Eczema and psoriasis

Eczema and psoriasisSkin Issues: eczema and psoriasis

Treatments available for eczema and psoriasis are discussed in ‘Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide. Book 1: Face and Skin’.


Eczema, also known as ‘atopic dermatitis’, is an inherited, chronic skin condition that usually appears in early childhood. Patches of skin become red, dry, thickened and itchy, and may weep. Eczema is not contagious. There is no cure, but it can be managed.  Some people ‘outgrow’ the condition.

Types of eczema

There are many different forms of eczema besides the most common form, atopic dermatitis. Others include:

  • Contact dermatitis. There are two types of contact dermatitis— irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Allergic contact dermatitis is a reaction that occurs after the skin has come into contact with a substance that the body’s immune system identifies as foreign. Irritant contact dermatitis is a localized reaction that occurs after the skin has come into contact with an allergen.
  • Dyshidriotic eczema–irritation of skin on palms of hands and soles of feet, characterized by blisters.
  • Neurodermatitis–scaly patches of skin on head, forearms, wrists, lower legs caused by localized irritants such as insect bites.
  • Nummular eczema–circular patches of irritated skin that can be crusted, scaling and itchy.
  • Seborrheic eczema–oily, scaly yellowish patches of skin, generally on the scalp and face.
  • Stasis dermatitis–skin irritation on the lower legs, generally related to circulatory problems.

Eczema triggers

The specific cause of eczema is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of hereditary and environmental factors.  Environmental factors that can trigger the symptoms of eczema include:

  • Irritants such as detergents, shampoos, soaps, and plant juices.
  • Histamine intolerance (see
  • Allergens including dust mites, pets, pollens, mold, and dandruff.
  • Microbes: bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
  • Hot and cold temperatures: hot weather, high and low humidity, perspiration from exercise.
  • Foods such as dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, wheat.
  • Emotional stress is not a cause of eczema but can make symptoms worse.
  • Hormones: women can experience worsening of eczema symptoms at times when their hormone levels are changing, for example during pregnancy and at certain points in their menstrual cycle.


Psoriasis occurs when a person’s skin cells grow more rapidly than normal. The body naturally forms new skin cells every month, to replace older skin that flakes off. With psoriasis, the new skin cells are formed every few days, instead of every few weeks. Because of this fast growth, dead skin cells build up on the skin’s surface, causing patches of scaly, bumpy, thick, red, dry, itchy and sometimes painful skin.
‘Psoriasis is a common, chronic, relapsing/remitting, immune-mediated inflammatory skin disease characterized by red, scaly patches, papules, and plaques, which usually itch and/or flake. The skin lesions seen in psoriasis may vary in severity from minor localized patches to complete body coverage. The disease affects 2–4% of the general population.’
Scientists do not fully understand the causes of psoriasis. It is not merely a skin condition, because it can adversely affect other parts of the body, both internal and external. Unlike eczema, psoriasis frequently affects the outer side of the joint. It often appears on fingernails and toenails. Up to 30% of people with psoriasis may also suffer from inflammation of the joints (psoriatic arthritis).
It is not contagious. There is no cure for psoriasis, but with the right treatment it can be well controlled.

Types of psoriasis

The five main types of psoriasis are plaque, guttate, inverse,pustular, and erythrodermic. Plaque psoriasis is the most common form. It usually shows up as patches of silvery-white, scaly build-ups of skin cells. These plaques often form on the skin of the elbows and knees, but they can appear on any area of the body including the hands, the soles of feet, the underarms and the scalp.

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