You probably give your face a good amount of TLC with your skincare routine, but have you thought about your ears? According to board-certified dermatologist Geeta Yadav, MD, the skin on the ears is some of the most neglected of the entire body, which can lead to dryness, irritation, and/or unwanted scaliness. That being said, neglect is just one of the many causes of dry skin behind your ears, as scaly skin can also be the result of age, environment, skin type, or chronic skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema. We spoke to Yadav and double-board-certified dermatologist Karan Lal, DO, about how to prevent and treat dry patches behind your ears. Keep reading to learn the causes, potential remedies, and when to see a professional.
Meet the Expert
- Geeta Yadav, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Facet Dermatology.
- Karan Lal, DO, is a double board-certified adult and pediatric dermatologist and fellowship-trained cosmetic dermatologist based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Causes of Dry Skin Behind Ears
“Ears are rarely moisturized or even cleansed,” Yadav tells us. “Dryness behind the ears is fairly common. It is often due to the usual culprits.” She lists changes in temperature or humidity, sunburn, or eczema, and then in other cases, it can be a sign of an allergy or even a fungal infection. If you're suddenly experiencing dry skin behind your ears but aren't sure why, consider factors like the weather, your recent activities, or any changes in skin and hair products you've been using to help nail down the cause.
When to See a Professional
In general, you should regularly meet with your dermatologist to check on your skin. If you notice something irregular or if the irritation is ongoing, bring it up at your next appointment or consider calling to get advice or schedule a sooner appointment if needed. That being said, not all dry patches need to be medicated. In many cases, you can try home treatments first (see several options below) since dryness behind the ears is often due to seasonal changes or neglecting to care for the area, then make an appointment if the DIY approach doesn't seem to be working.
The main cause for concern when it comes to dry patches behind the ears is infection—if you notice the skin has become infected or inflamed, contact your doctor right away. This can happen when the dry skin is scratched or cracked, which allows unwanted bacteria to come in. If you're unsure if the area is infected, it's better safe than sorry. When in doubt, we recommend enlisting the help of your doctor.
How to Treat Dry Skin Behind Ears
If you're experiencing dryness and don't normally include your ears in your skincare routine, cleaning them with a gentle, hydrating formula can be a good place to start. Lal emphasizes the importance of using a gentle cleanser on the tops of the ears. “Properly cleansing the area helps prevent the overgrowth of bacteria and yeast,” he says. This helps prevent any dry areas from forming.
After cleansing, the natural next step to keep skin behind your ears (or anywhere on your face and body) in check is exfoliation. The skin around the ears is sensitive, so it doesn’t require a harsh scrub. If the area is particularly flaky, Yadav recommends gently rubbing a damp washcloth behind the ears to remove any loose and shedding skin: “This will allow you to effectively moisturize and nourish the new skin underneath, staving off future dryness, rather than treating the already dead skin that’s flaking away.”
After the area has been properly cleaned, Dr. Yadav recommends applying a small pump of moisturizer. She likes the Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 35 ($19), which is lightweight and supports the skin barrier, or the CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 30 ($21), which is loaded with soothing niacinamide and hydrating hyaluronic acid.
Apply an Occlusive
Both Lal and Yadav tell us that applying an occlusive, like Aquaphor's Healing Ointment ($6), post-moisturizer is the best way to seal in nourishment. “This will help keep the skin behind the ears super hydrated,” Yadav says. “This may be a little messy if you have long hair, so I recommend using this technique at night while keeping your hair in a topknot.”
If you prefer natural, plant-based remedies, you have options for that, too. “A dab of coconut oil can provide the same lasting nourishing and moisturizing benefits with the added benefit of smelling delicious,” Yadav tells us.
Use Hydrocortisone Cream
Both Yadav and Lal recommend incorporating hydrocortisone cream into your routine. “If the dry skin behind your ear is very tender, itchy, and inflamed, use a hydrocortisone cream,” Yadav tells us. This blend of a topical anesthetic and corticosteroid will help soothe the discomfort you’re feeling. Also, she notes that these formulas are usually in an occlusive base, providing lasting defense against dryness.
Avoid Potentially Irritating Products
Even if your ears lack their own skincare routine, they probably come into contact with more products than you think they do. Products like shampoos, colognes, or mists can irritate the skin on your ears, especially if it's sensitive. For that reason, Lal recommends avoiding irritants altogether. Instead, look for gentler shampoos and conditioners, and be careful about how much fragrance and other products you use.
Wear Sensitive Skin-Friendly Jewelry
Jewelry is another potential irritant when it comes to the skin behind your ears. Not all metals are created equal, so look for jewelry made from 100% titanium or precious metals (such as gold or sterling silver) to avoid irritation.
Keep Your Ears Covered
If you live somewhere where the weather gets chilly, make sure to keep a beanie in tow, as extra-cool temperatures can aggravate cracked or broken skin. Bonus points if your beanie is made from a sensitive skin-friendly material, like cotton or hemp.
See a Dermatologist
This step is last on the list for a reason. It usually shouldn’t be your first course of action in the case of dry skin behind the ears, but if the steps above don't solve your problem or you have other concerning symptoms, consider reaching out to your medical provider for their advice.
How common is ear eczema?
It is hard to pinpoint how common ear eczema is because the condition is so specific. According to the Cleveland Clinic, eczema affects 15-30% of children and 2%-10% of adults have it. When someone has eczema, it can affect multiple parts of the body, like the arms, legs, and of course, the ears.
What is the difference between psoriasis and eczema?
Though both are chronic skin conditions, psoriasis and eczema are very different. Psoriasis is categorized by thick, scaly plaques covering the skin, which are usually discolored or white. While it's possible for these to occur near the ears, they're most commonly found on areas like the elbows and knees. Eczema, on the other hand, is far more common and makes skin look red and inflamed. It's possible to develop both eczema and psoriasis, so if you're experiencing both types of symptoms, this may be the case.
Can stress cause ear eczema?
While stress does not cause you to “catch” eczema, it can absolutely trigger a flare-up. Stress causes our body to go into fight or flight mode, which causes the body to produce cortisol and adrenaline. An overabundance of cortisol can cause an inflammatory response, a.k.a. trigger your eczema.
Ear eczema: symptoms, causes & treatment. Cleveland Clinic.