Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a long term skin condition which causes the skin to become dry, red, itchy and cracked. The skin is often inflamed and in the chronic or persistent form, the skin is exposed to regular rubbing through itching and scratching which leads to the skin thickening or scaling. Eczema is most common in children, with an estimated 1 in 5 children in the UK having experienced the skin condition at some point during their childhood. In many cases, eczema will clear up on its own, however many adults find they have flare ups of their eczema during times of stress.

Eczema comes in seven main types, all of which cause the irritating symptoms of dryness, itchiness and redness. It is important to identify which type of eczema you have so you can identify the triggers and the right treatment can be provided. A consultant dermatologist will be able to diagnose your eczema and recommend the most suited treatment for you.

Eczema on hand


Atopic Eczema/Dermatitis

This is by far the commonest form of eczema and is what most people think of when they think of eczema. This condition usually starts in childhood and often goes away or gets much milder in adulthood. Atopic eczema is often associated with other atopic conditions such as asthma and hayfever. This form of eczema happens when the skin’s natural barrier is weakened, meaning the skin is less able to protect against irritants and allergens. Atopic eczema rash usually is seen on the creases of the knees or elbows or on cheeks or the scalp of babies. Atopic eczema is hereditary and the environment, being unwell and having dry skin can make symptoms worse.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a form of eczema which flares up when the skin comes into contact with a particular irritant or allergen. Contact dermatitis can come in two forms, allergic contact dermatitis which is an immune system reaction to a substance such as nickel or fragrance, and irritant contact dermatitis which is when a chemical or other substance irritates your skin. Common substances which cause contact dermatitis include soaps, detergents, bleach, paint, jewelry and certain plants or raw foods. The appearance of the eczema is very similar to atopic eczema, but you will notice flare ups in response to contact with particular irritants.

Seborrhoeic Eczema

Seborrhoeic eczema affects the parts of the body where there are lots of sebaceous glands such as the scalp, face, neck, armpits or groin. In babies, it is common on the scalp where it is known as cradle cap. Unlike many forms of eczema, this is not the result of an allergy and people of any age can develop the condition. Common triggers include stress, hormonal changes and dry or cold weather.

Discoid Eczema

Discoid eczema is also known as nummular and is characterised by patches of itchy, swollen and cracked skin in circular or oval shapes. This eczema is usually found on the arms, body or legs and doesn’t tend to be seen on the face of the scalp. Unlike other forms of eczema, discoid eczema is most common in adults and starts with a few spots which join up to form pink or red patches which are swollen, blistered and very itchy.

Asteatotic Eczema

Asteatotic eczema only affects older people, usually over the age of 60. This form of eczema is associated with a decrease in the production of oils by the skin which leads to a dry, cracked surface covered in pink sores. The most commonly affected areas include the shins, thighs, arms, stomach and back. You are more at risk of developing this type of eczema if the environment you live in is dry and hot or you have long hot baths or showers.

Pompholyx/Dyshidrotic Eczema

This form of eczema usually only affects the hands and feet and is caused by allergies, having damp hands and feet or stress. It creates watery blisters found on the fingers, toes, palms, and soles of the feet, which can be very itchy and painful if they burst. The skin around these blisters may crack and flake. This skin condition is more common in women than men and often occurs alongside a fungal infection.

Varicose Eczema

Varicose, or gravitational eczema appears as red, blistering, cracked or crusted skin in the lower legs where blood has collected and caused swelling which places pressure on the skin. This form of eczema is associated with poor circulation so you are at higher risk of developing this condition if you have had a blood clot, varicose veins or if you are overweight.

Even though the appearance of different types of eczema is similar, the causes and triggers can be very different meaning the treatment required is also very different. If your eczema is causing you problems, see a consultant dermatologist who will be able to diagnose which form of eczema you are suffering from and recommend the best treatment for you.



adam friedmann

Dr Adam Friedmann
Consultant Dermatologist

GMC: 4425665
Qualifications: MB BS 1997 University of London

Dr Friedmann is a UK-trained Dermatologist who trained at King’s College School of Medicine, London. He has worked at many of London’s teaching hospitals including King’s College, St Georges, Hammersmith, Barts and the London and the Royal Free Hospitals.

Dr Friedmann is Chief Medical Officer of The Dermatology Partnership and Clinical Director of the Harley Street Dermatology Clinic.

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