Expert Advice

What To Know About “Disney Rash,” The Red & Itchy Souvenir You Don’t Want To Get On Vacay

Yep, it’s a real condition.

Originally Published: 
If you have a Disney trip planned, you should be aware of the Disney rash so it doesn't throw a wren...
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Mickey Mouse ears, Disney pins, autograph books, Mickey Mouse ears-shaped balloons, and… Disney rash? Out of all the fanatic, er, fantastic Disney souvenirs and trinkets you and the kids could leave your Disney World trip with, we bet an itchy and swollen leg rash wasn't high on the list. If you're a member of Disney social media groups, a frequent Disney World park-goer, or know someone who's either, you may have heard about the strange and very uncomfortable phenomenon popping up on park guests' legs. The red, swollen splotchiness is called Disney rash or Disney vasculitis.

Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, tells Scary Mommy that Disney rash "typically looks like red or purple spots or patches on the lower legs." You may notice the rash start to itch or burn; these are both common symptoms. Disney rash is more likely to occur in especially hot or humid environments, where the body is more prone to inflammation and overheating. This might explain why you experience Disney rash at Disney World, but not Disneyland. The rash itself typically isn't a cause for concern, but its appearance can be very alarming, especially if you aren't aware of why it's happening.

No need to fret — Dr. Zubritsky and fellow dermatologist Dr. Kimberly Shao have all the intel you need on why Disney rash occurs, tips for treatment, and actions you can take to prevent it from happening again. So, read up before heading to "the most magical place on earth" for your big summer vacation.

What is Disney rash?

According to Shao, "Disney rash" classically refers to a condition called exercise-induced vasculitis. "It's caused by swelling of the lower legs and ankles due to an increase in standing and/or walking in the heat. This swelling causes inflammation of the small blood vessels in our skin," she explains.

Fun fact: Another name for the Disney rash is golfer's vasculitis, which is the population of people it was first described in. And in case you were wondering, no, it is not contagious!

How do you get rid of Disney rash?

Disney rash relatively goes away on its own within two to three weeks (we know, it's a tragically long time). However, there are things you can do for temporary relief at Disney World and back at home.

  • Rest and elevate your leg(s). If you notice the beginnings of Disney rash while at Disney World, try incorporating intermittent rest and leg elevation breaks during your visit.
  • Consider wearing longer compression socks to help keep swelling down. Shao recommends moisture-wicking ones that can help you stay cool as well.
  • When you get back to your room, soak your feet and lower legs in a cool bath or wrap them in towels soaked in cold water.
  • If the rash begins to itch, an over-the-counter antihistamine like Zyrtec (cetirizine) or a topical steroid such as cortisone may help.

While at the park, if the pain or itching becomes too much to bear, Shao suggests visiting one of Disney's first aid centers, as they usually have supplies on hand to help you cool down — and possibly even an anti-itch solution.

Is Disney rash dangerous? When should you see a doctor?

Typically, Disney rash isn't something to be too concerned about. Shao says it generally fades away in about two to three weeks, but you should still monitor the rash to make sure it isn't progressing. Likewise, you should also take the necessary steps (rest and leg elevation) for healthy healing.

If you do notice the rash getting worse or developing into open sores or blisters, contact a dermatologist for an examination and additional treatment. "It's especially important to monitor for infection in case of open wounds," Shao explains. "Other types of vasculitis can be exacerbated by exercise. If you are experiencing systemic issues like fever, swollen lymph nodes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stool and/or urine, asymmetric leg swelling, numbness, trouble breathing, joint and muscle aches, or malaise, you should contact a physician."

Can you prevent Disney rash?

Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent this type of rash. Here are preventative steps the experts recommend taking before and during your trip to Disney:

  • Before you go, consider taking longer walks to help your body prepare for increased exercise. Disney park-goers can end up walking seven to 10 miles a day!
  • Hydration is key. Bring a water bottle that you can refill throughout the day. "This may seem counterintuitive but proper hydration can help prevent exercise-induced vasculitis," per Shao.
  • Avoid salty foods, which can make swelling worse.
  • Take sitting and leg elevation breaks when possible, preferably in air-conditioned areas, to help your body cool down.
  • Wear compression socks or stockings.
  • Massage your legs throughout the day to help reduce swelling.
  • Protect your skin — all exposed skin, including your face, arms, shoulders, and back — from UV rays. "I recommend either using a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher, or wearing light, breathable long pants," Zubritsky says.

Finally, if you know you or your family is prone to the Disney rash, consider going to the themed parks during cooler months. "Overall, the Disney rash, while it can be itchy and uncomfortable, is not dangerous," Shao assures. "Don't panic, stay cool, and have fun!"

What looks like Disney rash?

If it's not Disney Rash, it could be one of the following skin irritations that tend to pop up during sunny vacations.

  • Heat rash happens when you're in humid weather. When there is a lot of skin-to-skin or fabric rubbing, it can lead to irritation.
  • Sunburn looks like red blotches and is also known as sun poisoning. This can also lead to itchy skin or blisters. Wearing sunscreen or UV-protection clothes can help you rule out sunburn when checking for a Disney rash.
  • Contact dermatitis happens when your skin is irritated by things you might be allergic to. Hotel soaps can cause this, or even the detergent used to wash your sheets.
  • Urticaria occurs when your body temperature increases and resembles a hive-like inflammation.
  • Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac can cause your red and swollen blotches if you’re having a more outdoorsy vacation. They can turn into blisters if scratched and are caused by the urushiol in these plants. Symptoms usually last between two to three days or longer if left untreated.

Expert Sources:

Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist

Kimberly Shao, MD, dermatologist

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