If your skin is tight or itchy, knowing the difference between dry skin vs. eczema can help you treat your symptoms and get back to better skin days.

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Dry Skin Vs. Eczema: How To Tell The Difference

04/12/20238 min read

Your skin is tight, sensitive, and irritated. After a Google search trying to figure out what the problem could be, you’ve come up with two possibilities: dry skin vs. eczema.

Dry skin and eczema can both cause your skin to become scaly, itchy, and red. On top of that, eczema can even cause dry skin.

Because these skin conditions have overlapping symptoms, it can be difficult to confidently tell the difference between them. However, understanding which condition you have is the first step toward getting the treatment you need.

In this article, we’ll help you understand how to tell the two apart and, most importantly, share some effective ways you can treat each one.

At Bodewell, we care about the health of your skin, but before we discuss the options for getting your glow back, let’s dive deeper into each of these skin woes.

Table Of Contents

What Is Dry Skin?

Woman touching her face to determine if it’s dry skin vs. eczema

Dry skin is a common skin problem, characterized by a lack of moisture. Even though our skin becomes drier and thinner as we get older, it affects people of all ages.


While some people may require long-term treatment, dry skin is usually seasonal or temporary. For example, some experience it only during the cold winter months and are fine for the rest of the year.

The symptoms of dry skin may differ depending on your environment, age, skin tone, sun exposure, and general health.

They include:

  • Skin that looks and feels rough and tight
  • Scaling or peeling that ranges from mild to severe
  • Cracks or fine lines
  • Itching
  • Skin that varies from reddish to grayish
  • Cracks that may bleed


When you’re trying to decide if it’s dry skin vs. eczema, you’ll need to look at what’s causing your skin troubles in the first place. Often, dry skin has an environmental cause you can pinpoint, while eczema has a genetic or allergy-related root cause.

To help you determine what’s going on, let’s look at some of the reasons you may have developed dry skin:

  • Living in cold, windy, or low-humidity climates
  • Dehydration — not drinking enough water can affect your entire body, including your skin
  • Using harsh soaps and detergents that strip the moisture from your skin
  • Excessive bathing or scrubbing — taking long, hot baths or showers can damage your skin by stripping it of its natural oils
  • Autoimmune conditions, like eczema or psoriasis
  • Age — as we get older, our skin tends to get thinner and produces fewer of the oils required for water retention
  • Certain medical conditions — some people develop dry skin from dialysis, cancer treatment, or other medications

With so many possibilities, finding the exact cause of your dry skin can be a bit difficult. To help you narrow it down, here are some questions you can ask yourself.

Have I Recently Switched Products?

Your skin may react to changes in your soap, shampoo, body wash, deodorant, laundry detergent, or any other product it comes into contact with regularly. If you’ve recently switched brands or formulas, consider using your old one again to see if your dry skin disappears.

Is The Relative Humidity In My Home Between 40-60%?

Studies show that low and high humidity levels can cause problems, so the ideal level in your home is 40-60%.

Above that, you risk exposure to mold and fungi that can wreak havoc on your health. And if it drops below 40%, you’re more likely to experience dry skin, nose bleeds, itchy eyes, and other health issues.

Some modern HVAC units display your home’s humidity levels. An inexpensive hygrometer can measure your home’s humidity if yours doesn't.

Do I Spend A Lot Of Time In The Tub?

Woman soaking in the tub

While your skin needs water, spending too much time in either the shower or tub can be problematic. Hot water strips your skin of its natural oils, leaving it dry and irritated.

If you’re a fan of long baths, try shorter showers with lukewarm water to see if your dry skin improves.

Is Dry Skin A Side-Effect From Medication I’m Taking?

Some medications can cause dry skin. Common culprits are anti-inflammatory drugs, cholesterol-lowering medicines, and medicines for depression or arthritis.

If you think a medication is causing dry skin, talk to your doctor about switching doses or changing prescriptions.

Have I Changed My Skin Care Routine To Account For Getting Older?

Everyone ages, and with age comes a change in the way our skin behaves. As we get older, our skin produces fewer natural oils, making it more susceptible to dryness and irritation.

If you’re over 40 and still using the same skincare routine you used in your twenties, it’s time to make some changes.

Consider switching to products specifically designed for mature skin, using lighter cleansers and thicker moisturizers, and protecting your skin from the sun with a broad-spectrum sunscreen. These can help keep your skin hydrated.

What Is Eczema?

Man scratching dry skin on his arm

Although eczema isn’t as common as dry skin, it still affects many people. According to the National Eczema Association, the skin condition affects over 31 million people in the U.S. (about 10% of the population).

At Eczema often appears in early childhood, and while people usually outgrow it, in some cases, it can last well into adulthood. Eczema is also more common in people with a family history of the condition.


If you have eczema, you may experience:

  • Scaly or rough and leathery skin
  • Sensitive and dry skin
  • Swelling in certain areas
  • Discolored and inflamed skin that can be itchy
  • Crusting or oozing
  • Intense itching on parts of the body that worsens at night


According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, eczema is often an inherited condition. This means if your parents or grandparents also had trouble with eczema, you’re more likely to experience it.

Allergies also play a role in the development of eczema. In fact, up to 80% of children with eczema are later diagnosed with hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis.

While genetics and allergies may be at the heart of your condition, most people with eczema experience periods when they have flare-ups and times when their symptoms can subside for a few weeks to a few months.

Although research is still ongoing about what exactly causes eczema, some common flare-up triggers include:

  • Dry skin — when your skin is too dry, it can easily become brittle, scaly, rough, or tight, resulting in an eczema flare-up
  • Pollutants
  • Harsh soaps, detergents, and everyday products
  • Allergens (e.g., pet hair, pollen, etc.)
  • Stress
  • Wearing wool and other rough fabrics
  • Smoking
  • Sweating
  • Excessive heat

However, before you start trying to figure out exactly what is causing your skin to dry out, it’s important to determine if you’re experiencing an eczema flare-up or just regular dry skin.

Dry Skin Vs. Eczema: How To Tell The Difference

From the above symptoms, it’s easy to see how you could mistake dry skin for eczema, or the other way around.

One of the best ways to tell if you have one condition or the other is to take note of when you experience dry skin. If you feel dryness after you’ve been exposed to some common triggers (e.g., cold weather), then you most likely just have dry skin.

On the other hand, if you experience dry skin for unknown reasons and this feeling is coupled with excessive itching, you may have eczema.

Eczema symptoms also tend to get worse if you don’t treat them correctly. So, if you notice that you’re moisturizing but the dryness and itching don’t stop, this may be a sign that you’re not just dealing with dry skin.

Since genetics and allergies also play a role in eczema, it’s essential to consider those angles. Ask yourself:

  • Does anyone else in your family have similar symptoms?
  • Have you been struggling with dry skin issues since childhood?
  • Do you have any food or environmental allergies?
  • Do you have asthma?
  • Does your dry skin come and go regularly?

If you can answer yes to any of those questions, chances are high that you have eczema. If not, it’s still possible that eczema is causing your trouble, but it’s less likely.

To help you determine the cause of your dry skin, a trip to a dermatologist can help. They can take a look at your skin, ask you questions about your lifestyle, and run tests to help give you a proper diagnosis.

Dry Skin Vs. Eczema: Treatment Options

Now that you know what’s causing your skin troubles, it’s time to find the best treatment option based on your condition.

Dry Skin Treatment

Unhappy woman looking in a mirror

Here are some of the most effective ways to treat dry skin.

Moisturize Often

While it may sound simple, moisturizing is one of your best defenses against dry skin.

Opt for over-the-counter options, or have your dermatologist recommend a moisturizer that contains active ingredients to heal your skin, such as glycerol, lactic acid, and urea. The right combination will repair and hydrate your skin's outer layer.

Use Gentle Products

It's essential to examine the ingredient list on all products you purchase for yourself and your home.

While shopping, look for keywords like "unscented," "fragrance-free," "organic," "natural ingredients," or "dye-free" on soaps, detergents, and shampoos. These are generally gentler on the skin and less likely to strip it of its natural oils.

Take Shorter, Lukewarm Showers

Taking a hot shower or a bath for an extended period of time removes moisture from your skin. So, be sure to shower or bathe no more than 10 minutes at a time.

While doing so, use a gentle cleanser designed for dry skin. Ideally, you’ll find a fragrance-free one with ingredients like niacinamide, shea butter, or hyaluronic acid. These can help lock in moisture and leave your skin feeling soft and smooth.

When you get out, pat yourself dry with a soft towel. Don’t rub yourself with any rough material since that could damage your natural skin barrier.

After your shower or bath, be sure to moisturize within a few minutes of stepping out and every time after washing your hands throughout the day.

Run A Humidifier

During the cold winter months, the air in your home can be very dry. If you're prone to getting dry skin, that's not good news for you. Thankfully, a humidifier can help by adding some much-needed moisture back into the air.

As mentioned above, you’ll want to keep your home’s humidity level between 40-60%.

Eczema Treatment

Woman looking in small mirror at dry skin vs. eczema

While some of the above lifestyle changes can help improve your eczema symptoms, you’ll likely need to also try some of these common eczema treatments to get complete relief.

Topical OTC Products

Topical over-the-counter eczema treatments are typically moisturizing, anti-rash, anti-itch, and gentle skin cleansing products.

Our Eczema Daily Calming Cream contains our unique proprietary BW22 botanical blend and colloidal oatmeal. This formula helps relieve eczema itch and irritation that tends to be persistent.

Apply it whenever you’re feeling itchy or dry. The non-greasy formula means you don’t have to worry about it transferring onto your clothing (or anything else).

When you’re out and about, use Eczema Daily Calming Cream: On-the-Go. The convenient travel-sized bottle fits easily into your purse or bag and allows you to get relief no matter where you are.

Natural Home Remedies

Over the years, people have developed many natural remedies to help with eczema. You can try a few of these nonpharmacologic approaches and see what works best for you.

Special Baths

An easy way to reduce dry skin and eczema symptoms is to bathe in a warm bath, then moisturize the skin immediately afterward. This warm bath should include naturally calming ingredients, such as Epsom salts, sea salts, or oatmeal.

Some people claim adding apple cider vinegar, bath oils, or baking soda to the water helps keep their symptoms at bay. If you try this, remember a little goes a long way. So start with a ¼ of a cup and see if that helps.

Taking Probiotics

The connection between your gut and your skin is only beginning to be understood. But some research suggests that probiotics may help improve symptoms of eczema and other skin conditions.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help restore balance in your gut microbiome — the ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes living inside you. And when your gut is in balance, it can help improve many symptoms.

Try to get probiotics through your diet, by eating foods like yogurt, kefir, or kimchi. You can also take a supplement if you can’t get enough via the foods you eat.

Dietary Changes

Some people change the way they eat to relieve symptoms. Though there’s no official eczema diet, eating plenty of whole foods and avoiding sugar, fried foods, common allergens, and processed foods seem beneficial.

Reducing Stress Levels

Stress has been linked to the severity and frequency of eczema flare-ups, so making time for relaxation and rest is essential.

Whether it’s taking a yoga class, going for a walk, or listening to calming music, find something that works for you and do it regularly.

You can also try aromatherapy to help you stay calm. Diffusing essential oils, like lavender, geranium, and chamomile, can relax your mind and body.

Using Silk Sheets

You’re in your bed for several hours each night. If your current bedding irritates your skin, you’ll be more prone to flare-ups. To prevent this, switch to a softer, breathable fabric, like silk.

These materials won’t pull at your skin and can help keep it feeling soft and comfortable through the night. Plus, they offer an extra layer of protection from dust mites and other allergens commonly found in bedding.

Avoid Triggers

It’s also important to be aware of your triggers because avoiding them can help reduce the severity of flare-ups.

Keeping a journal of your reactions to the different triggers listed earlier can help you identify the most problematic ones. Once you know what causes your eczema to flare, avoiding those things will be easier.

Since allergies and eczema often go hand-in-hand, visiting an allergy specialist might be worthwhile. They can do tests to determine if you’re allergic to anything.

Prescription Products

Dermatologists may prescribe skin barrier creams for eczema flare-ups. These products help relieve the redness, itchiness, and dryness on your skin.

Eczema can be persistent, and you may need to try a variety of prescribed creams and lotions before finding the perfect one for you.

If topical treatments aren’t working, your doctor may prescribe oral steroids, antibiotics, or antihistamines. These can help reduce inflammation and itchiness that doesn’t respond to topical treatments.

If you have a severe case of eczema, your doctor may also suggest trying biologic drugs. These help block the immune response associated with eczema.

Wet Wrapping

Woman wrapping a cloth bandage around her hand

When your skin is feeling particularly dry and itchy, wet wrapping therapy can help. Start by using warm water to get cotton wrap dressings or gauze damp. Then, wrap it over the impacted area.

Next, add a dry layer over the wet one. You can use dry gauze, cotton socks, or mittens, depending on which part of the body it’s on.

Leave the wet wraps on for several hours before removing them.

Light Therapy

This treatment is for people who either do not improve with topical therapies or relapse quickly after treatment.

The most basic form of light therapy consists of exposing your skin to controlled amounts of natural sunlight. Other types of treatment use artificial ultraviolet A and narrowband ultraviolet B either alone or in combination with medications.

Long-term light therapy, while effective, can have negative side effects, such as premature skin aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. Phototherapy is less commonly used in young children and is not given to infants for these reasons.

If you think this treatment option is right for you, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of light therapy with your doctor.

Get Your Glow Back With Bodewell

Woman applying moisturizer to face

Whether you’re treating dry skin or eczema, finding relief is possible. The first step is to identify the specific condition you have, since treatment for dry skin vs. eczema is slightly different.

Dry skin tends to be more common and leaves your skin feeling dry, tight, rough, and itchy. The good news is that you can get rid of it with simple measures, such as moisturizing, choosing gentler products, taking shorter showers, and using a humidifier in your home.

On the other hand, eczema can leave your skin dry, scaly, rough, itchy, and sensitive to the touch. Getting the right topical products can play a significant role in helping relieve symptoms.

Our Eczema Daily Calming Cream and Eczema Daily Calming Cream: On-the-Go: are uniquely formulated to provide you with effective and gentle skincare solutions.

No matter your skin woes, with the above tips and tricks, you can help your skin look and feel better in no time.


American Academy of Dermatology Association
American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology
National Eczema Association
National Library of Medicine

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