While you may religiously wear eye cream and sport sunnies to slow down the formation of crow’s feet, perhaps you never thought about the development of eyelid dermatitis. It’s possible that you’ve always associated dry eyelids, redness, dry skin on the eyelid, perpetual tearing, and itchy eyelids with seasonal allergies — and you’re not wrong. But allergies are just one root cause of getting eye eczema, another term for this frustrating yet manageable condition.
Eyelid dermatitis is irritation of the eyelid skin as a consequence of inflammation. There can be several causes, ranging from coming into contact with an irritating substance to how you choose to get your nails done.
Now that we’ve got you thinking twice about that dry patch on your eyelid let’s take a closer look at eyelid dermatitis treatments, as well as the factors that are causing you discomfort in the first place.
Symptoms of Eyelid Dermatitis
Dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes inflamed. Eczema is a term used to describe a group of skin conditions where the skin is dry, itchy, and inflamed, which is why it’s not uncommon to see eczema on eyelids.
While the two are often used interchangeably, dermatitis is a broader term that encompasses more than just eczema rashes.
Eyelid dermatitis can appear on one or both lids — and sometimes, the surrounding area, too. Your symptoms may be chronic or only pop up on occasion. Symptoms can vary depending upon the trigger(s), but generally speaking, telltale signs include:
- Itchy eyelids
- Dry eyelids
- Oozing or crusted skin
- Swollen lids
- Dry patch on eyelid
- Sun sensitivity
- A feeling of tightness
Eyelid Dermatitis Causes
Like your entire eye area, the skin on your eyelids is exceptionally delicate and thin. This composition makes them susceptible to inflammatory allergic reactions such as eczema around eyes. The main types of dermatitis that affect the eyelids are called allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis. While the remaining forms can affect the eyelids, we’re going to talk about the two main eyelid dermatitis causes.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is an inflammatory skin disease that affects an estimated 15-20% of the general population. This dermatitis occurs when your immune system reacts to an allergen, which causes the body to release inflammatory chemicals that can make your skin — including your eyes — reactive.
Allergic contact dermatitis can come out of nowhere. You could be using your go-to eyeshadow or mascara with no problems, and then boom — puffy, red, itchy, dry eyes and dry patches on eyelids. While cosmetics and fragrance are typically the culprits linked to ACD of the eyes, other triggers include:
- Skincare products
- False eyelashes
- Eyelash extensions
- False nails and nail polish
- Fragrance (including essential oils)
- Hair dye
- Nickel or gold jewelry
- Metal tweezers or eyelash curlers
- Eye drops or contact lens solution
- Glasses frames
- Topical antibiotics
- Dust mites
- Seasonal allergies
- Poison ivy/oak/sumac.
We should point out that a study of 215 patients with eyelid dermatitis found that out that the most common allergen groups out of 74 tested were identified as (in descending order): metals, shellac (like your nail polish, for example), preservatives, topical antibiotics, fragrances; acrylates, and surfactants — which can be found in many cosmetic products.
Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when your skin has an adverse reaction to something that touches it. According to the National Eczema Association, this type accounts for 80% of all dermatitis cases.
While irritant eyelid dermatitis (eczema on eyelids) can be just as uncomfortable as the allergic version, the good news is symptoms tend to dissipate soon after you remove the irritant.
So, in many cases, to get this type of eyelid eczema, you either have to touch your eyes and face after coming into contact with a trigger substance or come into contact with airborne materials. For example:
- Cleaning supplies
- Soaps and detergents
- Certain fabrics
- Preservatives used in skincare products and cosmetics
- Materials used in building and construction such as cement
- Powders, dust, and soil
- Several plants
- Hard or heavily chlorinated water
- Cigarette smoke
Risk Factors For Getting Eyelid Dermatitis
Anyone can get eyelid dermatitis, or eczema around eyes, but here are some factors that put you at a greater risk of loathing your lids.
If you’re not thoroughly removing your makeup at night — or even regularly cleaning your eye and lash area — like anywhere else on your face or body, your run the risk of infection. Neglect can lead to other eye conditions such as blepharitis.
Any job where chemicals are involved can be an occupational hazard. Careers in the beauty industry, healthcare (including veterinarians), cleaning, printing, mechanics, metalworking, construction, and agriculture are at greater risk of dermatitis that affects the eyes and other parts of the body.
Research suggests that genetics play a role in how sensitive you are to irritants and allergies. If family members have similar skin conditions or allergies that provoke eyelid dermatitis, you are more likely to experience the same.
Eyelid Dermatitis Treatment
It can be challenging to determine the root originator of your eyelid dermatitis. Still, whether it’s caused by an irritant or an allergen, it can be treated with medication and/or lifestyle changes.
To help you pinpoint the trigger that may be playing a role in your condition, try keeping a daily journal. Write down your routine, what products you’re using, etc., and look for insights.
Consider everything from your personal care and beauty routine to your work environment to items you use around your house — maybe you even changed the laundry detergent. Remember, things like dust, seasonal allergies, and the weather can play a role in itchy eyelids and eye eczema, too.
It can be easier when seeking medical care to have your daily history down to be prescribed the correct treatment. Here are some other effective ways to help limit red, itchy eyelids and other symptoms of discomfort.
Go Easy on the Eye Makeup: We know that nixing eye makeup is not always realistic, but if you think it’s leading to your eyelid dermatitis, try laying off of it for a few days to see if your symptoms improve. If you have sensitive eyes, to begin with, go for the hypoallergenic, ophthalmologist-tested formulas once your condition clears up.
Check Your Product Labels: This is a good rule to abide by even if you don’t have dry eyelids or eczema around the eyes! Always check your skincare products to see if they’re void of fragrances, dyes, or other irritants like parabens and formaldehyde. If you tend to have eye issues, look for products (like the best eye cream or makeup remover) that are hypoallergenic, which means they’re less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
Wear Protective Gear: Whether you’re working in the garden, painting, cleaning, or doing some home repairs, consider wearing protective goggles and gloves to help keep your eyes free from irritants and allergens. After these activities, always wash your hands (and the gloves if they’re not disposable).
Ditch the Fake Nails: Studies show a direct relation to acrylic nails and eyelid dermatitis. Need we say more? Instead, focus on healthy nail growth and use a non-toxic nail polish formula instead.
Be Mindful of Sweat: Perspiration can trigger a flare-up. If you’re exercising or in a warm environment, consider tying your hair back or wearing a moisture-wicking headband (like a sports band) to keep the sweat from running into your eyes.
Invest in a Humidifier: A humidifier adds moisture to the air, which can prevent dry eyes (including dry skin on eyelids) and reduce your eyelid dermatitis symptoms.
Don’t Touch: The worst habit you can adopt when dealing with eyelid dermatitis is scratching and itching your eyes. This repetitive action can damage the skin around the delicate eye area and put you at risk for infection.
Speak to a Doctor: While some over-the-counter creams and balms offer relief, sometimes it takes a more potent prescription medication to control eyelid dermatitis and eczema around the eyes.
Eyelid dermatitis is typically treated with emollients and mild topical steroids (0.5-1% hydrocortisone) prescribed by your doctor. Given the delicacy of the eyelids, avoid experimenting with hydrocortisone because it’s an ingredient that thins the skin. Skincare, particularly high alcohol products, can irritate this area. Fragrance and too many actives can also cause an adverse reaction.
Keep Your Lids Hydrated: We said dermatitis and eczema are often used interchangeably. That’s because dermatitis is a form of eczema. Many of the best eczema creams can be used to treat dry eyelids and are effective eyelid eczema treatments.
- Eczema Honey Original Skin Soothing Cream is a cooling, soothing cream that temporarily protects and helps relieve minor skin irritation and itching due to rashes and skin conditions like dermatitis and eczema around the eyes. A few of the key ingredients that you’ll find in this cream include soothing colloidal oatmeal and hydrating organic honey, olive oil, and almond oil.
- Aquaphor Healing Ointment is a preservative- and fragrance-free formula for dehydrated and chapped skin. It contains petrolatum, a skin protectant that helps restore dry skin. Bisabolol, derived from chamomile, is soothing. Finally, panthenol is a moisturizer that improves hydration to help treat and prevent chapped e
- Avene XeraCalm A.D. Lipid-Replenishing Cream is specifically formulated to target the itching, redness, dryness, and irritation associated with skin conditions like dermatitis. Active ingredients include glycerin, evening primrose oil, and the brand’s proprietary Thermal Spring Water, which work together to provide moisture while restoring the damaged lipid barrier.
Eyelid Dermatitis: The Bottom Line
Eyelid dermatitis is an inflammation caused because you’ve come into contact with an irritant or allergen. It’s also possible that you have eye eczema or fungal infection affecting your eyes.
To pinpoint precisely what’s causing your dry, red, itchy eyelids, you need to look at your daily lifestyle habits to determine the trigger. Ideally, you speak to your healthcare provider to help you find the origin to receive proper treatment — which may be a topical prescription product or other type of eyelid eczema treatment.
A few tips to help lower your risk of eyelid dermatitis and dry skin on eyelids include practicing good eye hygiene, staying away from harsh cosmetic ingredients, keeping sweat out of your eyes, and using a hydrating cream on your lids at least twice a day.
Are you experiencing other troublesome issues on other parts of your face or body? Here’s your guide to skin allergies!
Also, Elle, our in-house biochemist, says, “When properly refined petrolatum doesn’t cause any irritation or adverse effects, however, anecdotally, many experience dryness on the skin. All skin types can use it except those with an identified allergy to it or congestive skin types.”
“Peiser M, Tralau T, Heidler J, et al. Allergic contact dermatitis: epidemiology, molecular mechanisms, in vitro methods and regulatory aspects.” Current knowledge assembled at an international workshop at BfR, Germany. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2012;69(5):763-781. doi:10.1007/s00018-011-0846-8.
“Itchy Rash Could Be Contact Dermatitis,” American Academy of Dermatology.
“Huang CX, Yiannias JA, Killian JM, Shen JF. Seven Common Allergen Groups Causing Eyelid Dermatitis: Education and Avoidance Strategies.” Clin Ophthalmol. 2021;15:1477-1490. Published 2021 Apr 12. doi:10.2147/OPTH.S297754.
Contact Dermatitis,” National Eczema Association.
“Moreira J, Gonçalves R, Coelho P, Maio T. Eyelid Dermatitis Caused by Allergic Contact to Acrylates in Artificial Nails.” Dermatol Reports. 2017;9(1):7198. Published 2017 May 29. doi:10.4081/dr.2017.7198.