What is the Difference Between Eczema and Psoriasis? We're Glad you Asked
Eczema and psoriasis are skin conditions that create extra angry skin moods. Raise your hand high if you are affected by eczema or psoriasis and please do not be ashamed if you are. Both skin conditions affect millions of Americans every. single. day. I am raising and waving both my hands around high. I have had an ongoing, uphill battle with eczema since I was a newborn.
Finding out what persisting dry skin and other symptoms are is extremely difficult. Could it be eczema or psoriasis? What is the difference between eczema and psoriasis? And believe me, it is not always clear-cut to know what the difference is. It took a handful of trips to the dermatologist to understand what my symptoms were, receive a diagnosis, and learn how to treat my flare-ups.
- Eczema and psoriasis are both skin conditions that cause dry, itchy, inflamed, red skin
- The key distinguishing factor between psoriasis and eczema is their origin
- There are no cures for eczema or psoriasis but there are a handful of treatment options for both
So really, what is the difference between eczema and psoriasis? We are glad you asked. If you are suffering from any symptoms of dry, inflamed, itchy, scaly, red, or sore skin, it may be time to look more into what the difference is between eczema and psoriasis. It may also be time to seek help from a dermatologist. Fortunately, we’re here to kickstart the journey of learning the difference between the two.
What is Eczema?
Eczema (pronounced eg-zuh-muh) is an umbrella term for a group of skin conditions that result in itchy, inflamed, rash-like, and even blistered bleeding skin. Eczema is also a term for describing or referencing one of the 7 types of eczema.
Eczema does not discriminate. It is very common amongst individuals of all ages, genders, skin types, and nationalities. In the United States, over 31 million Americans have a type of eczema. In the UK, one in five children and one in ten adults have some form of eczema.
If you have eczema or know someone with eczema, do not fret. It is not contagious so you cannot give it or catch it from someone. While the origins and causes of eczema have not been pinpointed yet, scientists believe the development of eczema is due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Individuals with familial history of asthma, allergies, or eczema are more prone to developing eczema which can then be exacerbated by environmental triggers.
- Dry skin
- Rough, leathery, or scaly patches of skin
An individual’s immune system plays a huge role in their inflammatory response. Unfortunately, those with eczema have a sensitive, or “over-reactive”, immune system. This means when they encounter a trigger inside or outside the body, their immune systems react strongly with inflammation. This inflammation then creates the red, itchy, and unbearable symptoms on the skin that those with eczema are so accustomed to.
People with eczema also suffer from dry skin. Their skin glands produce fewer fats and oils and retain less water. Moreover, people with eczema have a gene mutation of the protein filaggrin, a crucial component of a healthy skin barrier. The mutation causes a deficit in filaggrin creation, creating a weaker skin barrier and enabling moisture to escape. Dry, infection-prone skin is a result of the lack of moisture and an increased entrance of bacteria, viruses, and more.
Here are common triggers of eczema flare-ups
- Dry Skin
- Cold Weather
- Cigarette smoke
- Soaps and household cleaners (like bleach!)
- Certain fabrics
Dry skin leads to a domino effect with other irritants. Dry skin = weaker skin barrier = irritants like fragrances or chemicals can pass through more easily and exacerbate eczema symptoms. Stress also exacerbates eczema by placing more stress on the immune system, thus potentially leading to further inflammation.
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis (pronounced sr-ai-uh-suhs) is an immune-mediated disease that causes inflammation in the body and abnormal rapid skin cell growth. Immune-mediated disease means psoriasis is a disease that has an unknown origin and results in inflammation due to the body’s immune system attacking itself. Over 8 million Americans are affected by psoriasis.
5 types of psoriasis exist. Psoriasis distinguishes itself on the skin with raised (inflamed) plaques due to the immune system’s inflammation and rapid cell growth. Skin cells typically regenerate and shed within a month but psoriasis causes a month’s process to occur in three to four days. And rather than shedding the skin cells, they pile on the skin’s surface contributing to plaque formation.
Psoriasis plaques can be painful and are often accompanied by symptoms of burning, itching, and stinging. Plaques can appear anywhere on the body. Hot zones for psoriasis tend to be the elbows, the scalp, and the knees. Fitness influencer Whitney Simmons has been open about her psoriasis journey and shares her plaques with her followers. Whitney gets them all over her body, including her stomach.
- Red patches of skins
- Small scaling spots
- Dry, cracked skin
- Thickened, pitted, or ridged nails
- Swollen, stiff joints
Although psoriasis has unknown origins, scientists know genetics and the immune system are key players in the condition’s existence. Due to the complexity of psoriasis, it is possible to develop psoriasis despite no prior history of it in the family.
Here are common triggers of psoriasis flare-ups
- Skin injuries (sunburns, bug bites, scrapes, and more)
- Sickness or infection (especially strep)
- Cold, dry weather
- Food intolerances
No known cure for eczema or psoriasis exists, however, there are a handful of treatment options to help minimize flare-ups and manage symptoms. The first step in minimizing flare-ups and managing symptoms is tracking down triggers.
To help narrow down triggers, keep track of the bad days and everything you do including food, products, medicines, and anything else you can think of. This way it makes it easier for you to determine what you can remove from your daily routine that may be causing flare-ups. For example, if you think food made be a trigger for flare-ups you can participate in an elimination diet.
Aside from determining and eliminating triggers, topicals therapies are used to treat psoriasis and eczema. In severe cases, phototherapy and oral prescription medicines or steroids are used to treat eczema and psoriasis. Other treatments for psoriasis and eczema include lifestyle management such as determining triggers and eliminating them.
What is the difference between eczema and psoriasis?
Now that we’ve covered the basics of eczema and psoriasis let’s dive deeper into the question, what is the difference between eczema and psoriasis?
At the surface, eczema and psoriasis are nearly identical. They both cause itchy, inflamed, red, painful skin. Eczema and psoriasis can also appear on any part of the body and they also have similar triggers and treatments. These factors are why it makes it so difficult to distinguish the two at first glance.
- The main difference between eczema and psoriasis is their origin. Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease while eczema is caused primarily by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
- Psoriasis patches make themselves more distinguishable on the body. They are well-defined, thick, red, scaly patches. Whitney Simmons’ post is a good example of what psoriasis patches look like.
- Both can present themselves anywhere on the body but they have different hot zones. Psoriasis likes to present itself on the scalp, elbows, knees, and face. Eczema likes to present itself in the crooks of knees, elbows, and hands.
- Psoriasis can lead to joint pain while eczema does not.
- And while they both cause itching, the extreme of the itch can be a key determining factor. Psoriasis itch tends to be mild. On the other hand, eczema itch is intense.
- UVB (ultraviolet B), aka the light from sunshine, reduces abnormal cell growth and can ease psoriasis symptoms. In contrast, sunshine can further irritate eczema.
All in all, answering the question what is the difference between eczema and psoriasis is difficult because they are extremely similar. If you believe you experiencing symptoms of either, check in with a dermatologist or medical professional.
P.S. If you live with either condition, I know it can be discouraging but embrace the itch! Loving yourself despite having eczema or psoriasis is half the battle, but remember you are not alone <3
Written by Lauren Conklin