Dermatitis means inflammation of the skin. Eczema is a term used to describe a group of skin conditions in which the skin is itchy, dry, and inflamed. The terms eczema and dermatitis are often used interchangeably. But “dermatitis” is a broader term that encompasses more than eczema rashes.

Is there a difference between eczema and dermatitis?

Although the terms “dermatitis” and “eczema” may overlap in how they’re used, specific types of skin conditions are better known by just one of the names. For example, many doctors use the terms “atopic dermatitis” and “eczema” interchangeably but wouldn’t use the term “contact dermatitis” in place of “eczema.” Dermatitis means inflammation of the skin. Eczema is inflamed skin that has other symptoms like itching, a flaky or scaly rash, and dry skin. The table below compares the two conditions, with the bolded terms signifying differences.
Dermatitis Eczema
Type of ConditionSkin irritationSkin inflammation
Acute or ChronicAcute or chronicChronic
Cause(s) & TriggersAllergens (including some medications) Irritants Autoimmune diseases Genetic conditions Stress Hormonal changes Hormonal dermatoses (a skin condition) Viruses Radiation EczemaAllergens Irritants Immune-related Genetics Stress Dryness Fragrances Temperature changes Sweating Food allergies Rough or synthetic fabrics
Signs & SymptomsRashDry skin Itching Swelling Blisters Stinging or burning skin Skin discolorationRash Severe itching Dry skin Flaky skin patches Small raised bumps with fluid Patches crusted with yellow discharge Soreness
ComplicationsSkin infections Open soresSkin infections Sleep problems from increased night symptoms Increased itching caused by scratching Thickened skin patches Additional types of eczema
Risk FactorsEnvironment Allergies Asthma Family history of dermatitis Age Overall healthAsthma Hay fever or other allergies Family history of eczema
TreatmentsAntihistamines to reduce allergies Remove irritants (like scented skincare products) Reduce stress Topical steroid creams or oral steroids Topical calcineurin inhibitors (Protopic or Elidel) Decrease the amount of time bathing or showering (especially using too-hot water) Using skin moisturizers daily Oral immunosuppressants Light therapy Biologics Oatmeal baths Avoiding triggersAntihistamines to reduce allergies Remove irritants Reduce stress Topical steroid creams or oral steroids Topical calcineurin inhibitors (Protopic or Elidel) Decrease the amount of time bathing or showering (especially using too-hot water) Using skin moisturizers daily Oral immunosuppressants Light therapy Biologics Immunosuppressants Light therapy Cold compresses

Types of eczema and dermatitis

There are a number of distinct types of eczema and dermatitis, and, to complicate matters, it’s possible to have more than one type at the same time. While eczema and dermatitis both typically cause redness and itching, some types also cause blistering and peeling.

Atopic dermatitis or eczema

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition that requires symptom management. It’s characterized by an itchy, red rash that usually appears at joints in your body, like knees or elbows, and even around the neck. But it can occur anywhere on the body. This condition occurs in flare-ups or bouts, meaning that it gets worse and improves in irregular cycles. Symptoms include:

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis occurs when your skin reacts to something it’s come in contact with. This can include bleach, soap, poison ivy, certain metals, or other irritants. The rash is typically red and may itch or burn. Symptoms include:
  • red rash
  • itching
  • burning
  • stinging
  • blisters with liquid

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis commonly affects areas where hair grows or oils are produced. These are areas where sebum (oil) is secreted. This dermatitis has a scaly, dry appearance and may be caused by a reaction to the yeast in your skin. Symptoms include:
  • scaly patches
  • dandruff
  • red skin
  • rash located in oily areas
Seborrheic dermatitis is also known as seborrhea, cradle cap, sebopsoriasis, and pityriasis capitis.

Other types of eczema

There are several other types of eczema: To determine what type of eczema you have, make an appointment with a doctor. Following your diagnosis, your doctor will provide a plan for treatment and management.

Dermatitis or eczema prevention

Most forms of dermatitis and eczema are chronic conditions. One exception is contact dermatitis. It can be prevented by finding and avoiding the irritant that caused the skin condition. It’s important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis, then try to avoid triggers for your type of eczema or dermatitis (like gluten for dermatitis herpetiformis and allergens for contact dermatitis). Other forms of dermatitis can usually be avoided or managed with proper self-care, which includes the following:
  • Avoid long showers or baths, which can dry out the skin.
  • Use moisturizers like oils, lotions, or creams.
  • Avoid irritants that make your skin more susceptible to breakouts, like scented products.
  • Don’t scrub your skin too hard.
  • Use topical steroids to help with itching.
  • Keep your fingernails short if you have a habit of scratching.
  • Avoid stressful situations that may cause a flare-up.
Establishing a skincare routine can help you manage your atopic dermatitis or eczema symptoms. A doctor can help you come up with a regimen that works for you. You should also take note of things that may have caused your breakouts.

When to see a doctor

Usually, minor cases of dermatitis can be resolved with self-care. Still, if your symptoms don’t improve, you should visit a dermatologist to determine the best course of action for symptom management of eczema or dermatitis. If your skin becomes painful, infected, or very uncomfortable, you should make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.


“Eczema” and “dermatitis” are both generic terms for “skin inflammation” and are often used interchangeably. There are numerous causes and types of dermatitis, eczema being one of them. Eczema is a general term used to describe itchy and sensitive skin, as well as a group of skin conditions or rashes in which the skin is itchy, dry, and inflamed. Most types can be managed with a good skin care regimen and by avoiding irritants that cause flare-ups. If you’re experiencing irritating or painful skin and aren’t sure of the cause — or it’s not responding to OTC treatments — you should visit a dermatologist. You may have a skin infection or an underlying condition.