Helping People Achieve Clear Skin Since 2007

Helping People Achieve Clear Skin Since 2007

How to Tell the Difference Between Acne and Eczema

By Dr. Jaggi Rao, MD, FRCPC, Double board-certified dermatologist

Okay, so you woke up with red and bumpy, inflamed skin. Take a deep breath, don’t freak out and let’s do some research on what could be causing it. It could either be eczema or it could be acne. Both are treatable and both are caused by things that are innocent enough, so no need to panic.

Eczema and acne
Distinguishing between eczema and common type of acne is the commonly neglected step by people with skin problems.

Both eczema and acne represent skin conditions that can affect anyone, at any time. Both of them can come as quickly and swiftly as they arrived. Luckily, both have cures! Let’s examine their differences, so that you can more easily determine which one of them has affected you.


Eczema can be difficult to diagnose because its causes may vary between all kinds of factors of your daily life. Symptoms may show up immediately after the factor begins affecting your system, or they may also show up entire months after contact! If you have a sudden flare-up it may be best to first contact a specialist.

The scientific name for this malady is atopic dermatitis. Less frequently observed kinds of eczema are the seborrheic dermatitis and the contact dermatitis. It is basically a reaction of your immune cells, which are probably trying to fight something off that is bothering them – such as a type of food, a detergent or a fabric. Generally speaking, the causes vary between an especially sensitive immune system, a genetic predisposition and the ‘barrier effect’. The latter manifests as a tiny opening in your skin that essentially permits bacteria and other particles to move into your system. It also lets hydration out of your system and this usually intensifies the issue. The resulting eczema basically represents your body letting you know of the problem via a breakout.

You can get eczema on any part of you physique and you are more prone to it if your genes are predisposed to it, as well. Meaning, if your family is sensitive and has delicate, breakout-prone skin, then chances are, so do you. Luckily, though, the condition is not contagious. Eczema basically occurs when your complexion becomes dehydrated and oil-less. It is often caused by an allergic reaction.

While any part of your body can become affected, youths get it around their faces, while adults tend to find it on other body parts. Each case of eczema might look completely different from the rest, so there is no blueprint look of the ailment. You might get rusty-red patches of skin, or small pimple-like bums, and even a generally rough area of skin. If your case is more severe, you might also notice a general swelling, crusty surfaces or pus. Most of the time, eczema will become increasingly itchy with time – even to the point where the itchiness begins to feel like pain. These are the key characteristics of eczema.


Acne also has to do with oiliness, but, conversely, it is related to excess oil, rather than dryness. Sebum can become stuck in your pores, causing them to become irritated and develop into a zit. These can also have pus and they will not itch, but may sting or become painful. They would also become red and irritated-looking. Simply put, a pore being clogged with oil, bacteria, dirt, etc. is called comedo. If your comedo is beneath the surface of your skin and appears closed, then you have a whitehead; if your comedo is opened up, outside air is interacting with your sebum and you end up with a blackhead. The more severe kind of acne you may get shows up in the form of cysts – you would find these to contain abundant pus which is contained below the surface of your skin. Cystic acne tends to be especially bothersome and may require additional action.

Regarding location, while you can get acne on most parts of your body, it is more likely to show up on your facial skin, chest and back.

This can also be genetically transmitted, so if your elders suffered from it back in the day, you might, as well. It can also simply be based on a change in your hormonal build-up. Stress and sleeplessness are common factors, as is omitting to clean your face which can contribute to the issue. Oily makeup products can also affect your skin.

While you might want to inquire with a doctor on which of the two conditions is affecting you, both of them have clear and obvious signs.

How Can You Treat Them?

Eczema cannot be targeted as a whole, but its signs can be treated until it fully disappears. You can get various kinds of medicine which can relieve your skin’s irritation. Steroids will do this, as will simple antihistamine, which targets allergies. You can also lather your breakout with products containing cortisone. Such balms are usually to be made use of twice or thrice a day. You can also try to do something about it at home, such as performing a wet wrap. What is that? Cover your skin with clean, lightly wet pieces of cloth and wait for the hydration to work.

Acne, on the other hand, can involve your dermatologist’s help in choosing what is best for your skin. You might either need to lather a lotion-like remedy onto the area, or you might need to take medicine. Look for products containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol or sulfur. A great way to get relief may be to ingest vitamins in the form of isotretinoin. If you happen to have more severe acne, you might need to go through stronger drugs and even some therapy involving different kinds of lights being projected onto your pimples. You can also use a medical peel or a facial. Go get your zits checked out as soon as possible! Skin therapy normally takes about two months to show results. What is more, if you begin early on, you are also preventing an early onset of wrinkles on your face.

General Tips

Whatever you do, keep your hands off your face. Touching it will never help, and it would only serve to spread bacteria around. No matter how much your condition itches, do your best to not scratch it or pop any zits. This can cause you more infection, so hands off!

If you must use your fingers, do make sure that you only handle the condition with thoroughly washed hands. Make sure to shower carefully and use a light soap. Your skin should be washed one or two times per day, and with special care whenever you’ve been visiting the gym. If you know that you will be spending a lot of time in direct sunlight on a given day, make sure to always apply oil-less sun protection that is based on minerals and won’t get stuck in your pores. Ideally, look for one that has ingredients which truly feed your skin such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

Pretty much the same goes for any cosmetics that you may decide to use. A lot of people look to makeup to make them feel better when their skin isn’t as they would like it to be. There’s no harm in that, but first and foremost, remember that whatever is happening to your skin is completely natural and there is zero shame in having some blemishes from time to time. Most, if not all, of the people you see around you on a daily basis have also had a type of skin condition at one point in their life. In fact, you never truly know who has, for instance, battled extreme acne for most of their teenage years!

If you do want to cover up occasionally, make sure that you are choosing products that will work for your skin and not against it. When you are buying makeup, keep your skin type in mind. In fact, there is makeup out there which can actually help your condition! Some products help with excess oil, and others may actually soothe irritation. Choose wisely.

Regardless of what products you use, it is important to keep your mind at peace. Your condition will pass, either sooner or later, so there is no point to stress out about it too much. Moreover, if you are feeling tense, your skin will be reflecting that.

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