pad and lukewarm water. After this is done, the area should be dried, and then antihistamine or cortisone cream can be applied. An alternative to these creams is calamine lotion, and is great for relieving itchiness or a burning sensation. An oatmeal bath may also help to soothe the skin, particularly if it is followed up with an application of moisturizing body lotion.