Eczema Types

Eczema can be so mild no one notices it, or so severe that the skin becomes leathery from repeated rubbing and scratching. It can cause visible rashes and inflammation anywhere on the skin, but certain types are associated more frequently with specific skin areas. The more common types and their symptoms are listed below.

Asteatotic Eczema

Asteatotic eczema most commonly occurs on the shins of the elderly, although it occasionally develops on the hands or body trunk. Symptoms include dry, cracked skin that develops fissures: skin affected by asteatoic eczema has been described as “cracked porcelain,” or “a dry riverbed.” If the cracks deepen enough, bleeding may occur.

Atopic dermatitis is perhaps the most common type. It causes an itchy rash that is often dry in appearance. The skin may thicken and appear leathery if the rash is constantly scratched. The rash may appear anywhere on the skin, including the hands, feet, ankles, neck and face. The creases of the knees and elbows may also become inflamed.

Atopic dermatitis occurs more often in children than adults, and often presents in combination with asthma. It has been dubbed the “itch that rashes,” because rubbing and scratching the itchy skin brings about the appearance of the rash, rather than the other way around.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a reaction to some type of skin irritant. The resulting rash may be dry or blistering. The two types of contact dermatitis are irritant and allergic contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes into contact with a substance that physically irritates the skin: a few common culprits are bleaches, caustic cleaning solutions, detergents and some soaps.

Allergic contact dermatitis is similar, but occurs when the skin comes into contact with an allergen. Poison ivy, rubber, antibiotic creams and some types of metal may cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals.

Did you know?

Some resources use the terms eczema and dermatitis interchangeably, or associate eczema only with atopic dermatitis. Other sources use “dermatitis” to refer to a skin irritation caused by an external irritant, whereas, “eczema” is used to refer to skin lesions that arise from an unknown, internal cause.

Dyshidrotic Eczema

Also called pompholyx or vesicular eczema, dyshidrotic eczema usually affects the hands, although it may also develop on the feet. Small itchy bumps (“tapioca-like”) appear on the fingers. The bumps then develop into a rash. Dyshidrotic eczema is aggravated by physical or emotional stress, and runs in families.

Nummular Eczema (Discoid Eczema)

Nummular eczema usually appears on the arms and legs. Red, scaly, coin-shaped patches characterize nummular eczema. The disorder’s name comes from nummus, the Latin name for “coin.”

As the condition clears, the patches heal from the inside skin layers to the outer layer. The healing lesions resemble red rings, thus accounting for the disorder’s other name, discoid eczema. Discoid eczema is associated with the winter season, conditions of low humidity, and dry skin.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis affects the face, ears and scalp, causing pink or yellow patches covered by greasy yellow scales. The condition is exactly the same as cradle cap, which often affects infants. Seborrheic dermatitis is often mistaken for dandruff.


American Academy of Dermatology. (nd). What is eczema? Retrieved June 18, 2002, from

Anderson, C.K. (2001). Asteatotic eczema. Retrieved June 19, 2002, from (nd). Eczema and dermatitis. Retrieved June 18, 2002, from

Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. (2001). Eczema. Retrieved June 19, 2002, from