If you're here, chances are you're experiencing itchy, dry skin on your eyelids and wondering how to fix it. While several factors could be to blame, it's possible that you're dealing with eyelid dermatitis. This condition can flare up for many reasons—maybe it's genetic for you, or maybe your eyelids are feeling irritated from allergies or dry air—but no matter why, it's possible to get relief if you treat the condition by keeping the area clean and moisturized. Simple adjustments, such as adding a humidifier or adjusting your skincare and makeup routine, can make a major difference. Ahead, we spoke with three board-certified dermatologists to learn all about treating eyelid dermatitis, from home remedies to when you should see a doctor.
Meet the Expert
- Michele Green, MD, is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist in New York City, specializing in laser resurfacing as well as other cosmetic treatments.
- Dendy Engelman, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at The Shafer Clinic in New York City.
- Marina I. Peredo, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skinfluence NYC.
What Causes Dry Skin on Eyelids?
Flaky, dry skin on eyelids from eyelid dermatitis can happen for a number of reasons, from underlying skin conditions to environmental factors. "Eyelid dermatitis is when the skin of the eyelid and [surrounding area] becomes dry, itchy, irritated, red, and swollen," Peredo says, also noting that a condition "such as eczema" might be to blame. "Additionally, dry air in the winter, temperature change, or humidity can also cause dry, flaky eyelids," she adds.
According to Green, people "who have asthma, or hay fever, or eczema, have a propensity to develop eyelid dermatitis. If eyelid dermatitis continues, patch testing may be needed to see what specifically may be causing or exacerbating this—specifically if it is being triggered by an allergen."
Types of Eyelid Dermatitis
Eyelid dermatitis has a few different main types (contact, irritant eyelid, atopic, and seborrheic), which Green says are distinguished by the types of triggers:
- Contact dermatitis: "The most common form of eyelid dermatitis is contact dermatitis, which includes allergic contact dermatitis and irritant dermatitis," Peredo explains. She says some of the most common allergens that can cause dermatitis when they come in contact with the eyelids are fragrances, nail polish, metals in jewelry or eyeshadows, or other cosmetic products. Seasonal allergies are also a common cause, Engelman tells us.
- Irritant eyelid dermatitis: This cause of itchy, dry skin on eyelids, according to Peredo, is a "non-allergic reaction to the eyelid skin. Common culprits are soaps, detergents, and eye creams that may contain retinol."
- Atopic dermatitis: This is a form of eczema, which can affect the eyelids as well. "Those with atopic dermatitis may experience random flare-ups throughout their life," Engelman notes, "which are exacerbated by temperature, humidity level, and other triggers."
- Seborrheic dermatitis: Also known as dandruff, this condition can affect the eyelid skin around the eyelashes.
Eyelid dermatitis is an inflammatory condition in which the skin on the eyelid becomes itchy, red, scaly, and swollen. Sometimes, the condition presents with bumps and pain.
How to Treat Dry Skin on Eyelids at Home
- Use a compress: Compresses are a quick, easy way to feel relief from eyelid dermatitis. "You can gently apply a cold or warm compress to soothe the skin," Engelman explains. "If you have aloe vera or shea butter on hand, those ingredients can also be soothing to irritated skin." Green favors "whole milk compresses, three times a day," to relieve symptoms of itchy, dry skin on your eyelids. Create a whole milk compress by soaking a washcloth in a bowl of cold cow's milk, then pressing it to your eyelid for several minutes. Choose a whole milk variety, as the high fat content provides natural emollients that soothe the skin.
- Gently moisturize: In addition to compresses, Engelman suggests the use of over-the-counter moisturizers to "help reduce the need to rub the eye area." One good option is Cetaphil's Restoring Lotion ($18), which she says is a "great drugstore moisturizer that’s fragrance and paraben-free, making it ideal for sensitive skin. This lotion will help to restore moisture around the eyes and be extra gentle on the compromised area." She also loves La Roche-Posay's Toleriane Dermallergo Eye Cream ($30), "which is formulated specifically for those with allergy-prone and sensitive skin," for a more targeted treatment.
- Lock in extra moisture: Peredo recommends using a moisturizer, like Skinfluence's Intense Moisture Balm ($140), several times a day: "It is a heavier moisturizer to help soften the skin." She also likes an occlusive like Aquaphor for treating the gentle eye area, while Green prefers Vaseline for a similar effect.
- Try a humidifier: To add moisture retention to flaky, dry skin on eyelids, Peredo advises using a humidifier. Engelman agrees, noting that dry air—whether caused by a winter temperatures or from using an air conditioner—can contribute to eyelid dermatitis. "I love the Canopy Humidifier ($125) because its smart, evaporative (no-mist) technology releases clean moisture and prevents mold from growing within the device, making it the cleanest humidifier on the market," she says.
- Minimize hot water use: You should also avoid long baths or showers. "It is important when bathing or showering to not have the water too hot, as it can dry out your skin," Peredo says.
- Take allergy medicine: If your eyelid dermatitis is due to allergies, Green recommends oral antihistamines like Zyrtec or Benadryl. These work by blocking histamine, which could be a cause of watery, itchy eyes.
Safe Makeup Options for Eyelid Dermatitis
In addition to home remedies, it's best to avoid eye makeup when you're experiencing eye discomfort, but if you do choose to wear it, opt for products that are gentle on eyes. "Using makeup around the eyes can irritate this sensitive area," Engelman notes. "I recommend using less makeup—for example, use an eyeliner pencil instead of eyeshadow."
Peredo recommends eye makeup that "does not contain a fragrance or substance known to irritate." She advises finding a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free mineral formula: "My favorite brand is Trinny London. For a drugstore brand, I like Neutrogena because it mainly uses gentle ingredients and is great for sensitive skin." Green likes Almay makeup, which is hypoallergenic.
Finally, Engelman's clean and hypoallergenic picks include "Glo Skin Beauty's line of ethical products. Its Precision Eye Pencil ($20) is made with antioxidants and was designed with sensitive skin in mind." Her favorite mascaras for sensitive eyes include the Essence Lash Princess False Lash Mascara ($5) and L'Oreal's Voluminous Mascara ($10): "These products will protect the skin while still giving the lashes maximum volume."
For people who have allergies or a lot of sensitivity, Peredo recommends against using eyeshadows that contain metal, such as metallic glitter eyeshadow.
When to See a Doctor
If home remedies don't work for you or your eyelid dermatitis gets worse, it's time to see your dermatologist to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. "If eyelid dermatitis persists for a few days even after care is taken to remove potential allergens and soothe the affected area, it may be a good idea to see your dermatologist," Engelman advises. Your dermatologist can prescribe a mild topical corticosteroid or a calcineurin inhibitor, according to Peredo.
Green adds that if you're concerned that you might have an infection, consult your physician immediately. If you're having a possible allergic reaction, ask a dermatologist about getting a patch test, which can check for the most common allergens to figure out what's causing your irritation.
The Final Takeaway
Dry skin on your eyelids is often caused by eyelid dermatitis, which can happen for a range of reasons, from genetics to skin conditions to seasonal changes. Some are easier to resolve than others, but if you take care to keep the sensitive eye area clean and safely moisturized, you can usually expect to resolve the condition on your own.
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