How to Know When Your Dry Skin Is Actually Eczema

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If your dry skin makes you think you might be half-alligator, you may be curious abouteczema. Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis), can make your skin dry and itchy—but there’s actually a lot separating typical dry skin from this irritating chronic condition.

There are times when it’s completely normal for anyone’s skin to feel super dry, Cynthia Bailey, M.D., a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology and founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care, tells SELF. For instance, if you’ve been out in cold, windy weather, haven’t beendrinking enough water lately, or haven’t used lotion in so long you barely remember what it is, you may experience dry skin as a result.

The issue is that eczema can make your skin completely overreact to these triggers—or become dry and inflamed for seemingly no reason. This reaction comes down to your skin’s protective barrier.

Eczema happens because of a skin barrier dysfunction that makes your top layer of skin unable to properly retain moisture and protect you from things like irritants, allergens, and environmental elements, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can result in inflammation that leads to dry, irritated skin, Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York City-based and board-certified dermatologist, tells SELF.

But how do you tell the difference between “regular” dry skin and the type that might be due to eczema? Here’s what to keep in mind.

If your skin is dry, it’s probably going to be a little itchy at some point. But itchiness from eczema can be a whole other ball game. Depending on how severe your eczema is, the itching can be intense and constant, even pulling the unfair move of feeling worse when you try to go to sleep. (After you’ve wrapped up your day, there’s less stuff to distract you from the itching sensation, Dr. Bailey explains.)

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