What is the difference between eczema and dry skin?

They might share the same symptom of flaky skin, but eczema and dryness are not the same, although the latter is usually a consequence of the former. Let's take a closer look at what dry skin and eczema really are.

What is the difference between eczema and dry skin?

What is dry skin?

Dry skin occurs when the outer layer of your skin - the epidermis - is unable to produce the amount of natural oils needed to keep the hydrolipic film (the barrier than protects skin from bacteria and keeps in water) healthy. This can be a genetic weakness or can be caused/exacerbated by sun damage, water exposure or the use of harsh cosmetics. Oil production can also decrease with age, explaining the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as the skin does not have enough moisture to bounce back into position.

While skin is supposed to shed continually (up to one million cells per day) to promote the growth of new, healthy cells from beneath, with naturally dry skin these cells are held to the surface of the skin for longer than they should, forming clumps that become visible as white flakes.

What is eczema?

Eczema, however, is very different from dry skin, although dry skin is a common symptom of eczema. The exact cause of eczema has yet to be fully understood, but genetics are believed to play a significant role. The body's immune system reacts, as if to an allergy, and provokes the breakout.

The word eczema can be used to describe any skin condition involving a rash, but the true definition is atopic (a form of allergy) dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), a chronic skin condition that involves a red, itchy rash and dry skin that can occur all over the body.

So, the difference between the two is...

Put simply, while dry skin is a skin type - others include combination, oily and normal - eczema is a skin condition. Finding skincare treatments that help encourage oil production, or provide the lacking moisture, can reduce the symptoms of naturally dry skin.

Eczema, however, can flare up at any time, and when this occurs it should be treated with products specifically formulated to soothe inflammation and calm itching. If you have eczema, you may want to see a doctor for advice how to care for your skin.