How to tell the difference between dry skin and eczema

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Dry skin and mild cases of eczema can resemble one another, so how can you tell them apart? Dr Phelan said: “Dry skin on our legs and hands can be very common and may require a simple emollient (moisturiser) to resolve it.” Yet, after moisturising, “if the skin remains dry or cracked, eczema is a possible cause”.

Eczema could require “prescription treatment”, such as topical steroids in combination with regular emollients.

“Both dry skin and mild cases of eczema can look very similar and distinguishing between the two can be difficult,” Dr Phelan added.

Describing the difference between dry skin and eczema, Dr Phelan explained: “Dry skin is more often the result of the environment you are in.

“Or, possibly, something you have come into contact with (such as different types of hand or body washes, cosmetics and skin care compounds).”

Eczema, on the other hand, “more commonly has a genetic or immune component”.

Although, the skin condition can be triggered by the same things that can lead to dry skin.

“In fact, dry skin in itself is a trigger for eczema,” Dr Phelan cautioned.

People who have eczema tend to have a family history of the condition, sometimes alongside asthma and hay fever.

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“If there are members in your family suffering from any of these conditions, eczema may be more likely,” added Dr Phelan.

Whether you have dry skin or eczema, there are some simple tips to follow to help protect the skin.

Dr Phelan recommended using alcohol-free body washes, formulated for sensitive skin, or body washes “that are not heavily fragranced”.

“Many hand and body washes often contain alcohol which can cause the skin to feel dry,” she explained.

Signs of eczema

The NHS says atopic eczema can cause the skin to become “itchy, dry, cracked, and sore”.

The inflamed skin can become red on lighter skin, or purple or grey on darker skin.

The most commonly affected areas include the insides of the elbows, the backs of the knees, and the face and scalp.

People who have the skin condition can experience periods where skin symptoms become more severe.

If you are still unsure as to whether you have dry skin or eczema, Dr Phelan can help.

“Skin conditions such as dry skin or eczema can be assessed by your GP team or conveniently using photos and the PrivateDoc service.

“If stronger treatments are required, these can be prescribed to help settle the condition.”

Dr Alex Phelan is the Medical Director at PrivateDoc.

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