An Overview of Eczema and Acne: Diagnosis and Treatment

If the skin on your face is inflamed, irritated, and red, the cause can sometimes be difficult to determine. Is it eczema or is it acne? This article will discuss eczema and acne symptoms, treatment methods, and steps for prevention.

young Asian woman with acne applying acne cream on her face

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Eczema vs. Acne

Eczema causes skin inflammation. There are several different forms of eczema, and the most common one is atopic dermatitis. All forms of eczema cause dry, flaky, scaly skin, along with redness and itching. Eczema can affect people of any age.

Acne, on the other hand, is a skin condition that causes bumps to form on the skin when hair follicles become clogged with oil, dead skin, and bacteria. Acne is most common among teenagers during puberty as a result of fluctuating hormones, but acne can also last well into the adult years. In addition, acne is a common symptom during menstrual cycles. 

The Signs of Eczema and Symptoms of Acne

Eczema almost always causes an itchy, red rash in patches on the face or body, commonly in the creases of the elbows or knees. Redness and itching are the main symptoms of eczema, but affected skin areas can also become dry, flaky, and scaly. 

The most common form of eczema called atopic dermatitis is frequently seen in people with a personal or family history of hay fever or asthma as these conditions commonly occur together. Affected areas of the skin may turn darker, and small bumps that can become infected may develop if scratched and the skin is broken.

Eczema can also develop from an allergic reaction to a particular substance. This type of eczema is called contact dermatitis, which can also cause increased skin redness, pain, and swelling.

Acne produces pimples from clogged pores. Acne most commonly develops on the face, forehead, upper back, chest, and shoulders. Acne pimples are small, raised bumps that are red or the color of your skin and have a white center or enlarged and darkened pores (blackheads).

Acne is typically not itchy, and most acne is not painful, with the exception of cystic acne. Cystic acne causes larger, swollen, and painful nodules and cysts under the skin.

Ways to Diagnose and Treat Eczema and Acne

Eczema is diagnosed by a dermatologist based on personal and family history and the physical appearance of the skin. A skin biopsy, removing a small tissue of skin for further examination, may help confirm a diagnosis and rule out other skin conditions, like fungal infections.

Eczema cannot be cured, but treatments like moisturizing the skin and managing stress can help reduce symptoms. Topical steroids, Eucrisa (crisaborole ointment), Elidel (pimecrolimus cream), or coal tar can help reduce pain, redness, and itching.

Acne is also diagnosed by a dermatologist based on the physical appearance of the skin. Risk factors such as changing hormone levels during puberty, menstruation, medications, and family history increase the likelihood of developing acne.

Acne treatment includes regularly cleansing the skin and keeping it properly moisturized. Oral or topical antibiotics, steroids, and retinoids may also be prescribed to reduce acne and improve the appearance of your skin.

Preventing Eczema and Acne

Preventing eczema and acne begins with avoiding triggers that can make symptoms worse. Avoiding exposure to tight and irritating fabrics, extreme temperatures, harsh or abrasive skin products, and fragrances can help prevent a flare-up of eczema.

Eczema flare-ups acan also be triggered by allergies to food. The most common food allergies that can worsen eczema include dairy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, soy, and shellfish allergies. Avoiding certain foods like refined and processed foods, sugar, dairy products, and foods that you have sensitivities or allergies to can also help prevent acne.

Proper skin care is also important for preventing eczema and acne. Using a gentle skin cleanser and moisturizer can help keep your skin clean and hydrated to protect its natural barrier. Avoiding scratching or picking at eczema and acne is also important. This can help reduce the risk of infection and prevent these skin conditions from getting worse.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you have red, itchy patches of skin that have not gone away within a month, you should schedule a visit with your doctor to determine if you have eczema. Eczema is a condition that you must manage over the course of your lifetime, and it is important to be evaluated by a doctor to make sure that you do not have a more serious skin condition or that your eczema does not become infected.

If you have acne, you may want to schedule a visit with your doctor, especially if you have a substantial number of bumps that cover a large portion of your face or body that take a long time to heal or chronically reoccur.


Eczema and acne both cause irritated and inflamed skin, but they have different symptoms and causes. While eczema causes itching, acne doesn't. Also, eczema can be triggered by allergies or contact with certain substances, but acne is a result of clogged pores.

Avoiding triggers is important to treating and preventing both conditions. Maintaining a proper skin-care routine that includes cleaning and moisturizing your skin daily helps too.

A Word From Verywell

Eczema and acne are two common skin conditions that affect many people. Symptoms are usually mild, can be managed with simple treatments and lifestyle habits, and do not significantly impact your life.

The physical appearance of eczema or acne, along with other symptoms like redness, itching, or pain, can be worrisome, however. If you have either one of these conditions and have not seen any improvement in your symptoms for more than a month, scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist can help you get the treatment you need.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are there medications that treat eczema and acne?

    Salicylic acid is sometimes used in the treatment of both eczema and acne. Salicylic acid helps exfoliate the skin and remove dead skin cells, which can help decrease dryness and scaling with eczema, as well as reduce clogged pores from dead skin cells with acne.

  • Can eczema and acne be inherited?

    Both eczema and acne have a genetic predisposition. If you have family members diagnosed with eczema or who have or have had acne, especially during their teenage years, you may be at an increased risk of developing these skin conditions. 

  • What is the imbalance that causes eczema and acne issues?

    The cause of eczema isn't clear. Increased oil, dead skin, or bacteria can clog pores and cause acne.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Eczema types: Atopic dermatitis diagnosis and treatment

  2. National Institute on Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders. Acne.

  3. Gangar J, Thiagarajan K, Veeraraghavan N. Pruritic Rash on the Hands and Feet. Am Fam Physician. 98(11):685-686. 

  4. Titus S, Hodge J. Diagnosis and treatment of acne. Am Fam Physician. 86(8):734-40.

By Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT
Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, is a medical writer and a physical therapist at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey.