Psoriasis vs eczema - what's the difference?

Due to the similarities and overlap that appear to exist between the two conditions, many people do not know the difference between psoriasis and eczema. While similarities may exist in the symptoms and treatment of each condition, there are also several key differences between them, and understanding more about how they differ can be useful when it comes to managing them. Let’s start by learning a little bit more about each of the two conditions.


What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune skin condition which results when skin cells are reproduced too quickly (over the course of 3 to 7 days instead of the more usual 3 to 4 weeks) and leads to red, crusty patches of skin, often covered in silvery scales. Psoriasis can cause itching as the skin becomes inflamed and red.

What is eczema?

Eczema, which is more prevalent in children, is another long-term skin condition. It can cause very intense itching, which in some cases is bad enough to make the skin bleed. It results from a hypersensitivity reaction, which is when the skin overreacts to irritant triggers such as detergents, fabrics and animals.

Key differences between psoriasis and eczema

It’s not always easy to tell psoriasis and eczema apart. In fact, studies have shown that even trained dermatologists will sometimes switch an initial diagnosis of one to the other, but there are some key differences between the two conditions that may be useful in helping to identify them:

  • Appearance of the skin

  • Itching sensation

  • Location on the body

Appearance of the skin

Eczema causes the skin to become inflamed and red and may also lead to crusty, hardened or oozing patches of skin. With eczema it is not uncommon to see dark, rough patches of skin that have a leathery quality. There may also be some swelling.

Psoriasis causes well-defined, thick, red, scaly patches, which may also be silvery and raised. Looking more closely at skin affected by psoriasis shows that it is thicker and more inflamed than skin affected by eczema.


Itching sensation

Psoriasis causes discomfort and itching but may also be accompanied by other sensations, such as stinging or burning. Eczema on the other hand causes very severe, intense itching.


Location on the body

Both eczema and psoriasis can appear in similar parts of the body, such as the elbows, knees and chest, which contributes to the difficulty in telling the difference between the two conditions. However there are differences to look out for; you may develop eczema on your neck, wrists, and ankles, although the condition is more commonly found on the back of elbows and knees. Babies sometimes get it on their chin, cheeks, scalp, chest, back, arms, and legs.

Psoriasis, meanwhile, is more likely to develop around the scalp and face, lower back, palms and soles, and people may also experience patches in other areas such as eyelids, ears, mouth and lips.


Treatment options

Although psoriasis is a condition that is treated and not cured, a wide range of treatments are available. These include topical creams and ointments, phototherapy and systemic medications. For scalp psoriasis specifically, a therapeutic shampoo such as Polytar Scalp Shampoo with 4% Coal Tar may help to soothe the itching and flaking.

Much like psoriasis, there are a range of treatments available for the symptoms of eczema - both over-the-counter and prescribed by your doctor. These include emollients, corticosteroids and antihistamines. Polytar Scalp Shampoo is also suitable for scalp eczema to help to soothe the itching.

Psoriasis and eczema are different conditions, although there can be overlap between the two. A dermatologist will be able to definitively identify the difference. If you suspect you may have either psoriasis or eczema, speak to a healthcare professional for more advice.