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Have you ever noticed flaky skin in and around your eyebrows? Did it look remarkably like the scaly skin you’ve seen fluttering off the top of your scalp (aka dandruff)? Well, the truth is, eyebrow dandruff is a real thing too. Whether you have eyebrow dandruff, know someone with eyebrow dandruff, or simply want to educate yourself on what eyebrow dandruff is, we have all the information you'll need. We reached out to four skincare experts—Dr. David Lortscher, Dr. Morgan Rabach, Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, and Dr. Alicia Zalka—who walked us through what flaking eyebrows mean and what can be done to treat it.
Dandruff that appears in our eyebrows is the exact condition that can appear on the scalp. Medically known as seborrheic dermatitis, it's also known to show up on the breastbones, the backs of the ears, and on either side of the nose—all areas of the body that have a greater concentration of oil glands. The cause of seborrheic dermatitis is still unknown, but those who are prone to oily skin have a higher likelihood of extra flakes and scales.
"Seborrheic dermatitis occurs in areas of the body that are rich in oil glands, so the central face is a prime target,” explains Dr. David Lortscher, board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology. Due to changes in climate and season, we're all prone to bouts of dry skin here and there, but those with a true case of dandruff will usually experience skin that's inflamed, itchy, greasy, and covered with flaky white, pink, or yellow scales—consistently.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, there's a variety of culprits that could play a role in dandruff (including the eyebrow kind): "Many factors seem to work together to cause seborrheic dermatitis. These factors may include the yeast that normally lives on our skin, our genes, living in a cold and dry climate, stress, and a person’s overall health."
Specifically, the organization cites skin conditions (like rosacea, psoriasis, and acne) and other diseases like Parkinson's, HIV, epilepsy, alcoholism, eating disorders, and depression as possible instigators. “In my practice, I see [eyebrow dandruff] more commonly in adult men and older individuals, but [it] certainly can happen to women and younger people as well,” adds Dr. Alicia Zalka, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep.
And though Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi—board-certified dermatologist and founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care—tells us that dandruff is hard to prevent completely, there are strategic, drugstore-friendly ways to keep it under control. Keep scrolling for our experts’ sage advice on the eight most important steps you can take to soothe your eyebrow dandruff.
Use Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
According to each of our experts (and all of our research) using the same types of dandruff shampoos that are formulated for your scalp will also work wonders on your eyebrows. There are multiple ways you can use these shampoos, but using it in lieu of your go-to face wash (at least for the time being) is a good place to start. To maximize results, Dr. Tanzi suggests letting it sit prior to rinsing, which will encourage a deeper clean and removal of scales.
Selsun Blue is a maximum-strength anti-dandruff shampoo with 1% selenium sulfide. Dr. Zalka recommends lathering a small amount in the brows and rinsing with warm water. "Since the condition can be persistent, this may need to be done whenever the problem arises," she adds.
Eyebrow dandruff “comes from yeast overgrowth and sensitivity to the yeast, so antifungal shampoos are super helpful,” explains Dr. Morgan Rabach, board-certified dermatologist of LM Medical NYC. Rabach recommends antifungal shampoos (aka dandruff shampoo) like Nizoral Anti-Dandruff, which contains 1% of ketoconazole, to relieve dandruff symptoms including itching, scaling, and flaking.
Apply Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a staple that is used for all sorts of skincare, kitchen, and yes, even eyebrow needs. Dr. Zalka recommends thinking of apple cider vinegar as "toner for eyebrows." After your typical evening cleansing routine, after all makeup has been removed and your skin has been patted dry, Zalka suggests applying a single drop of apple cider vinegar to a dampened cotton ball. Consider using an eye dropper for perfect precision and make sure to squeeze any excess water out of the cotton ball to prevent it from dripping. Then, simply swipe the cotton ball in a single motion across your eyebrows.
This treatment can be used once or twice a week, and since the apple cider vinegar is diluted with water, there is no need to rinse off afterward. But be careful: Make sure not to get vinegar in your eyes. Ouch!
Wash Your Face Frequently
Dr. Rabach recommends washing your face both in the morning and at night, plus an additional rinse after exercising. According to Rabach, washing your face frequently rinses away yeast—which will help prevent irritation in the eyebrows—and flushes away extra skin, dirt, and other impurities that accumulate in your skin throughout the day.
However, there is such a thing as washing your face too much. "Many soaps are alkaline and the skin on your face 'likes' to be acidic, so over-washing can lead to changing the pH, and may lead to irritation and breakouts," warns Dr. Rabach. If you stick to washing your face twice a day—or three times if you exercise—your skin, and eyebrows, will thank you.
Use an Acne Cleanser
Cleansers used to treat acne, such as Neutrogena Acne Wash—which is both an acne treatment and a cleanser—can also be used to treat eyebrow dandruff. Dr. Zalka recommends diluting this product with water and cleansing eyebrows gently.
Opt for a Gentle Exfoliant
"Use a gentle exfoliant like an alpha/beta hydroxy acid wash to gently remove flakes," advises Dr. Rabach. Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliates skin and unclogs pores, making products like Paula's Choice Liquid Exfoliant a worthy option for treating eyebrow dandruff.
Cleanse With Essential Oil
Tea tree oil can be used both for aromatherapy and as a cleanser to wash away unwanted oil. Dr. Rabach recommends using a few drops of a gentle oil, like tea tree, at night time to massage away any dandruff flakes. "Tea tree oil has some antioxidant properties and can also help hydrate the dryness," she adds.
Apply Hydrocortisone Cream
Aveeno's Maximum-Strength 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream soothes irritated and inflamed skin. In general, "over the counter hydrocortisone can help reduce inflammation in a pinch,” Rabach says.
Decrease Stress Levels
Just like stress impacts most everything in life, it also impacts eyebrow dandruff. "Stress may increase [dandruff] flares," explains Dr. Rabach. Keep this factor in mind when considering eyebrow dandruff treatments and try to find ways to relax your mind and body.
The truth is, anyone can get eyebrow dandruff. As with dandruff of the scalp, the eyebrow variety has nothing to do with one's hygiene. So while it's not exactly aesthetically pleasing, in no way should the condition be considered "dirty" or the result of a grimy complexion.
The good news is that while it may be slightly or incredibly annoying, eyebrow dandruff is by no means a harmful physical ailment, and there are several easy ways to treat it. If, however, these methods listed above don't seem to be working, ask your dermatologist to assess the affected area. They will decide if a stronger prescription medication may be needed.
Borda LJ, Wikramanayake TC. Seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff: A comprehensive review. J Clin Investig Dermatol. 2015;3(2):10.13188/2373-1044.1000019. doi:10.13188/2373-1044.1000019
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Seborrheic dermatitis: Signs and symptoms.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Seborrheic dermatitis: Who gets and causes.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Seborrheic dermatitis: Diagnosis and treatment.