What are the 3 eczema stages and how do you treat them? Understand eczema, what your skin is going through, and what you can do about it.

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The Three Eczema Stages: What You Need To Know

04/09/20238 min read

Did you know there are different eczema stages? If you suffer from eczema, you’ve probably experienced how uncomfortable and painful the irritation can be.

In this article, we’ll cover the stages, symptoms, and causes of eczema, as well as eczema healing and what your treatment options are so you can get back to better skin days.

Table Of Contents

Eczema Stages

Atopic dermatitis — known more commonly as eczema — is a skin condition that causes red, dry, itchy, and irritated skin. It’s triggered by environmental factors, genetic factors, or a combination of the two.

For example, eczema-prone skin can become inflamed or irritated from things like surface contact, allergens, or medications. Hormonal factors and even your levels of stress can also lead to eczema flare-ups.

While not contagious, this irritation can spread or get worse the more you scratch it. But whether you scratch it or not, after developing eczema, you may go through three stages. These stages aren’t always linear, and you might not see every stage during each flare-up.

Additionally, the stages all have slightly different symptoms and tips for treatment. Let’s take a look at each of these eczema healing stages below and some ways to soothe your skin. Then we’ll close with some thoughts about keeping the right perspective on your eczema condition.

1) Acute Eczema

The acute stage of eczema refers to a rash that is just starting to appear. This stage usually starts with itching before you even see any visible signs of inflammation on your skin.

Here are some other symptoms to look out for at this stage.

Symptoms Of Acute Eczema

  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Redness or skin discoloration
  • Small bumps

If you are seeing these symptoms for the first time and are researching what the cause might be, make an appointment to see a medical professional and get a diagnosis.

A trained health professional can determine whether you’re actually suffering from eczema or some other condition with similar symptoms, such as psoriasis or mycosis. Properly diagnosing your condition is essential to properly treating and managing it.

We should also mention that while this article focuses on atopic dermatitis, which is the most common form of the disease, there are several other types of eczema.

Trigger factors and treatments may vary from type to type, and it’s also possible to suffer from more than one type.

Causes Of Acute Eczema

Triggers for an acute eczema flare-up can range from irritating clothing to animal dander and food allergies. It can be hard to pin down exactly what is causing your own irritation since everyone’s immune system is different and has unique reactions to the environment.

Man itching his arm

Treatment Options

Even if you don’t know the exact cause, there are many options to treat the acute stage of eczema and heal your inflammation. Using a cold compress or cool, wet towel can help relieve the intense itching and irritation when you are tempted to scratch at your skin.

Also, taking an oatmeal bath is a tried and true at-home remedy for eczema, as the soothing components in oats help moisturize and protect the skin barrier.

Another option is using steroids, either topically in the form of a cream or ointment or orally in the form of pills. However, there are some health risks to using steroids long-term, so consult your doctor or pharmacist about the frequency and duration of use.

You can also try skincare products designed to soothe eczema. Our Eczema Daily Calming Cream contains the power of colloidal oatmeal and a unique formula with a blend of botanicals that moisturize your skin to help improve its appearance over time.

When you are suffering from acute eczema, It is also important to avoid harsh laundry detergents, cleansers, and anything else that comes into contact with your skin.

2) Subacute Eczema

Child with the second eczema healing stage

The second stage that you will likely experience during an eczema flare-up is subacute eczema. (However, as we noted above, you may skip right over acute eczema and start at this stage instead.)

Symptoms Of Subacute Eczema

  • Flaky or scaly skin
  • Cracked skin
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Stinging
  • Redness or skin discoloration (usually less intense than the acute stage)

As painful and uncomfortable as the burning and stinging of this stage of eczema are, they also signal that healing is happening. And your symptoms are often less intense and painful than what you may experience during the acute stage.

Although the usual progression of eczema is from acute to subacute, sometimes your flare-up will revert back to symptoms from the acute stage as it heals.

In addition, some cases of eczema will heal from the subacute stage without ever entering the chronic stage we’ll discuss below. But it’s important to note that if the subacute stage lasts for a long time, it is likely to progress to the next stage.

Treating Subacute Eczema

What can you do to treat subacute eczema? Topical treatments, like our Eczema Daily Calming Cream, are usually the first line of defense to moisturize flaky and cracked skin.

Moisture is extremely important at this stage, as the skin barrier is compromised and more susceptible to infections. If irritating chemicals or particles get into the sensitive areas of your skin, your symptoms and inflammation can greatly worsen.

Some people also find that antihistamine products can help reduce the itching associated with eczema.

Experiment with different combinations of treatments and speak with your healthcare provider to discover the treatment right for you.

3) Chronic Eczema

Now that we’ve looked at the first two stages, let’s take a look at the final eczema stage. This stage appears in longer-lasting flare-ups when your eczema does not heal after the subacute stage.

There is no set time frame for when it begins or how long it lasts. So, you may experience these symptoms for many months or even years as your immune system combats your triggers.

Man with the third eczema healing stage

Symptoms Of Chronic Eczema

  • Cracks or fissures in the skin
  • Deep lines in the skin
  • Dark or dull skin discoloration
  • Excoriations, or skin breakdown areas
  • Itching
  • Thick or leathery skin
  • Lichenification or neurodermatitis

More intense care is needed at this stage, as the symptoms can be quite severe and are caused by prolonged scratching of the skin surface as it tries to heal.

Treatment Options For Chronic Eczema

Preventing itching is the most important part of treating chronic eczema because repeated friction and irritation are what usually prevent eczema from healing completely.

Antihistamine products remain a viable option for relieving itchiness so you can avoid scratching and your skin can heal. However, be aware of their side effects; many of them cause drowsiness, so it’s best to take them at night.

Some people see their symptoms improve with phototherapy. This involves sitting under a machine that emits UVB light for a few seconds or minutes at a time over the course of months. This can help reduce inflammation and increase levels of vitamin D.

Note: Phototherapy should always be done by a trained healthcare professional.

For many eczema sufferers, there is a link between symptoms and stress, so think about what you can do to reduce anxieties that may be contributing to your chronic eczema.

Of course, suffering from eczema can itself lead to frustration, embarrassment, and depression, creating a vicious cycle that makes the condition worse. Consider therapy or support groups if eczema is having a severe impact on your self-image and emotional wellbeing.

If your eczema reaches this stage, you might need to more seriously consider what lifestyle changes you can make to avoid allergens and triggers that may be contributing to your flare-up.

Eczema Healing And Prevention

Woman’s arm with eczema flare-up

If you regularly have eczema flare-ups that progress to the chronic stage, then it may be worth considering if there are any changes in your lifestyle and environment that can reduce your flare-ups. The best treatment is always prevention.

For example, what you eat is often a trigger for eczema. An elimination diet may help you learn what you need to avoid in order for your immune system to thrive.

This involves abstaining from certain foods for a set period of time and then incorporating them back into your diet to see if your flare-ups are affected.

Dietary changes that some eczema sufferers have found to have a positive impact include eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, as well as eating more foods rich in probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids.

As we’ve mentioned previously, for many people with eczema, stress is one of the main factors in triggering flare-ups. Stress releases hormones that can weaken your immune system, make your skin unusually oily, and make it harder for your skin to recover from irritation and damage.

Other hormonal factors can also be eczema triggers. For example, women with eczema often find that symptoms worsen during pregnancy or when hitting menopause.

Keep in mind that pregnant women should always consult their doctor before beginning any new treatment.

Another common trigger is pet dander, so wash sheets and clothes and vacuum often if you have pets and suffer from eczema. Try to keep pets off of couches or beds, if possible. Bathe your pet often, and do any brushing outside.

A simple step you can take to reduce the frequency and severity of your eczema flare-ups is to change your bathing habits. Hot water can dry out your skin, so consider switching to showers or baths that are only moderately warm instead.

In addition, being vigilant about the laundry detergents and bath products you use can help your skin heal faster. Avoiding irritating fabrics and fibers, such as wool, will also reduce irritation.

If avoiding irritants isn’t enough to keep your symptoms at bay, you may want to consider talking to your healthcare provider to discuss other treatment options. It’s also important to moisturize your eczema-prone skin.

Ask your doctor about adding a moisturizer to the treatment they recommend.

Applying a gentle moisturizer, like our Eczema Daily Calming Cream, can help lock in hydration and soothe skin.

Signs Eczema Is Healing

Since the progression of eczema stages can be highly variable, with flare-ups cycling back and forth between stages, it can be difficult to tell when a flare-up is actually moving in the right direction toward healing.

As a flare-up goes from the acute to the subacute stage, there’s usually a reduction in itchy skin irritation. However, you may experience more intense burning or stinging sensations instead.

A healing eczema rash, on the other hand, is typically dry. The disappearance of oozing blisters is another indicator that a flare-up has moved into the subacute phase.

At the end of a flare-up, you may see flaking and peeling as your body heals the affected area with fresh, smooth skin.

If eczema reaches the chronic stage, you may observe the affected areas of your skin thickening or darkening.

Eczema Complications

As you take steps to reduce and treat your eczema flare-ups, you should also be aware of potential complications related to your condition. Some of them are caused by alterations in the barrier function of your skin, while others may be unintended consequences of treatment.


If you have atopic dermatitis, your skin is lacking in infection-fighting proteins. This can cause a vulnerability to various types of skin infections.

Some of the most common types of infection are bacterial in nature. In fact, many people with atopic dermatitis are likely to develop infections due to staph bacteria in their skin that can lead to an unhealthy microbiome.

Eczema can also make you more susceptible to viral infections. For example, the herpes simplex virus (usually most known for causing cold sores) can cause a severe skin condition called atopic dermatitis with eczema herpeticum.

Other Complications

In people of color, eczema may result in hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation of the affected areas after flare-ups — a darkening or lightening of that area compared to the rest of the body.

In addition, if you try an elimination diet, you should carefully consider your complete nutritional needs. An abrupt, radical change in diet could have unforeseen effects on your overall health.

And, lastly, if you use topical corticosteroids to treat your eczema flare-ups, you should thoroughly understand the potential side effects. The same goes for antihistamines or any other drugs used to manage your condition. Always consult a health professional if you’re in doubt.

What To Understand About Eczema Stages And Healing

Woman looking at a sunrise

As we’ve mentioned a few times, the progression of eczema flare-ups and healing is not linear. If we’re starting to sound like a broken record on this point, it’s only because it’s so important.

Here are a few other things to consider:

Flare-Ups Aren’t Linear

If you expect each flare-up to progress in a consistent and predictable fashion, you’ll only end up frustrated.

A flare-up can appear with subacute symptoms, skipping over the acute stage completely. In addition, it’s also not uncommon for flare-ups to switch back and forth between the acute and subacute stages for some time.

It’s also important to note that an eczema flare-up doesn’t necessarily have to be in only one stage or another and different affected areas can be in different stages.

Some sources also classify flare-ups based on their severity rather than using “stages” terminology that might suggest a consistent cycle from one phase to another.

On the other hand, the classification of flare-ups into the three healing stages of acute, subacute, and chronic can be helpful because it serves as a reminder that while eczema is a life-long condition, individual flare-ups are temporary.

The Perspective Is Important

As you probably know if you have been diagnosed with eczema, there is currently no cure for the disease. Therefore, it’s important to keep your condition in perspective and have proper expectations. Having a healthy mindset can be an important step to healthier skin.

The day you were diagnosed with eczema wasn’t your first day with the disease; it was the first day of understanding your condition so that you could manage it better and find relief.

Likewise, the first day of a flare-up is the first day of the process of healing that flare-up — even if the process won’t always be the same.

Many studies have shown that there is a correlation between better disease outcomes and an optimistic attitude on the part of the person with the disease. A positive outlook can be a powerful healing tool.

There Are Reasons For Optimism

While you can’t cure eczema, the good news is that knowing what your flare-up triggers are and making appropriate life changes can help you reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks, and the right treatments can make you more comfortable when flare-ups do occur.

Another piece of good news is that eczema doesn’t get worse with age. In fact, many people with eczema report that their flare-ups become less frequent as they get older.

Finally, remember that you are not alone; it’s estimated that 10% of the U.S. population has some form of eczema. Support groups for those with the disease are increasingly common.

Woman with relief from eczema symptoms

Staying Positive Throughout The Eczema Healing Stages

Now that you know everything you need to know about the eczema healing and stages, you can treat your symptoms and avoid triggers that worsen flare-ups.

Understanding the progression this skin condition takes is important for finding the right healing methods for you.

While there are several ways to treat eczema, oftentimes the best way to get relief is simply by using the correct moisturizer that will help your skin heal itself and protect it from exposure to irritants. The Bodewell line of eczema treatments is the perfect way to help relieve irritation and itch.

No matter which stage your eczema is in, be patient with your body as it rebuilds and replenishes your skin barrier. With the right care, you’ll be back to better skin days in no time!


Mayo Clinic
National Eczema Association
National Eczema Society
National Institute of Health
National Library of Medicine

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