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Understanding types of eczema: a comprehensive guide

Eczema is a common skin condition that causes dry scaly skin. Many people assume it is just one condition. However, there are many types of eczema.

Each eczema type has its own symptoms, causes and treatment. So, it’s essential you know which condition you have. In this article, we delve into the different types of eczema and what symptoms to look out for.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Anand Abbot MRCGP Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 08-04-2024

What are the types of eczema?

Eczema, or dermatitis, is a skin condition mostly characterised by unbearable itching, inflammation and dry skin. In the UK, the condition affects 1 in 5 children and 1 in 10 adults according to the National Eczema Society.

Close up of man’s hand applying cream to eczema.

It affects all ages and causes a range of uncomfortable symptoms across the body, from the ears to the toes. However, symptoms will vary depending on the type of eczema.

1 in 10 adults have some type of eczema.

The most common and recognisable type is atopic dermatitis. But, there are many different types:

  • Contact dermatitis
  • Asteatotic eczema
  • Neurodermatitis
  • Dyshidrotic eczema
  • Nummular eczema
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Stasis dermatitis

We’re going to discuss each type of eczema, the symptoms, causes and treatment options.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. It is particularly common in children. Most people start getting symptoms when they’re infants.


The exact cause is unknown, but experts believe that there are a few factors that may cause the condition.

  • An overactive immune system - the immune system mistakenly causes inflammation and damages the skin barrier. This leaves your skin more susceptible to environmental factors.
  • Genetics - often people with the condition have family members with it as well. Some research has found that people with atopic dermatitis have mutations in a specific protein responsible for the skin barrier.
  • Environmental factors - tobacco smoke, air pollutants, weather, fragrance, and excessively dry skin can trigger symptoms.

AD can occasionally be caused by food allergies.

You’re also more likely to develop atopic dermatitis if you or a family member has hay fever or asthma.


AD can occur across the body. It can even occur on the face, around the eyes and in the ears. The symptoms are most common on the hands, elbows, and backs of the knees.

Image of a man scratching his arm with atopic dermatitis.

Because the skin barrier is defective in people with AD, the most common symptoms are dry and itchy skin.

You may also experience:

  • cracked skin
  • rash or swollen skin
  • small, raised bumps (on brown or black skin)
  • oozing and crusting
  • thickened or discoloured skin

You may have periods where your symptoms get better and times where they get worse.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis causes irritated skin when it comes into contact with either an allergen or an irritant. You’re more likely to develop CD if you had atopic eczema as a child.

Types of contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis is the more common type. This is where symptoms are caused by frequent contact with irritating elements. Culprits include:

  • soaps
  • detergents
  • household cleaning products
  • bleach
  • cold wind
  • oils

People who work in certain jobs are more at risk of this type. This includes chefs, hairdressers, nurses, cleaners and construction workers.

Allergic contact dermatitis is more uncommon. Symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction to a specific chemical.

Usually, it requires repeated exposure for many years for an allergy to develop. This is because the body learns to recognise the chemical and becomes sensitised over time.

Common allergens include:

  • fragrance
  • antiseptic
  • cobalt
  • nickel
  • hair dye
  • henna
  • temporary tattoos
  • chemical preservatives


Symptoms occur within a few hours of coming into contact with an allergen or irritant.

Contact dermatitis mostly occurs on your hands and face, from wearing jewellery or handling certain products. However, it can occur anywhere on the body.

Close-up of a man’s wrist with contact dermatitis caused by a watch.

Cases of mild CD cause dryness and skin redness. It may often appear like burns. More serious cases may cause symptoms such as:

  • skin cracking - causing it to split, bleed or weep
  • stinging or burning sensation
  • intense itching

The severity of symptoms depends on the cause and how long you have been in contact with the trigger.

Asteatotic eczema

Asteatotic eczema is characterised by dry and cracked skin. It can occur in all ages but is particularly common in the elderly.


It is caused by water loss in the skin. Research Trusted source PubMed Government Source Database of Biomedical Research Go to source shows that people with the condition lose up to 75 times more water than the average person. The lack of water in the skin causes the outer layer to split and causes symptoms.

Water loss in the skin is caused by:

  • low humidity (e.g. during the winter, in the desert or at high altitudes)
  • excessive bathing
  • certain medications (e.g. diuretics)
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • radiation
  • an underactive thyroid gland

Asteatotic eczema most often affects older people. This is because they have decreased sebum and sweat production. However, the condition can occur in anyone who struggles with very dry skin.


The defining symptom of this type of eczema is cracked skin. This is why it is commonly called eczema “craquelé”, the French word for cracked.

This type of eczema has a distinct pattern that resembles crazy paving or a dried-up riverbed. Rashes appear like diamond-shaped plates of skin that are separated by red bands. The dryness also causes itchiness.

In more severe cases, the skin can crack so much that it bleeds. The skin can also swell and blister.

Symptoms most often occur on the shins. Occasionally, it can spread to the thighs, arms, stomach and back.


Neurodermatitis is a rarer type of eczema that causes small patches of thickened skin. Approximately 12% Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source of people struggle with this type.


The cause of this type of eczema is less clear. Researchers believe that it is caused by itching.

The condition may start as a small itchy patch, but excessive itching causes the nerves to overreact. This becomes an endless itch-scratch cycle.

The condition is common in those who have another skin condition that causes itching. This includes fungal conditions, insect bites or other types of eczema.

Other factors that may cause neurodermatitis include:

  • wearing tight clothing
  • traffic exhaust exposure
  • sweating or heat

It is also closely linked to psychological stress. Studies Trusted source PubMed Government Source Database of Biomedical Research Go to source show that scratching activates the brain’s reward system. So, repetitive scratching may act as relief for people with OCD, anxiety or chronic stress.


Unlike other eczema types, symptoms are not widespread. It is usually confined to one or two patches of skin.

It commonly occurs in places where you’re most likely to scratch. It is common in the ankles, feet, knees, scalp, elbows, hands and the back of the neck. However, anal and genital areas can also be affected.

The most prevalent symptom is itching. You’ll most want to itch when you’re relaxed, trying to sleep or when you’re anxious. Itching may cause the skin to bleed. It also puts you at a greater risk of infection, scarring and hair loss if it occurs on your scalp.

Affected areas will feel like scaly leathery patches. The skin will look raised, inflamed and discoloured.

Dyshidrotic eczema

Also known as pompholyx, the condition causes small blisters across the skin.


The exact cause of Pompholyx is not known. However, it is believed to be caused by certain metals (nickel and cobalt), certain chemicals, stress or sweat. It is also linked to other kinds of eczema.

50% of people with pompholyx also have atopic eczema. So, if you have a family history of atopic eczema, you are more likely to have pompholyx.


People with this type of eczema develop small bumps. The name for the condition comes from the Greek word “pompholyx” meaning bubbles.

These bumps are known as vesicles. They are deep-seated blisters. You’ll usually feel a burning or prickling sensation before the vesicles develop.

Close-up of a hand with dyshidrotic eczema.

When the blisters fade, the skin will become dry and cracked. It may start to become discoloured, peel and become painful.

Dyshidrotic eczema only occurs on the hands and feet.

Symptoms may come and go. Usually, flare-ups last for 2-3 weeks at a time. The majority of people who have it will experience it chronically.

Nummular eczema

Nummular or discoid eczema causes oval or circular patches of scaly skin. It is closely related to xerosis and contact dermatitis.


Like many of the types on this list, the exact cause isn’t clear. It is likely triggered by an environmental factor.

Common triggers include:

  • stress
  • dry air
  • heat or humidity
  • a skin injury (e.g. a bite or scrape)
  • a skin infection
  • drinking a lot of alcohol

It is also linked to extremely dry skin, similar to asteatotic eczema. This occurs in certain climates or can happen as a side effect of certain medications.

It can also be a complication of contact dermatitis. Hypersensitivity to certain metals or dental fillings may trigger an immune response and result in nummular eczema.

The condition is more common in men than in women. You’re also more likely to have it if you have a family history of eczema, hay fever or asthma. It is also linked to poor blood flow in the legs and varicose veins.


A discoid eczema flare-up starts as a group of small spots or bumps. Over time, these gradually merge and form larger scaly patches.

The skin will become swollen, discoloured and blistered. The blisters may ooze. The affected area will also feel itchy.

Close-up of a discoid rash on a finger.

The eczema patches will become dry, crusty and flaky. Occasionally, the centre of the patch will clear but leave a ring of red discoloured skin. It can often be mistaken for ringworm.

It can occur across the body. However, it rarely occurs on the face or scalp.

Unlike other types, nummular eczema rarely goes away without treatment.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a type of eczema that predominantly affects the head. More specifically, it affects areas where there are the most oil-producing glands such as the scalp and nose.

This type is fairly common, affecting approximately 3-10 in every 100 people Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source . It can affect anyone of any age, including infants.


The condition can be caused by several factors.

The clearest cause is that your skin has an inflammatory response to an overgrowth of yeast and sebum (skin oil).

As well as these, several other factors may increase the risk of the condition:

  • hormone fluctuations
  • fungal infections
  • bacteria
  • conditions that cause a weakened immune system (e.g. HIV)
  • nervous system disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s disease)
  • rosacea or psoriasis

These conditions make your skin or your immune system more prone to a reaction. It can also occur in babies as a condition called “cradle cap”.


The condition causes a scaly rash. The rash can develop anywhere, except the soles of the feet or palms of the hands. However, it is most common in areas that produce the most sebum.

Close-up of a man’s face affected by seborrheic dermatitis.

The rash can occur on the:

  • scalp
  • forehead
  • eyebrows
  • eyelids
  • ears (behind and inside)
  • sides of the nose
  • back of the head and neck
  • chest

In people with more severe symptoms, the rash can occur on the armpits, belly button, groin, buttocks or under the breasts.

The skin will be dry and flaky. If it occurs on your scalp, you may notice skin flakes in your hair. It will cause the skin to be raised and pink or dark (depending on your skin tone). It can also cause mild to intense itching and burning.

Stasis dermatitis

Stasis dermatitis is a type of eczema caused by poor blood flow in the legs. This condition is known as venous insufficiency.


This type of eczema occurs when the valves in the lower legs weaken. They are responsible for pushing blood up the legs to the heart. However, as they weaken, the valves leak fluid which causes the legs to swell.

This can be caused by:

  • being overweight
  • high blood pressure
  • vein surgeries
  • multiple pregnancies
  • blood clots in the legs
  • little physical activity
  • kidney failure

Not everyone with venous insufficiency has stasis dermatitis. Research is ongoing as to why this condition causes eczema.


Stasis dermatitis only occurs on the feet, ankles or lower legs. This is because the leg valves restrict blood flow.

A close-up of a man’s foot suffering from stasis dermatitis.

The first signs of the condition include orange-brown specks of discolouration called “cayenne pepper spots”. These spots are caused by capillaries bursting due to swelling.

Symptoms that follow include:

  • red skin in lighter skin tones
  • brown, purple or grey skin in darker skin tones
  • itching
  • scaling
  • dryness
  • heavy or aching feeling after long periods of sitting or standing
  • contact dermatitis

If the venous insufficiency isn’t treated, swelling can move further up the leg. The skin may become shiny and open sores may develop.

Severe stasis dermatitis can also cause permanent changes to your skin. It may result in the thickening, hardening or darkening of the skin.

Main takeaways

There are many types of eczema. They have their differing symptoms and causes. Additionally, some types of eczema can cause another type.

You must recognise the symptoms so you can get the right diagnosis and treatment. There are a variety of eczema remedies available, from creams, ointments and medicated shampoos.

If you want to learn more about managing and treating your eczema, you can head to our page here.

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