New Patients: Telehealth Services for only $39. Start Visit

Psoriasis vs. Eczema: What’s the Difference?

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 8/18/2020

Are there really any rashes? They’re red, irritating, and don’t look nice. Whether you’re suffering from psoriasis, eczema or something different entirely, a proper diagnosis is the first step toward resolution. 

Both psoriasis and eczema can result in uncomfortable rashes or red patches. They’re both skin conditions that aren’t entirely uncommon. But how do you know the difference? 

A certified healthcare professional can help ensure the right diagnosis, but there are some key differences that can help you identify the skin condition you’re battling. 

What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease. This means it occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. 

With psoriasis, the skin cells grow at an extremely fast rate, causing the buildup of scaly, red skin lesions. These lesions may itch or burn.

Psoriasis has a genetic component — if one parent has it, there is a 10 percent chance a child will have it. If two parents have it, the chance of their child having psoriasis increases to 50 percent. 

The condition is just as common in men as it is in women, though it’s more common in white people than African American people.

There are several forms of psoriasis, including: 

  • Plaque psoriasis: The most common, characterized by raised patches of lesions covered with silvery white build-up of dead skin cells.

  • Guttate: Can be triggered in children or young adults by an infection such as strep throat. Guttate psoriasis results in small, dot-like lesions. 

  • Inverse: Appears as red, smooth and shiny lesions that may appear in the folds of the body.

  • Pustular: Blisters of pus are the tell tale sign of pustular psoriasis. Most common on the hands and feet. 

  • Erythrodermic: Although rare, can be severe and widespread, can cover most of the body and results in severe pain and the skin peeling off in sheets. 

level up your game

Protein powder for more than just your bicepts.

What Is Eczema? 

Eczema is also known as atopic dermatitis

Researchers believe there is an immune component to eczema, and it is often found in conjunction with primary immunodeficiency diseases

It’s also commonly associated with food allergies, allergies that affect the nose and sinuses and asthma.

As many as 15 percent to 20 percent of children are affected by eczema, and one percent to three percent of adults worldwide. 

While the condition can disappear as a child reaches adulthood, it is more persistent in men.

Eczema results in dry, itchy patches of skin that can worsen when scratched. These patches may weep, or seep a clear fluid, resulting in a crust. 

Eczema may be worsened by irritants such as certain soaps, detergents and cleansers, and can also be irritated by wetness.

Psoriasis Symptoms vs. Eczema Symptoms 

Psoriasis and eczema have similarities. So many, in fact, that it’s not unusual for children with one to be misdiagnosed with the other.

But the differences between the two can help make a proper diagnosis, and lead to more successful treatment. 

One difference between psoriasis and eczema is how it feels. 

With psoriasis, the itching is typically mild or may feel more like a burning sensation. However, with eczema, the itching is very intense. 

In fact, people with eczema may scratch so much it leads to bleeding.

Where your rash is concentrated may also help diagnose it. 

Eczema is most common on the back of the knees or the inside of the elbows, where psoriasis can show up on the scalp, knees, elbows, buttocks and face. 

Neither disease is limited solely to these areas, though. 

One more tell-tale difference between the two conditions is in how they react to sunlight. 

People with eczema will likely find the sun to be a curse, as it can be sensitive to heat, and sweating may worsen the flare-ups. 

In psoriasis, on the other hand, sunlight can slow down the abnormal skin lesions and UV light is even used as a treatment for this skin condition.

Psoriasis Treatment vs. Eczema Treatment 

There is some overlap in the treatments for psoriasis and eczema. 

Both are long-term conditions that require long-term treatments. In other words, one bottle of prescription cream will not cure you of either psoriasis or atopic dermatitis. 

After reviewing your symptoms, a specialized healthcare professional may recommend any one of the following treatments for your psoriasis or eczema: 

  • Topical anti-inflammatories

  • Skin hydration or specific creams and lotions

  • Phototherapy, also known as light therapy

  • Biologic or systemic drugs, taken by mouth to control your body’s inflammatory and immune responses

Your healthcare provider  can also help you identify what conditions may trigger irritation in your skin condition.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.