Atopic dermatitis (aka eczema) and psoriasis are common chronic skin conditions. Each can turn your skin into an itchy battlefield of scaling, crusty patches. But since they both can cause similar symptoms, telling them apart can get confusing. But don’t worry!

There are several ways to spot the difference between eczema and psoriasis. Identifying your skin’s sitch can help your get your skin back on track.

Atopic dermatitis vs. psoriasis

Here’s the 411 on atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

Symptoms. Atopic dermatitis can cause thickened, scaling, dry, reddish (or purplish depending on skin tone), or itchy skin that typically thrives in the creases of your arms and legs. Psoriasis can have similar symptoms, but the red patches might also have an overlying silvery scale. Psoriasis is also more likely to show up on your elbows or knees. More severe types of psoriasis can also cause nail lifting or swollen or tender joints.

Treatments. One of the most important things to do if you have eczema or psoriasis is to take great care of your skin. That means avoiding harsh chemicals and using soothing, nonirritating ingredients. Over-the-counter (OTC) meds can also come in clutch. Oral antihistamines or topical corticosteroid creams can ease itching and reduce inflammation.

If OTC methods don’t work, your doctor might prescribe phototherapy, biologic drugs, or retinoids. Psoriasis can also be treated by prescription meds like cyclosporine or apremilast.

Causes. Researchers are still trying to figure out the exact causes of atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. Both conditions seem to have a genetic link and might be triggered by stress. Some scientists also think that psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, but we still don’t know for sure.

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Here’s what symptoms to expect with atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis symptoms can range from mild to severe. You might experience:

Symptoms can pop up anywhere on your body. In adults, flareups are most common on the:

  • neck
  • face
  • eyelids
  • hands
  • back of knees
  • inside of elbows


Psoriasis isn’t a one-size-fits-all skin sitch. There are lots of different types and each comes with its own symptoms.

The most common type is plaque psoriasis which affects 80 to 90 percent of people who have the condition. Folks with this form of psoriasis can have thick, reddish patches of skin. You might also have scaling plaques with silvery scaling. The patches can be itchy, annoying, and painful.

Other forms of psoriasis (like psoriatic arthritis, nail psoriasis, pustular psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, or guttate psoriasis) can cause symptoms like:

  • nail pitting
  • very sore skin
  • pus-filled bumps
  • rough, crumbling nails
  • morning joint stiffness
  • tender or swollen joints
  • smooth, raw red patches
  • small reddish bumps on the skin
  • discoloration of one or more nails

Psoriasis can affect your quality of life and confidence, but most forms aren’t usually dangerous to your health. But erythrodermic psoriasis is a different story. This condition is very serious and can cause severe symptoms like:

  • severely itchy and painful skin
  • skin that flakes off in large pieces
  • lesions that cover large areas of the body
  • red, scaling skin that looks extremely burnt
  • fever, chills, rapid pulse, and muscle weakness

These photos can help you spot the difference between atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

There’s currently no cure for atopic dermatitis or psoriasis. The good news is that there are lots of treatment options that can help you manage symptoms.

Atopic dermatitis

You might be able to manage moderate atopic dermatitis at home with a solid skin care regimen. That means using emollients (aka moisturizers) and cleansing with gentle, soap-free cleansers. You might also find relief with:

  • UV light therapy
  • topical calcineurin inhibitors
  • oral antihistamines to calm itching
  • OTC or prescription corticosteroid creams to ease inflammation
  • antibacterial creams that reduce your risk of skin infections
  • Dupilumab, a biologic medication that’s taken by injection every other week


Psoriasis treatments depend on the type of psoriasis you have and how severe your symptoms are. Your doctor might suggest:

  • biologic medications
  • topical or oral retinoids
  • topical steroid creams
  • OTC corticosteroid creams
  • coal tar soaps or shampoos
  • phototherapy or light therapy
  • vitamin D creams including calcitriol or calcipotriene
  • oral medications like antihistamines, cyclosporine, or apremilast

Researchers are still trying to figure out the exact cause of atopic dermatitis or psoriasis. But certain factors can increase your chances of developing either condition.

Atopic dermatitis

About 2 to 3 percent of adults and up to 25 percent of kids in the United States have atopic dermatitis. Possible causes and triggers include:

  • Genetics. Research shows that people are more likely to develop it if their relatives have it.
  • Emotions. Stress and anxiety can’t cause eczema, but they can def trigger a flare-up.
  • Other conditions. Half of eczema patients also experience food allergies, asthma, and hay fever.
  • Chemicals. Chemicals found in certain soaps, body washes, shampoos, detergents, and perfumes can irritate the skin and may cause a flare-up.
  • Climate. Extreme heat, cold climates, dry air, or a sudden change in temperature can trigger symptoms.


Around 7.5 million people in the United States have psoriasis. Some experts think it’s an autoimmune condition, but there hasn’t been a clear consensus on that. It may be a mix of genetics and an overactive immune system.

Psoriasis can be triggered by:

Reminder: Atopic dermatitis and psoriasis are chronic conditions that have no cure. You might be able to avoid breakouts by avoiding triggers. But sometimes, flare-ups can’t be avoided and OTC options don’t always work.

Call your doc ASAP if your skin is affecting your life. Let them know if you have open wounds, oozing sores, inflamed joints, scaling skin, or pus-filled bumps. They can prescribe medications and suggest treatments to help you manage your symptoms.

Atopic dermatitis and psoriasis are chronic skin conditions that can cause scaling, crusting, red, swollen, itchy, or painful skin. Psoriasis is more likely than eczema to show up on your elbows, forearms, and knees. But everyone is different.

While there’s currently no cure, each condition can be managed with appropriate care. Minor symptoms can be treated with OTC antihistamines, topical corticosteroids, and good skin care. But more severe symptoms might require prescription meds or professional treatments like phototherapy.