Eczema and acne are totally different… but they don’t always seem that way. Thanks to some similar symptoms (what’s up, bumpy redness!), it can sometimes be hard to tell the two conditions apart.
When dealing with either — or both! — of these conditions, it’s important to remember that they each have their own unique set of symptoms, causes, and treatments. In the words of “Friends” character Chandler Bing: Could they BE any less alike?! Here’s how to identify eczema vs. acne.
Acne and eczema can look alike because both conditions sometimes cause inflamed, red, pimple-like bumps. But each has its own unique causes, symptoms, and treatment methods.
Eczema is a chronic condition that causes super dry, inflamed patches of skin that itch intensely. There’s no cure for eczema, and treatment is centered around managing the itch and other symptoms.
Acne, on the other hand, causes zits, whiteheads, blackheads, cysts, and clogged pores. Unlike eczema, acne symptoms thrive in oily areas, not dry ones. Acne also doesn’t itch, though it can cause sensitivity or soreness.
While it’s possible to have both eczema and acne at once, it’s rare for them to appear in the exact same spot — which makes targeting treatment a bit easier.
Nearly 31 million people in the U.S. live with some form of eczema, which is a skin condition characterized by dry, itchy, inflamed patches of skin.
Other common eczema symptoms include:
- dry patches
- itching… so much itching
- rough or scaly texture
- bumps that look like zits
Eczema can appear — or flare up — anywhere on your body. In babies and small children, it often occurs on the face, arms, and legs. Older kids, teens, and adults will most often see symptoms on areas that rub together, like the back of the knees, back of the neck, inner elbows, or other areas with skin-to-skin contact, but it can show up anywhere and everywhere.
While the condition usually doesn’t show up on your face past infancy, it can look a heck of a lot like acne when it does.
TBH, no one’s sure what exactly causes eczema. Researchers think eczema may be a result of genetics, immune system issues, or allergens and other environmental triggers. Eczema isn’t contagious, so you can’t “catch” it from someone. Anyone can develop the condition, and it can flare up at any age.
Other possible causes include:
- stress (because… of course)
- dry skin
- chemicals in soaps, detergents, or cleaning products
- certain ingredients in skin care or beauty products
- certain foods
- immune system probs
- allergens (this can be unique to you!)
There’s no cure for eczema (major bummer), but there are ways to treat and manage its symptoms (major yay!).
Let’s talk about zits, baby.
Nearly 50 million Americans deal with acne each year, and it usually starts showing up around puberty — though it’s totally possible for it to not pop up until adulthood.
There are basically two main types of acne: inflammatory and noninflammatory. Those pesky, painful red ragers are considered inflammatory acne, while your general whiteheads, blackheads, and gunked-up pores make up the noninflammatory type.
Acne most often pops up on your face, neck, chest, back, or shoulders — though it can appear anywhere (yes, even down *there*).
Acne can show up in many forms, including:
- cysts (ouch!)
Acne is often caused by an excess of sebum, which is the oil your skin produces. Too much sebum can clog your pores and result in a breakout.
Other common acne triggers include:
- stress (ugh)
- certain foods
- sensitivity to ingredients in skin care or beauty products
- dead skin buildup
- certain medications
Acne doesn’t have to be permanent, and you can often treat it with the right (for you) skin care routine, medication, or diet and lifestyle changes.
Ready for a little show instead of tell? To help give you an even better understanding of how acne and eczema may show up differently on your skin, we’ve got some visual aids to share:
Sure, eczema can’t be cured… but that doesn’t mean you can’t make its symptoms more bearable. Treatment can involve doctor-prescribed options, at-home remedies, or a mix of the two.
Symptoms can be managed by:
- corticosteroids (oral or topical)
- nonsteroidal creams
- moisturizers (unscented is best!)
- light therapy
- reducing stress (meditation, anyone?)
- oatmeal baths
- gentle exfoliation (emphasis on “gentle”!)
- dietary changes
- using less harsh products
- avoiding triggers
When a flare-up does flare it’s important to resist the urge to itch (it’s hard, we know!). Keep the area clean, moisturized, and away from any triggers that may make it worse.
When should I talk to my derm about eczema?
At some point, you may need to call in the pros. If your eczema gets worse or makes it difficult to get through your day-to-day routine, a trip to the doc may be in order. They can work with you to diagnose the specific type of eczema you have (there are seven!), help you pinpoint your triggers, and work with you to develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs.
Every person’s acne is a bit different, and the approach you take to treating it may be unique to you.
Some cases of acne are treated by developing a skin care routine that helps combat oily skin, while others may require some prescription problem-solving.
You can treat acne at home by:
- following a regular skin care routine
- using the right products for you
- reducing stress
- avoiding acne-triggering foods
- using spot treatments, like acne patches
Products or ingredients commonly used to treat acne include:
For more severe cases, your doctor or derm may recommend prescription products, which are stronger than what you can get at the drugstore. They may also prescribe:
- birth control pills
- hormonal treatments or therapy
- azelaic acid
- isotretinoin capsules
- prescription retinoids
- prescription salicylic acid
- prescription benzoyl peroxide
It’s totally possible to have both eczema and acne at the same time (*groan*).
However, they’ll typically occur on different parts of your body because each shows up under very different skin conditions. Eczema loves dryness, while acne thrives in oily areas.
If they do show up on the same body part, each will often stake their claim to a specific area. For instance, you may be experiencing a breakout on your forehead and chin, but then an eczema flare-up might affect your eyelids. Or some pimples could pop up on your chest while an eczema rash develops under your boobs (yep, that’s a thing).
It’s very rare, however, for both acne and eczema to occur in the exact same spot at the exact same time.
When dealing with both a breakout and a flare-up, it’s important to continue using your usual forms of treatment for each condition. If you have any questions or concerns, talk with your doctor or dermatologist for guidance.
First things first, identify your triggers. According to the National Eczema Association, this is your golden ticket to prevention. This can be applied to both eczema and acne.
When you know your triggers, you can steer clear and *fingers crossed* hopefully keep flare-ups and breakouts at bay.
There are also other steps you can take to prevent both acne and eczema, like:
- keeping your skin moisturized (whether it’s dry or oily!)
- developing regular skin care routines
- avoiding common triggers
- using gentle or allergen-free soaps and detergents
- showering right after workouts
- avoiding hot water (lukewarm is best!)
- using unscented products
- taking probiotics or eating probiotic-rich foods
- eating foods rich in omega-3s (this works best for acne, but might also help eczema!)
If you’re having a hard time preventing either eczema or acne, talk with your doctor or dermatologist. They’ll look at your specific diagnosis and work with you to develop strategies for positive prevention.
Eczema and acne are two different skin conditions, but they can have certain overlapping symptoms like blisters or bumps. It’s possible to experience both acne and eczema at the same time, but they’ll usually show up on different parts of your body.
There’s no cure for eczema, but there are ways to treat and manage symptoms, including prescription creams or medications, stress reduction, and avoiding triggers. Acne is often temporary and can be treated with nonprescription skin care products or healthy habits. More severe acne cases may require support from a doc or derm, such as medicated cleansers, creams, or hormonal treatment.