Dry skin on the eyelids can result from a number of common skin conditions, such as contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis (eczema), and seborrheic dermatitis.
Dry eyelids can be uncomfortable, but there are several effective ways of treating the condition at home. More severe cases of dry eyelids may require treatment from a doctor.
Symptoms that may accompany dry eyelids include itchiness, discoloration, cracked skin, and eye irritation.
In this article, we discuss the symptoms and causes of dry eyelids. We also look at home remedies and medical treatments that may help relieve symptoms.
Dry skin occurs when the top layer of the skin fails to retain enough moisture to function correctly. There are many possible reasons for this happening.
Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a common skin condition that typically starts during childhood. Atopic dermatitis may result from an infection or inflammation, and it is more likely to affect people with asthma, hay fever, and other allergies, including food allergies.
The most common symptom of atopic dermatitis is itching. The condition can also cause:
- dry, scaly skin
- pain or tenderness
- rashes that ooze fluids or bleed after scratching
- lichenification, which is the thickening and hardening of the skin
- deepening of wrinkles and lines on the skin
Contact dermatitis is a skin condition that occurs when a person comes into contact with something they are allergic to. It often causes a red, itchy rash.
Common allergens that may cause contact dermatitis on the eyelids include:
- makeup ingredients, including metals such as gold
- metals on eyeglasses, such as nickel
- shellac, an ingredient in some skincare products
- benzalkonium chloride, a preservative found in some skincare and eyedrops
- fragrances, which may be found in a range of cosmetics and household products
- surfactants, which make soaps and cleaning products foam up
- acrylates, a component of artificial nails
- neomycin and bacitracin, which are found in certain antibiotic ointments, creams, or drops
Irritant dermatitis is also possible. This happens when a person comes into contact with an irritant, often a chemical substance. This may cause a person’s skin to become dry, inflamed, and itchy. It can also lead to burns or blisters on the skin.
Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition. In adults, it is usually found in patches on the face, scalp, and chest. It can cause symptoms such as:
- flaking skin
- white scales
- yellowish or oily-looking crusting
Certain environments may lead to dry, itchy skin that becomes rough and scaly over time. People typically have dry skin all over the body, not only on the the eyelids.
Dry air can reduce moisture in the top layers of the skin, causing it to become dry. Dry air is more common during the winter when the temperature drops.
Exposure to water can also dry out the skin. Long baths or showers may reduce the oils in the skin that typically help it retain moisture.
Certain factors, such as smoking or too much sun exposure can accelerate the aging process.
Aging causes the skin to wrinkle. It may also lead to areas of dry, flaky skin that itch or crack open.
If a person develops deep skin folds on the eyelids, they may be more likely to experience certain skin infections or inflammatory conditions in the folds.
Dry skin may cause discomfort, particularly when it affects the eyelids, where the skin is thinner than it is in other body areas.
Some common symptoms of dry skin include:
- flaking surface
- rough or scaly texture
- cracked skin
- painful burning or stinging
- wrinkly and loose appearance
- rawness or irritation
On light skin tones, dry skin may look red. On dark skin tones, dry skin may look darker than the surrounding skin or greyish.
The symptoms of dry skin can vary in severity from mild to severe.
Some people with dry skin on the eyelids may only experience mild itching or not even notice it. Others may experience more intense irritation, which worsens during blinking. Sometimes, the eyelids may become swollen.
If the edges of the eyelid are flaky, for example due to blepharitis, a person may notice that their eyes feel dry or sandy.
The best way to treat dry skin on the eyelids depends on its cause.
Moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis is treatable with moisturizers or corticosteroids. When treating the eye area with corticosteroids, doctors usually recommend a short, 1 to 2 week course of low strength corticosteroids to reduce the risk of side effects.
These medications may increase eye pressure when applied to the eyelids. They can also cause thining of the eyelid skin, which is already very thin.
Topical calcineurin inhibitors are another type of medication used to treat atopic dermatitis. Unlike corticosteroids, they do not thin the skin.
A person can treat contact dermatitis by avoiding known triggers, such as certain cosmetics or skin care products. Triggers will vary from person to person.
A doctor may recommend that you track all of your daily activities and your symptoms over several days to help identify triggers, or refer you to an allergist for patch testing.
A doctor may also prescribe other medications to treat related symptoms. For example, they may suggest antihistamines to help with itching or antibiotics for associated infections.
If seborrheic dermatitis is causing dry eyelids, a doctor may recommend antifungal treatments. For some conditions such as blepharitis, gentle cleaning along the lashline may reduce symptoms.
A person can often treat their dry eyelids at home with over-the-counter moisturizers. However, not all moisturizers are safe for the eye area. Some may cause irritation and stinging. It is important to read the product label carefully before applying any moisturizer near the eyes.
Some active ingredients in moisturizers include:
- olive or jojoba oil
- shea butter
To help with dry skin, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends:
- moisturizing several times a day, including right after bathing
- using a humidifier
- avoiding bathing or showering for longer than 5 minutes
- using warm rather than hot water to bathe
- avoiding prolonged sun exposure and tanning beds
- washing with gentle cleansers and using skin products for sensitive skin
If a person has known triggers for contact dermatitis, avoiding those triggers can often help to reduce symptoms.
It is also a good idea to avoid touching the eyes. Contact dermatitis can happen when a person touches something with their hands, and then touches their eyelids or face.
Dry skin is usually treatable at home with moisturizers and general skin care.
If home remedies do not ease the symptoms or the symptoms worsen, a person should speak with a doctor. Dermatologists are skin specialists who can provide treatment options.
Dry eyelids have several possible causes, including dermatitis and natural aging. They may occur when the top layer of the skin fails to retain enough moisture.
People can usually treat dry eyelids at home by applying moisturizers and using warm, not hot, water to bathe.
If the symptoms persist, a person should speak with a doctor. A doctor can prescribe medications, such as corticosteroid creams to reduce the symptoms.