More than 30 million people in the United States live with eczema, a group of epidermal conditions that typically cause dry, flaky, or leathery skin. Eczema can develop on many parts of your body, including your legs.
What types of eczema affect your legs?
There are multiple types of eczema. It’s not contagious, but it has genetic and environmental triggers.
All types can break out on your legs (except hand eczema, which, as the name suggests, is pretty hand-exclusive).
- Atopic dermatitis. Normally, this will take the form of rough patches on the backs of your knees (also the backs of your elbows).
- Contact dermatitis. This eczema is caused by contact with irritants or allergens. If you start using a new soap and get itchy red patches that sting like crazy, it’s contact dermatitis.
- Dyshidrotic eczema. Itchy blisters on your feet (and your hands too)? It’s probably dyshidrotic eczema.
- Neurodermatitis. Thick, scaly patches that appear out of nowhere, forming on your legs and the bottoms of your feet, could be neurodermatitis.
- Nummular eczema. If your leg rash is a bunch of red or scaly circles, then it’s probably nummular eczema. Nummular eczema is typically caused by allergic reactions to insect bites or chemicals.
- Stasis dermatitis. Stasis dermatitis is caused by weakened veins leaking fluid. It’s almost exclusive to the legs and is most common in older folks.
In more severe cases, eczema also causes bleeding, swelling, and fluid discharge. Not fun.
Eczema on your legs (aka legzema) is common. Eczema symptoms on your legs may reveal the root cause and how to treat it.
Explaining what different kinds of eczema look like can seem a bit pointless since one person’s “bumpy rough patch” is another person’s “area of leathery skin.”
Here’s how different flavors of legzema can look.
Eczema can develop as a result of a wide variety of genetic and environmental triggers. Stress is also often a key factor.
The different types have varying causes. Luckily for you, each has a few distinguishing features. Telling them apart doesn’t require any fancy scanning machines or microscopes.
Where can eczema appear on your legs?
Most types of eczema can appear anywhere on your legs, including your thighs, your calves, and the backs of your legs.
Eczema is more common on joints and areas where the skin regularly stretches and bends. So, while it can appear anywhere, leg eczema most often pops up on the knees, hips, ankles, and feet.
Eczema is more likely to break out on dry skin, but sweat can also trigger a flare. Basically, eczema is an unpredictable little bugger. Who knows where it’ll pop up next?
Atopic dermatitis is the most common eczema. Between 10 and 30 percent of kids get it. But unless it’s super severe, that number reduces to between 2 and 10 percent by adulthood.
Still, around 16.5 million adults in the United States live with the condition. So it’s not exactly rare among adults.
You know those ’80s movie kids who got bullied for having skin allergies and asthma and hay fever? There’s a reason it was a stereotype back before people knew better than to laugh at stereotypes. Doctors call these three common childhood conditions the atopic triad.
They’re linked because many kids have overly enthusiastic immune systems. This immune overactivity sends the body’s defenses into war mode over any proximity to allergens.
Symptoms of atopic dermatitis on your legs
Here are some clues that your leg rash is atopic dermatitis:
- It’s concentrated around the creases of your knees. Outside of Legville, you’ll usually also get atopic eczema on your elbows. But it can appear anywhere.
- The affected skin can appear lighter or darker than usual and may get thicker.
- Small bumps can pop up that leak fluid when you scratch them. This can lead to infection, so leave them alone. (This is easier said than done, because they can be itchy as heck. And heck is really itchy — we checked.)
Contact dermatitis occurs as a result of, well, contact. When substances your skin doesn’t like end up on its surface, your skin shouts at you.
There are two types of contact dermatitis:
- Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your immune system says “screw that, my dude” and reacts to everyday substances like latex, metal, or even, in some cases, water.
- Irritant contact dermatitis is a reaction to stuff that’s actually covered by a “no-human-touchy-touchy” policy, like chemicals or poisonous plants.
Symptoms of contact dermatitis on your legs
Here’s what a contact dermatitis rash on your leg is like:
- The affected area itches, turns red, and burns or stings.
- Hives (little bumps) can break out.
- Crusty blisters full of fluid may rise up.
- The skin thickens and feels leathery/scaly.
Why you get contact dermatitis on your legs
Contact dermatitis breaks out because of contact with a substance that irritates your skin.
Often, the substance is a known irritant (like poison ivy or Tekashi 6ix9ine). But contact dermatitis can also be the first clue that you’re allergic to a certain substance.
Unfortunately, you don’t find out you’re allergic to something until you’ve reacted to it. Allergies are a pain in the ass like that (especially if the allergen makes contact with your ass).
Here are some common contact dermatitis triggers that might cause a leg rash:
- skin care products
- some metals, such as nickel
- poisonous plants like poison ivy
- tobacco smoke
If you put it on your skin and it’s got chemicals in it, there’s always a chance it can trigger a contact dermatitis-inducing allergic reaction.
Dyshidrotic eczema appears on your feet and hands. Rashes come in the form of distinctive blisters, especially around the toes and soles.
Symptoms of dyshidrotic eczema on your feet
Here’s how you’ll know that the painful rash on your feet is dyshidrotic eczema:
- Blisters full of fluid break out on your toes and the soles of your feet. In non-leg-related news, you may also be getting them on your fingers and palms.
- Skin on or around the blisters may scale, crack, or flake.
- The blisters might be itchy or hurt a fair bit.
Why you get dyshidrotic eczema on your feet
Researchers haven’t agreed on what causes dyshidrotic eczema. But, as with many other types of eczema, stress and allergies seem to be key culprits.
Having damp feet for a long time is a possible trigger. Some contact triggers can also cause dyshidrotic eczema. Nickel, cobalt, and chromium salt are some of the most common contact triggers.
Neurodermatitis is the most mysterious type of eczema. Doctors have no clue what causes it, and its symptoms are almost identical to those of atopic dermatitis.
Where they differ is that neurodermatitis normally confines itself to only a couple of patches of skin. Atopic dermatitis spreads a little farther.
Symptoms of neurodermatitis on your legs
Here are some ways to tell that the rash on your leg might be neurodermatitis:
- Neurodermatitis eczema rashes look like patches of thick, scaly skin.
- In addition to your legs, rashes could appear on your arms, the back of your neck, your scalp, the soles of your feet, or your genitals.
- Neurodermatitis patches will probably itch like the blazes. The itching tends to get worse when you’re chillaxing or asleep.
- As with atopic dermatitis, if you scratch your leg rashes, they can bleed and develop infections.
Why you get neurodermatitis on your legs
Medical scientists still aren’t sure what causes neurodermatitis, aside from the usual eczema catalysts. One thing we do know about neurodermatitis is that it can occur alongside other types of eczema or psoriasis.
If you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to tell if the rash on your leg is nummular eczema. The spots it causes are very distinctive (which is why it’s sometimes called discoid eczema).
Symptoms of nummular eczema on your legs
Here’s how you know your leg rash is a bona fide case of nummular eczema:
- You have round spots on your skin that are roughly the size and shape of a coin.
- The spots itch and may feel rough or scaly.
Why you get nummular eczema on your legs
Nummular eczema is a reaction to insect bites or substances that trigger an allergic reaction. Dry skin can also cause it.
A mix of genetic and environmental factors means that some people get nummular eczema as a reaction to bites/allergens and others don’t. You’re more likely to develop nummular spots if you already have another type of eczema.
Stasis dermatitis goes by many names, including varicose eczema, gravitational eczema, and venous eczema.
Of all eczemas, it’s the most deserving of the legzema title. It occurs pretty much exclusively on the lower legs and feet. Take a bow, stasis dermatitis.
Stasis dermatitis occurs most often in folks who have seen their share of summers. As you get older, the veins in your legs weaken and turn varicose. These weakened leg veins lead to stasis dermatitis.
Symptoms of stasis dermatitis on your legs
If your leg rash fits these criteria, it’s probably stasis dermatitis:
- The rash is concentrated on your lower legs.
- Your lower legs and feet are swollen and feel heavy.
- The skin of your lower legs is dry and scaly and cracks easily. Fluid leaks when the skin cracks, and there are crusty patches that weep continuously.
Why you get stasis dermatitis on your legs
Stasis dermatitis falls into the “eczemas we can actually explain pretty well” category.
Natural wear and tear can cause varicose veins later in life. Varicose veins are weak and get leaky. When this happens, especially in your legs, gravity causes those fluids to sink to the lowest points in your body.
That’s why the condition causes so much swelling in the lower legs (and why it’s sometimes called gravitational eczema).
Leg veins are at particular risk of becoming varicose because of their distance from the heart. It takes more energy to pump blood there. So as you get older and your heart gets weaker, the blood flow to these areas significantly reduces.
Does my baby have eczema on their legs?
Skin rashes are common in babies because their immune systems take a good few years to learn how to distinguish between threats and stuff that’s just there.
Your baby breaks out in a lot of rashes because their immune system is doing an awesome job of learning how to defend their body.
Most of the time, these rashes are nothing to be concerned about. There are plenty of over-the-counter skin creams that will clear them up.
Severe rashes can point to atopic dermatitis or other types of eczema, though. In babies, these usually develop around the mouth (where drooling means the skin is damp all the time). But their tiny bambino legs aren’t immune.
If you’re concerned about a rash on your baby’s legs, it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor. The rash is probably not a cause for concern, but if it’s a symptom of a more serious condition or persistent eczema, it’s better to catch it early on.
Treating eczema on your legs is no different from treating eczema anywhere else. Most types of eczema have related triggers and causes, so methods of treatment for one tend to work on most others.
The most common ways to treat your leg eczema are:
- Moisturizers or emollients. A lot of the itchiness of eczema comes from skin dryness. Moisturizer helps this and reduces skin cracking.
- Steroid creams/ointments. These can help reduce swelling, redness, or soreness.
- Antihistamines. If your eczema is allergy-related, these meds can reduce itchiness.
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors. These can reduce eczema-related inflammation.
- UV phototherapy. In milder to more severe cases, this treatment may help you fight inflammation.
- Antibiotics. Treating a bacterial skin infection can help reduce the effects of any eczema symptoms it’s causing.
- Topical crisaborole. The topical treatment reduces the activity of an enzyme on your skin that may contribute to eczema symptoms.
- Immune modulators. These meds reduce the immune system response that causes eczema symptoms.
Should I see a doctor about my leg eczema?
If you’re not prone to skin conditions, consider seeing your doctor about any rashes or changes you experience.
If you know you have allergies or are prone to eczema flare-ups, then you can probably get away with not seeing the doc about your leg rash unless it’s particularly bad.
Eczema doesn’t currently have a cure, so there’s no magic pill a doctor can prescribe to make it go away. But they can give you some great advice for managing symptoms and prescribe stronger creams or antibiotics when necessary.
So, here’s what we’ve learned about leg eczema:
A few types of eczema can cause flare-ups on your legs. Most types can also break out on other parts of your body. Eczema is most common in kids, but loads of adults have it too.
It’s not usually serious, but it can be super uncomfortable (especially without treatment).
Except in cases of stasis dermatitis, the shape, size, and qualities of your eczema rash are more important than the fact that it has appeared on your legs. Eczema treatment varies by type and cause rather than by bodily location.
Most types of eczema result from environmental triggers that set off genetic and immune responses, causing rashes, blisters, and dry/rough skin patches.
There’s no cure for eczema, but there are plenty of ways to treat and manage it.