How To Tell The Difference Between Psoriasis And Eczema On Your Scalp

Written by , BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Diploma Arshiya Syeda BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Diploma Experience: 7 years
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Feeling itchy and having the urge to scratch your head is never a good feeling. The first things you probably think of when this happens are that you have somehow gotten infested with lice or are starting to get dandruff. However, there are a couple of other skin conditions that you can be afflicted by that you need to keep an eye out for. Yes, we are talking about psoriasis and eczema. Both of them are chronic skin conditions that are characterized by red, itchy patches on your skin and are a major source of distress for anyone afflicted by them. What you need to do is get a proper diagnosis from a dermatologist who will then prescribe you a proper treatment plan. Nevertheless, it’s good to be able to distinguish between psoriasis and eczema by yourself.

How To Tell If It Is Eczema Or Psoriasis?

Though scalp eczema (also known as seborrheic dermatitis) and scalp psoriasis are mainly characterized by red, itchy patches on your skin, they also have some distinct symptoms of their own that you can see for yourself quite easily.


  • Eczema
  • Dandruff
  • Red, scaly patches
  • Oozing lesions
  • Greasy scalp
  • Itching and burning sensation
  • Changed skin color in areas where the patches have healed
  • Discharge from the ear if the eczema has spread to the ear canal
  • Psoriasis
Image: Shutterstock
  • Dry, red patches of skin
  • Thick, silvery scales on the dry patches
  • Cracked skin
  • Itching and burning
  • Swollen, stiff joints


We’ve already established that despite having similar symptoms, psoriasis and eczema are two drastically different skin conditions. Though they are both chronic inflammatory conditions, both of these are caused by very different factors. Here’s what we know…

  • Eczema

Quite simply put, scalp eczema (seborrheic dermatitis) is caused by the over-secretion of sebum (natural oil) by the sebaceous glands in your scalp. It can even occur on your face, ears, chest, back, underarms, and genitals.

Image: Shutterstock

Scalp eczema can also be caused by an immune reaction triggered by the yeast Malassezia though a clear connection has not been established between the two.

The symptoms of eczema can be triggered or worsened by a number of factors that you can recognize and avoid. These include:

  • Cold and dry weather
  • Illness
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Harsh shampoos, soaps, detergents
  • Lotions and creams containing alcohol
  • Medicines containing psoralen, lithium or interferon
  • Excessive sweating
  • Psoriasis

Though there is a very clear understanding of how psoriasis occurs, the exact cause of it is still unknown. What we do know is that it is an autoimmune disease in which the antibodies that are meant to heal wounds and attack infections start aiming for healthy tissues instead. This leads to an overproduction and accumulation of healthy skin cells on top of your skin before the older, dead skin cells have had a chance to shed. This buildup of skin cells appears as thick, scaly patches on your skin.


Both eczema and psoriasis are fairly serious skin conditions that need to be checked out by a dermatologist and treated with prescribed medication. One bummer is that neither of them can be fully cured. All you can do is treat the symptoms with the help of prescription medication. Here’s a general overview of the kind of medication that can be prescribed to you.

  • Eczema
Image: Shutterstock

When treating scalp eczema, the main aim is to reduce the itchiness, inflammation, and flaky skin on your scalp. This can usually be done with the help of dandruff shampoos, ointments, sprays, and topical creams that are sold over the counter and contain ingredients like:

  • Zinc
  • Coal tar
  • Salicylic acid
  • Ketoconazole
  • Resorcinol
  • Selenium sulfide

In case your symptoms are particularly severe, you could also be prescribed medicines that contain corticosteroids, sulfacetamide sodium, protopic, elidel or ciclopirox.

  • Psoriasis

Unfortunately, psoriasis cannot be treated with just over-the-counter medication. You need to be prescribed medication by a dermatologist to relieve its symptoms like inflammation and scaly patches. Mild psoriasis can be treated with the help of topical creams that contain:

  • Calcitriol (Vectical)
  • Calcipotriene and betamethasone dipropionate (Taclonex)
  • Tazarotene (Tazorac)
  • Calcipotriene (Dovonex)
  • Anthralin (Dritho-Scalp)

In case of moderate to severe psoriasis, you may need to take medications that contain stronger chemicals. These could include:

  • Cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, SandIMMUNE)
  • Etanercept (Enbrel)
  • Infliximab (Remicade)
  • Adalimumab (Humira)
  • Certolizumab pegol (Cimzia)
  • Methotrexate (Trexall)
  • Acitretin (Soriatane)
  • Golimumab (Simponi)

You could also undergo UV light treatment with the help of a dermatologist or do it yourself at home to reduce the psoriasis patches on your scalp.

Having skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can be a real hit to your self esteem besides being an overall pain to deal with. So, treat yourself to some extra tender loving care and remember that you are beautiful no matter what. And also remember that the symptoms of both eczema and psoriasis can be treated with just a little bit of care and effort.

I hope that the information provided above helped you understand eczema and psoriasis at least a little bit better and showed you how to distinguish between them. Comment below if you have any more questions or want to offer some suggestions for managing these skin conditions.

Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions

What does an eczema rash look like?

Eczema rash looks dry, scaly, red, and inflamed. Scratching it can make the affected skin look even redder and give it a leathery appearance.

What is the best cream for eczema?

Aveeno, Eucerin, Vanicream, and CeraVe are some good creams for treating eczema.

How can I prevent eczema spreading from one part of the body to another?

You can prevent eczema from spreading to other parts of your body by using mild and fragrance-free skincare products, keeping your skin moisturized, using colloidal oatmeal face masks, pressing cool compresses against your itchy skin, staying hydrated, and sitting in the sun for a few minutes every day to soak up some vitamin D.

What food allergy could cause psoriasis or eczema?

Food allergies do not cause psoriasis or eczema. However, there are a few food items that you can avoid to prevent their symptoms from getting worse. These include gluten, dairy, alcohol, sugar, and nightshade foods like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and paprika.

What vitamins are best for psoriasis?

Vitamin D is the best vitamin for controlling psoriasis.

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Arshiya Syeda
Arshiya SyedaSenior Editor
Arshiya Syeda is a senior editor at StyleCraze with 7 years of experience. Prior to that, she was a content writer and combined her writing and research skills to write over 200 high-performing articles on hairstyles, hair care, and skin care.

Read full bio of Arshiya Syeda
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