Eczema is a common skin condition which can affect people of all ages — it often first occurs in children, but can appear for the first time at any age.
Eczema causes dry, painful or itchy skin and can be difficult to live with. Though it is usually a long-term condition, flare-ups and symptoms can be effectively managed using medication and skincare products.
Knowing what eczema looks like can help you to see a dermatologist or a doctor and get your eczema diagnosed and treated.
Eczema looks different on people of different skin tones, so it is essential to know what to look for to identify eczema correctly. This article will explore what eczema is and what it might look like. We will also discuss the different types of eczema and the range of treatment options available.
What is eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes the skin to become dry, itchy and cracked. It is also known as atopic dermatitis.
Eczema symptoms can include:
- Dry skin
- Cracked skin
- Scaly patches
Some or all of the above symptoms may be present in someone with eczema. These symptoms can occur anywhere on the body but are most commonly found on the hands, the inside of the elbows, the back of the knees and neck, as well as the scalp and face.
Eczema is normally uncomfortable but not painful — though itchy, painful sores or blisters can sometimes occur. This is why it is so crucial to get effective treatment for eczema, to help manage the symptoms and avoid scarring or pain from scratching.
The stages of eczema
Eczema has three stages:
- The acute stage is when the first rash appears or itching begins
- The subacute stage is the middle stage — burning and stinging are more intense, but symptoms such as itching may be less severe than in the acute stage
- The chronic stage refers to flare-ups that are longer-lasting (generally three or more months)
Each stage of eczema has its own distinct symptoms.
What does eczema look like?
Eczema can look different depending on the area of the body that is affected, as well as the type and stage of the condition. Eczema can also appear differently depending on skin tone.
Some of the more common appearances of eczema include:
- Dry, scaly skin
- A bumpy, raised or blotchy rash
- Redness on paler skin
- Darker brown, purple or grey on darker skin tones
- Swelling or inflammation
Areas of skin that have been affected by eczema may also turn temporarily darker or lighter once the condition has improved, which tends to be more noticeable in people with darker skin.
What does eczema look like when it first starts?
The first signs of eczema are normally itchiness, dry skin and a rash. The rash will normally appear red on lighter skin and dark brown, purple or ashen on brown or black skin.
The severity of the rash, itching and dry skin will vary from person to person and depending on the stage.
What is eczema caused by?
The causes of eczema are complex, and they aren’t the same for everyone. Sometimes, a person with eczema can be affected by one or more different factors.
Genetics are a factor — you may be more likely to develop eczema if others in your close family (your parents or siblings) have the condition. You’re also at a higher risk of having eczema if there is a history of asthma, hay fever and or allergies.
People with eczema tend to have an immune system that overreacts to irritants or allergens in their environment — known as triggers. Common triggers include:
- Irritants – these could be soaps, detergents, and skincare products
- Environmental factors – cold and dry weather may also cause eczema flare-ups
- Allergens – dust mites, pet fur, pollen and mould
- Emotional factors – stress, anxiety and depression can all trigger eczema flare-ups
- Hormonal changes – women may find their symptoms get worse during pregnancy or at certain points in their menstrual cycle
Eczema is not contagious and cannot be passed to others in any way.
Types of eczema
Eczema is the name for a group of skin conditions that all cause irritated skin.
There are a number of different types of eczema, each with specific symptoms and recommended treatment plans. Here are some of the different types of eczema:
- Atopic dermatitis – the most common type of eczema, which often affects children and gets milder with age. It usually forms in the creases of the elbows and looks like a light or dark rash with bumps.
- Contact dermatitis – this type of eczema is caused by contact with an irritant or other environmental trigger. It may appear as a red rash or hives.
- Hand eczema – this is eczema that affects only the hands and may look red and dry. The hands may also look cracked or blistered.
- Varicose eczema – sometimes known as stasis dermatitis, this type of eczema affects the lower legs and is common in people with varicose veins. Varicose eczema is usually caused by increased pressure in the leg veins and leaking fluids from these veins.
- Discoid eczema – also known as nummular or discoid dermatitis, this type of eczema causes distinctive circular or oval patches of eczema. It can be found anywhere on the body but is most common on the arms and legs.
- Pompholyx or dyshidrotic eczema – this type of eczema most often affects the hands and feet. Pompholyx causes small itchy blisters and sore patches on the hands and feet.
What is the difference between eczema and psoriasis?
Psoriasis is another type of skin condition. Like eczema, psoriasis is a long-lasting condition which typically involves periods where there are no symptoms (or very mild symptoms), followed by flare-ups.
Psoriasis usually causes dry, scaly patches of skin. These patches can look pink, red, purple or dark brown, depending on skin type. The scales may appear white, silvery or grey. Psoriasis tends to have milder itching symptoms than eczema. In rare cases, it may also cause a painful and intense burning sensation.
Eczema, on the other hand, causes very intense itching. There are often more variations in appearance, including hives, flaky skin and more.
Psoriasis is also most commonly found on the elbows and knees, where eczema can be found all over the body.
How to treat eczema
Eczema treatment will vary depending on the severity, causes, and symptoms experienced. There is no cure for eczema, but it can be managed effectively.
Treatment for the symptoms of eczema include:
- Daily moisturisation to prevent dryness and discomfort
- Creams and ointments that can reduce swelling and redness
- Medications prescribed by a doctor including steroids in cream or pill form, antibiotics for infections as a result of eczema, and antihistamines
- At-home care, including switching to non-scented, gentle soaps, wearing loose, breathable clothing, and identifying and avoiding triggers
The Dermatology specialists at London Medical can help anyone living with eczema. Our experts will work with you to reduce flare-ups and help you manage your skin.
When to see a doctor for eczema
If eczema causes the skin to become cracked and broken, there is a risk that it may be infected, especially if you scratch it. If your skin is weepy, blistered, crusty, or feels swollen and sore, it may be infected and you should see a doctor. You may need urgent treatment.
It is also important to seek help if your eczema is causing you significant discomfort or pain and impacts regular activities like sleeping or exercising.
Your doctor can prescribe medications and other treatments to help ensure that the condition is managed and doesn’t cause unnecessary difficulties with daily life.
If your eczema doesn’t show improvement after a few weeks of treatment, get back in touch with your doctor. They will be able to recommend different options that may improve the condition or test for possible underlying causes.
At London Medical, we’re experts in the treatment and management of eczema. Our Dermatology Clinic is dedicated to providing expert-led skin treatment as well as a comprehensive diagnosis service — all in a professional, comfortable and caring environment.
Get in touch today to find out how we can help you manage your symptoms and live a full, discomfort-free life.