Eyelid Scrubs are a Thing — Here’s Why You Might Need One

SKIN CARE REVIEWS

04.06.22DISCLAIMER

Your eyelids feel itchy, they’re looking a bit inflamed — and are those flakes you spy in the mirror? Before reaching for an eye rinse, consider an eyelid wash instead. 

Irritation around the orbital area can signify many things — even an underlying skin condition — but an eyelid cleanser (or eyelid wipes) can provide relief while simultaneously improving lid hygiene.

If this is is your first time hearing about an eyelid cleanser, you’re not alone. “Eyelid cleaner” or “eyelid wash” isn’t exactly the most popular term in the beauty industry (and certainly not as glamorous). Still, the skin’s health in this delicate area is just as important as the rest of your face and body. In fact, it’s products such as these that help the rest of your skincare routine function more properly.

You still have questions, and we have the answers. Here’s what you need to know about eyelid scrubs, from causes to cures. 

What’s an Eyelid Scrub? 

Eyelid scrub pads or washes are gentle cleansers formulated to soothe inflamed eyelids. Contrary to the name, they don’t contain “scrubbing” granules like a face exfoliator. However, they do have the capacity to wash away bacteria, pollen, crusts, and oils that develop along your lash line, which helps alleviate itching and inflammation. Eyelid scrubs can also kill microscopic mites that can harbor in your lashes — more on that next.

Why Do You Need an Eyelid Scrub?

 

Blepharitis

The most common reason to reach for eyelid cleanser pads is a condition called blepharitis, a non-contagious condition resulting in the inflammation of the eyelid that’s often associated with a burning sensation, tired eyes, crusting, and dandruff-like scales or flakes near the lash line. 

Blepharitis can develop when there are excessive bacteria on the eyelids at the base of the eyelashes. While the presence of some bacteria is normal, an overgrowth can lead to an infection. It can also be caused by clogged oil glands at the base of the lashes, which can be associated with a common condition called meibomian gland dysfunction. 

MGD is an umbrella term used to describe a group of congenital and acquired disorders linked by functional abnormalities of the meibomian glands —  the oil glands along the edge of the eyelids where the eyelashes are found. 

There are two types of blepharitis: anterior and posterior. Anterior blepharitis persists at the eyelids’ outer front edge where the eyelashes are, while posterior blepharitis occurs in the inner edge of the eyelid that’s connected to the eye. Blefpharitis can be diagnosed during a complete eye exam.

Blepharitis is also associated with: 

  • Rosacea
  • Oily skin 
  • Dandruff
  • Allergies that affect the eyes
  • Poor eyelid hygiene 
  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)

 

Chalazion

A Chalazion is a small firm bulge in the eyelid caused by a blocked opening or infection of the oil-producing glands located in the upper or lower eyelids. Chalazia are frequently associated with blepharitis.

 

Eyelash Mites 

Eyelash mites? Don’t lose your cool just yet. Everyone has small amounts of these mites; they’re a part of our body’s natural microbiome, and by cleaning up dead skin cells and excess oils, these critters are actually doing us a service. 

As long as their numbers stay low, Demodex mites (their proper name) are harmless. However, they can cause itchiness, scaly patches, redness, burning, and crusted lashes in large quantities. Advanced symptoms can lead to blepharitis.  

Demodex also appears to be linked to rosacea. According to the National Rosacea Society, people with rosacea have about 18 times more D. folliculorum mites compared with those who don’t have it. Some experts even consider the mites to be a direct cause of rosacea. 

Different Types of Eyelid Scrubs

To be clear, an eyelid cleanser is not the same as an eyewash or rinse. The latter helps conditions associated with the eye (flushing loose foreign objects, chlorine, pollen, and other irritants from the eye), not the lids. There are prescription-strength, over-the-counter, and DIY blepharitis gentle eyelid scrubs.

 

Hypochlorous Acid (HOCl) Eyelid Washes 

While it may sound ominous — if not downright dangerous — HOCI solutions are a diluted form of bleach. Yet, they are deemed skin safe due to the low concentration used in eyelid scrubs and copious other uses in eye care, dermatology, dentistry, and wound care. 

HOCl has the same active ingredient as household bleach but with a different chemical structure. Bleach in concentrations from 1% to 5% would result in chemical burns to the eye upon contact. HOCl is found in much lower concentrations, so it doesn’t have the same risks when used for skin, eye, teeth, and medical purposes. 

HOCl is a desirable disinfectant because it kills bacteria, fights inflammation, and mimics how your immune system combats germs. Because it neutralizes quickly, HA is nontoxic to the ocular surface — aka the eye area. 

While optometrists needed to prescribe most HOCl solutions in the past, several over-the-counter (OTC) options exist today. Both prescription and OTC options come in sprays, gels, pre-moistened eyelid scrub pads, and eyelid wipes. Because you’re treating the delicate eye area, look for those without preservatives and fragrance.

 

Over-the-Counter Wipes and Solutions

Cliradex, Systane, Opti-Soothe, LidHygenix, and OCuSOFT eyelid scrub are five of the leading over-the-counter eyelid scrubs for blepharitis on the market. If you’re not confident which one is the best for your condition, never hesitate to check with a healthcare professional first. OTC eyelid scrubs contain ingredients that treat the root causes of blepharitis. The right medicated wipes or eye solution will depend on the underlying cause, so you need to ask your doctor which one to use.

Cliradex is available in a wipe and cleanser form and can be found online and over-the-counter at select pharmacies. The active ingredient in Cliradex is tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil), which ophthalmologists recommend to help treat blepharitis and eyelash mites.

Systane’s pre-moistened (and individually wrapped) towelettes are formulated with peg 80 glyceryl cocoate and peg-200 hydrogenated glyceryl palmitate; both are surfactants used to help alleviate skin conditions around the eye. 

Opti-Soothe preservative-free wipes are an excellent option for those looking for a more natural way to treat blepharitis but are also suitable for daily eyelid hygiene. Key ingredients include bacteria-fighting tea tree oil, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and soothing chamomile and aloe vera

LidHygenix was developed by doctor David Palay, touted as one of the best medical professionals in America. Available in liquid or foam, this gentle, non-irritating solution is specifically formulated for the delicate skin of the eyelids. It’s also an effective makeup remover. Active ingredients include leuconostoc (radish root ferment filtrate), allantoin, hexylene glycol, trisodium EDTA, and aloe barbadensis leaf juice.

OCuSOFT eyelid scrub original pre-moistened pads are considered an extra-strength formula. Unlike other wipes or eyelids scrubs where you remove the product, The HOCI solution is designed to remain on the skin. It effectively removes excess oil, pollen, and other debris from the eyelids that may lead to eye irritation, including blepharitis or dry eyes, without drying the skin. 

 

Baby Shampoo

A published study showed that the use of hypoallergenic bar soap, diluted baby shampoo, and commercial eyelid cleanser was helpful in the treatment of MGD — again, an umbrella term used to describe a group of disorders like blepharitis. However, the efficacy of baby shampoo in the management of MGD is controversial. 

There’s a lack of research on the standard treatment of lid hygiene, and no data are available on patient compliance with MGD. Although baby shampoo is not a specific substance for eyelid scrub, it’s widely available. The efficacy of baby shampoo is likely equivalent to OCuSOFT Lid Scrub Original Foaming Eyelid Cleanser (OSO) in grade 2 MGD treatment.

However, baby shampoo contains chemicals that aren’t good for your eyes, so it’s best to stick with the other products we mentioned or a prescription-strength formula from your doctor. Your doctor can give you more information.

How to Use an Eyelid Scrub

Remember, your eyelids are thin and sensitive, which is why you should only use a mild cleaning solution to clean them as well as the sensitive skin surrounding your eyes. 

 

Tips

  • Read the directions carefully before getting started — usage, frequency, precautions, etc.
  • Always use a clean washcloth for each eye to avoid spreading germs or bacteria from one eye to the other.
  • If you have recurrent blepharitis, eyelid scrubs might become part of your daily eyelid hygiene routine, so speak with your doctor about which formula would be best for regular use. 

 

Preparation

  • Wash your hands well with soap and water. 
  • Moisten a clean washcloth with warm — not hot — water. 
  • Place the washcloth on your eyelids for about 2 minutes to help loosen oil and crusting along your lash line.

 

Execution

  • Whether you’re using a pre-moistened pad or using a spray or solution on a cotton swab, close your eyes and gently wipe the swab or pad back and forth along your eyelids and lashes. Be sure to use a new pad or swab for each eye.
  • Be mindful of your touch. You don’t actually want to scrub your eyes as the skin is delicate and thinner than the skin on the rest of your face. Light pressure will do; let the product work its magic. 
  • Unless otherwise noted, rinse your eyelids with clear water, and pat them dry with a clean towel.

Precautions When Using an Eyelid Scrub

It’s important not to self-diagnose yourself when you’re experiencing eye discomfort of any kind. Seek the advice of a professional to ensure you’re administering the proper treatment. Remember that conditions associated with blepharitis are not related to highly contagious ailments such as pink eye.

Eyelid scrubs have the potential to cause dryness and irritation around the eyes — especially for those with sensitive skin — so opt for formulas that contain skin-soothing ingredients like aloe vera, vitamin E, chamomile, green tea, and hyaluronic acid. 

It’s never a bad idea to conduct a patch test before trying a new eyelid scrub product. 

Practice Proper Eyelid Hygiene 

Blepharitis responds well to treatment. However, it usually does not disappear entirely and tends to keep coming back. People with blepharitis need to practice good eyelid hygiene by regularly using an eyelid scrub to keep lids free from crusts, especially during flare-ups. Other helpful hygiene tips include: 

  • Always remove your makeup.
  • Avoid (or limit your use of) cosmetics and skincare with fragrance, parabens, formaldehyde (and formaldehyde releasers), and other “suspicious six” ingredients. 
  • Applying a warm compress (a warm, wet washcloth will do) over closed lids for three to five minutes a day. 
  • Follow your compress with a gentle eyelid massage for 30 seconds to help remove excess oil out of the glands. 

Eyelid Scrubs: The Bottom Line

Eyelid scrub pads or washes are gentle cleansers formulated to soothe inflamed eyelids. Contrary to the name, they don’t contain “scrubbing” granules like a face exfoliator. However, they do have the capacity to wash away bacteria, pollen, crusts, and oils that develop along your lash line, which helps alleviate itching and inflammation. Eyelid scrubs can also kill microscopic mites that can harbor in your lashes.

Keeping eyelids and the lash line clean from oil build-up can help you develop eye conditions like blepharitis or eyelash mites. A fragrance-free eyelid scrub might be a solution if this condition occurs as long as you perform a patch test first and use caution on the delicate eye area. Note if blepharitis doesn’t resolve, you should see a physician.

Sources:
“Lindsley K, Matsumura S, Hatef E, Akpek EK. Interventions for chronic blepharitis.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;2012(5):CD005556. Published 2012 May 16. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005556.pub2.
“Chhadva P, Goldhardt R, Galor A. Meibomian Gland Disease: The Role of Gland Dysfunction in Dry Eye Disease.” Ophthalmology. 2017;124(11S):S20-S26. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2017.05.031.
“Blepharitis and Chalazion,” University of Utah Health.
“Elizabeth Ko, MD, Eve Glazier, MD. Eyelash Mites are a Normal Part of the Body’s Microbiome.” UCLA Health.
“Jarmuda S, O’Reilly N, Zaba R, et al. Potential role of Demodex mites and bacteria in the induction of rosacea.” J Med Microbiol 2012;61:1504-1510.
“Gray MJ, Wholey WY, Jakob U. Bacterial responses to reactive chlorine species.” Annu Rev Microbiol. 2013;67:141-160. doi:10.1146/annurev-micro-102912-142520.
“Aryasit O, Uthairat Y, Singha P, Horatanaruang O. Efficacy of baby shampoo and commercial eyelid cleanser in patients with meibomian gland dysfunction: A randomized controlled trial.”Medicine (Baltimore). 2020;99(19):e20155. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000020155.

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