Varicose eczema is a type of eczema that affects the legs. Like all types of eczema, the skin becomes red, flaky, scaly and itchy.

It is also known as venous eczema or gravitational eczema.

Varicose eczema usually develops in the skin over and around varicose veins. It is usually a minor annoyance and does not lead to any major problems.

Read more about the symptoms of varicose eczema.


Eczema is the name for a group of skin conditions that cause dry, irritated skin. Other types of eczema include: 

  • atopic eczema (also called atopic dermatitis)
  • contact dermatitis – a type of eczema that occurs when the body comes into contact with a particular substance
  • discoid eczema – causes circular or oval patches of eczema

What causes varicose eczema? 

Varicose eczema is usually caused by varicose veins. These are swollen and enlarged veins that are blue or dark purple. They may also be lumpy, bulging or twisted in appearance.

Varicose veins develop when the small valves inside the veins stop working properly and allow blood to flow backwards, leading to swollen and enlarged varicose veins.

The pressure inside these veins increases, which can damage the skin and cause varicose eczema, as well as more severe skin damage.

Read more about the causes of varicose eczema.

Treating varicose eczema

Treatment for varicose eczema involves treating both the dry skin and the underlying blood flow problem. Emollients, which are moisturisers applied to the skin to reduce the loss of water, are often recommended. These also help to soothe the skin. Corticosteroid ointments are also used to help manage severe symptoms.

Elastic medical compression stockings, which are specially designed stockings that steadily squeeze your legs, can help to improve your circulation. You will need to wear them every day.

These treatments are usually enough to control varicose eczema. However, if they are not effective or if you have lipodermatosclerosis, a more severe form of venous skin damage, you may be referred to a vascular specialist (a doctor who specialises in veins). They can investigate and treat the underlying venous problem. Treatment of varicose veins will often cure varicose eczema, lipodermatosclerosis and venous ulcers.

Read more about treating varicose eczema.

Who is affected 

Skin problems due to venous disease (problems with your veins) become more common with age and tend to affect women more than men. Some estimates suggest that venous disease causes skin changes in 3% of adults. This rises to 20% of people over the age of 70. 

You may be more likely to develop venous skin problems if you:

  • have varicose veins
  • are overweight, as this puts extra pressure on your veins


Page last reviewed: 15/10/2012

Next review due: 15/10/2014