Excess production of sebum or oil can lead to oily skin. This can happen anywhere on the body, including the eyelids. Oily eyelids can also result from triggers such as stress, environmental factors, genetics, overwashing, and hormonal changes.

This information comes from the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).

Sebaceous glands are present under the skin’s pores and produce sebum, an oily substance. Sebum helps to keep the skin protected and hydrated.

Oily eyelids can happen because of excessive sebum secretion. Hormonal changes, environmental factors such as humidity, and topical applications may also cause excess oil on the eyelids.

According to the AAD, excess sebum may occur with:

  • hormonal fluctuations such as changes in testosterone or progesterone
  • environmental factors such as humidity or temperature
  • some systemic medications, such as chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
  • using products such as lotions, creams, or makeup that can clog the pores
  • certain genes
  • stress

Oily skin is one of the most common dermatological concerns. It may require treatment to help prevent breakouts.

This article will focus on the anatomy of the eyelid, some primary causes of oily eyelids, and how to treat and help prevent them.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

The eyelid skin has no subcutaneous fat and is among the thinnest layers of skin on the body.

The eyelids are composed of:

  • skin and subcutaneous tissue
  • the orbicularis oculi, which are the muscles that move the eyelids
  • tarsal plates
  • levator apparatus, which acts as the upper eyelid’s major elevator and retractor
  • conjunctiva, which is the clear tissue covering the whites of the eyes

The tarsal plates serve as the main structural component of the eyelids. They contain the Meibomian glands and eyelash follicles.

Meibomian glands are tiny oil glands that line the margin of the eyelids and are responsible for secreting oil. They make up a small number of the sebaceous glands. These glands help to enhance the lubricating properties of tears.

External or environmental factors can affect the eyelids as well as internal factors.

The common causes of oily eyelids may be as follows:

Harsh cleansers

Soaps or face washes containing harsh chemicals may strip the skin of the excess oil. This type of product can aggravate the eyelids and eyelid margins, causing them to overproduce oil in response.

Dermatologists recommend people use alcohol-free, gentle cleansers no more than twice daily. This will help to gently remove dirt and impurities without stripping off excess oil.

People can also use a soft, damp cloth without any soaps or cleansers to gently rub the eyelid margin.

Hormonal fluctuations

The rate of oil production is highly variable among different people. This is why some people have oilier skin than others.

According to 2014 research, males generally have higher oil production than females due to higher testosterone levels. However, sebum production increases during ovulation in females due to increased progesterone.

Environmental factors

A 2017 review noted that an increase in oil production may occur during spring and summer. Humid climates also tend to impact how much oil a person’s glands produce. People in humid climates are more likely to have oily skin due to the increase in production.

The review also noted that levels of oil production may also vary depending on a person’s race. It suggests that, for example, Chinese females may have smaller pore size and density compared with Black people. Enlarged pores can lead to higher rates of sebum production.

Meibomitis

Excessive oil production by the meibomian gland can lead to oily eyelids in some people. This leads to clogging of the eyelids, a condition that doctors call meibomitis or meibomian gland dysfunction.

Meibomitis is inflammation of the meibomian glands. When these glands become irritated, it can cause eyelid irritation that increases the chances of conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva).

Meibomitis can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Eyelids may become sore and swollen.
  • Eyes may be dry and feel itchy or gritty as if there is something in the eye.
  • Eyes may be red and watery, which can cause vision to become blurry.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelid margin. It can cause crusty, dandruff-like flakes on eyelashes.

Common symptoms of blepharitis include:

  • feeling as though there’s something in the eye or a gritty feeling in the eyes
  • burning or stinging eyes
  • watery eyes
  • itchy eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • red and swollen eyes or eyelids
  • dry eyes
  • occasional crusting on the eyelids or lashes in the mornings

Blepharitis can also cause more serious problems, such as:

  • blurry vision
  • eyelashes falling out
  • eyelashes that grow in the wrong direction
  • swelling of parts of the eye such as the cornea

Although blepharitis will not affect a person’s sight, it can lead to alterations of the eyelid margin when left untreated.

To help prevent this, gently clean the eyelid margins (with the eyes closed) with either a gentle wash or with a soft, damp cloth.

Eyelid dermatitis

Eyelid dermatitis refers to inflammation of the eyelid. It can result from allergic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, irritant dermatitis, or seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition. It is typically mildly inflamed skin with a rash and flaking or overlying scaling. It is not contagious.

When someone develops this type of dermatitis on their eyelids, it usually appears as a scaly rash that does not itch.

The treatment for oily eyelids depends upon the underlying cause.

Some of the most common topical treatments for oily skin include cosmeceuticals. The most commonly used are niacinamide and L-carnitine, which may reduce oily skin.

Retinol and retinaldehyde are types of retinoids. These may cause irritation, but retinoids esters will cause less irritation. Although esters have minimal irritation potential, they require a higher dose (2%) to have an effect.

The systemic treatments for oily skin include:

  • Isotretinoin (Accutane): This is an oral retinoid that can help reduce oil production. People use this to treat oily skin on the face. Doctors often recommend a dose of 0.5 milligrams (mg) per kilogram each day or lower. A common side effect is dry skin, including around the eyes.
  • Spironolactone: Doctors typically prescribe this drug to treat females with oily skin. A daily dose of 50–200 mg can effectively reduce sebum production.
  • Oral contraceptives: They are beneficial for oily skin since they decrease ovarian and adrenal androgens and increase sex hormone-binding globulin.

Alternative treatments for oily skin may also include botulinum toxin, photodynamic therapy, and laser therapy.

A person should consult with a doctor before considering any topical treatments or taking any oral medications. This is because the eyelids are a particularly sensitive area.

Along with the above treatment methods, there are various home remedies to help manage oily skin. People often experience oily eyelids alongside oily skin.

People may wish to try:

  • using gentle face wash twice a day and after exercise
  • patting the face dry instead of rubbing or scrubbing
  • using products that are noncomedogenic and oil-free
  • avoiding oil- or alcohol-based cleaners and makeup
  • applying gentle moisturizer daily
  • wearing sunscreen outdoors
  • using blotting papers and medicated pads to remove excess oil from the eyelids
  • removing makeup before going to sleep
  • avoiding touching the face or eyelids throughout the day

A person may wish to consult a dermatologist if their oily eyelids persist even after following these preventive measures.

Read more about what dermatologists do.

Although doctors do not consider oily eyelids a medical problem, they may impact a person’s quality of life.

If a person is having difficulty with eye makeup such as mascara, they may wish to try a mineral-based powder brushed over the eyelashes before applying the mascara. This may help to help decrease the oils that might be smudging the makeup.

Several treatment options and remedies to remove excess oil from eyelids are available. Most of these options are low cost and require small changes to a person’s daily skin care routine.

The cleansing step of a skin care routine needs extra care, as excess cleansing can turn the skin flaky and cause it to produce even more oil.

People should test a new product or method on a small patch of skin can help to identify if it is suitable for use.

Read on for how to perform a patch test.

Oily eyelids are common among most people. Oil buildup and old skin cells can clog the eyelid margins, causing blepharitis.

People with moderately oily eyelids can try home remedies to remove excess oil. If people do not notice any improvements with the above treatments or remedies, they may wish to consult a dermatologist.