What Causes Dry Skin in Your Ears?

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Dry skin in and around your ears can be uncomfortable, itchy, and even painful. The skin may appear red and flaky. In severe cases, the skin around the ears can even become infected. Dry skin has a variety of causes, and skin around the ears can become dry due to environmental factors like cold, dry air or chronic skin conditions like psoriasis

Girl's ear close-up. Sore red ear from allergies

Tetiana Kolubai / Getty Images

Causes

There are several possible causes of dry skin in your ears, and most can be classified as either environmental, part of aging, or a result of a chronic skin condition. 

Environmental

Dryness of the outer ears may be caused by allergens or environmental irritants. Once the skin is irritated, it may become dry, red, and itchy. If you have sensitive skin, you may be more at risk of experiencing contact dermatitis.

Examples of environmental irritants that may affect the ears include:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Moisturizer
  • Soap
  • Perfume
  • Hair care products

If you have been experiencing dry skin in your ears, think about all the products that may have come in contact with your ears. Have you recently switched to a new shampoo? The first step may be to discontinue use of the new product and see if your skin gets better. 

It’s also possible to experience skin dryness and irritation from pierced earrings. Ears that have recently been pierced may be irritated. Many people find that they cannot tolerate earrings made from nickel due to a nickel allergy. Try switching to earrings that have been labeled “hypoallergenic” to see if you notice relief from skin dryness. 

Age

Dry skin can also be related to age. Once they reach age 60, nearly everyone has dry skin somewhere on their body.

Other risk factors of dry skin include:

  • Vitamin or mineral deficiency
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid or kidney disease 
  • Cancer treatment
  • Anorexia 
  • Smoking 
  • Taking statins or diuretics

Skin Conditions

Chronic skin conditions that cause dry, itchy skin include eczema, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis. All these conditions can appear in and around the ears:

  • Eczema: Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is an inflammatory condition that leads to painful, red, itchy skin. It can affect anyone, but is more common in young children. When eczema affects the ears, it usually appears on the ear folds, backs of the ears, and the areas where the earlobes connect to the face. Eczema sores can also be found on the earlobes, conchal bowls, ear openings, ear canals, and eardrums. Signs of eczema usually include red, inflamed skin that feels dry and itchy. The dry patches may bleed when scratched. When the skin becomes cracked, an infection can occur.
  • Psoriasis: This is an autoimmune condition that causes skin cells to grow too quickly. When this happens, the old skin cells are not able to slough off and build up into thick, itchy plaques of skin. The patches usually start out pink or red, then progress to a silvery-white plaque. It’s common for the plaques to itch and feel uncomfortable. Psoriasis may occur on the outer ears or the skin surrounding the ears. 
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: This is an inflammatory skin condition that causes flaky, dry patches of skin. The patches may flake off in white or yellow scales. It usually appears on the scalp, face, or inner ears. Seborrheic dermatitis often occurs on an infant’s scalp, and is also known as cradle cap. The skin may itch, especially if it becomes infected. Healthcare providers do not know the exact cause of the condition, but they do know that it may be triggered by oily skin, stress, fatigue, obesity, weather extremes, heavy alcohol use, or nervous system disorders. 

When to Call a Doctor

It’s important to check in with your doctor any time you’re concerned about the skin in your ears. Some causes of dry skin in the ears, such as eczema, can affect your hearing if left untreated. See your doctor if the skin in your ears is red and itchy. If at-home treatments do not provide any relief, check in with your dermatologist

See your doctor right away if the skin in your ears appears to be infected. An infection may occur when the dry skin is scratched or cracks, which allows bacteria to enter. Symptoms of a skin infection include pain, swelling, weeping, discharge, or a foul smell. 

Treatment

Treatment for dry skin in your ears will depend on how severe the dryness is, as well as its underlying cause. If your dry skin is due to an allergy or environmental irritant, the only way to treat it is by removing the irritant itself. Chronic skin conditions can be treated with medications from your doctor, as well as good skin care at home. 

At-Home Care

To treat dry skin in your ears at home, take some time to ask yourself if you have tried any new hair or skin products lately. If you recently had your ears pierced or changed earrings, your ears may be reacting to it. If you can, discontinue use of any new products and observe your ears.

If the dry skin improves, be sure to avoid that product going forward. If pausing the product does not seem to make a difference, see your dermatologist, who can help you figure out the underlying cause of your skin dryness. 

Once you have done your detective work to look for the cause, treat your dry skin with a quality emollient. An emollient is a skin softener found in moisturizers. Look for a gentle moisturizer without artificial fragrances or colors. 

Medication

Medications can be used to soothe the pain of dry skin and treat the underlying causes. Some options include:

  • Topical steroid: A topical steroid can be used to treat the redness and inflammation that come with dry skin in the ears. It may help with the itching as well. Your dermatologist will likely recommend starting with an over-the-counter medication, then move on to a prescription-strength steroid if needed. Be careful not to apply steroid creams or other creams inside the ear canal since this may cause an obstruction of the canal.
  • Antibiotic: If the dry skin in your ears has become infected, your primary doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to kill the infection. This may be a topical antibiotic cream or an oral pill. 
  • Medicated shampoo: If your ear dryness is caused by seborrheic dermatitis, your dermatologist may recommend gently cleansing the area with a medicated shampoo. Use soft, gentle strokes, and avoid rubbing the skin during washing. Once it’s cleansed, thoroughly dry the area with a clean towel and moisturize.
  • Phototherapy: Phototherapy uses ultraviolet (UV) rays to treat psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. Talk with your doctor about whether this therapy could be helpful for the dry skin in your ears. 

Prevention

To help prevent dry skin in your ears, practice good skin care routines at home. Try to keep your ears clean and dry by washing them every day. Limit showers to 10 minutes and avoid scalding-hot water. Thoroughly dry your ears after a shower. Using a warm hairdryer may help you dry them completely; just be sure not to use the hot setting. Once your ears are dry, apply a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer to prevent cracking. 

Chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis cannot be prevented, but can be managed with treatment. Pay attention to any irritants or triggers that always seem to lead to dry skin for you, and stop using them if necessary. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes dry skin in your ears? 

Dry skin in your ears may be caused by a chronic skin condition or an irritant in your environment. Skin conditions that can affect the ears include eczema, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis. Environmental irritants may include shampoos, conditioners, hairspray, lotion, soap, laundry detergent, perfume, or makeup. Pierced earrings may also cause irritation, especially if they are made from nickel.

How do you get rid of dry skin in your ears?

Treatment for dry skin in your ears depends on what is causing the dry skin in the first place. If your skin has become irritated from a substance, such as perfume or shampoo, it’s important to stop using it right away. If your dry skin is caused by a chronic skin condition such as eczema, see your dermatologist to develop a treatment plan. Your doctor may prescribe a topical steroid to improve the swelling or an antibiotic if the skin has become infected. 

What does ear eczema look like?

Ear eczema looks like patches of red, inflamed, dry skin on your outer ear or even inside the ear canal. The skin usually feels irritated and itchy. Scratching can cause the dry patches to bleed and ooze clear liquid.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing dry skin in your ears is uncomfortable, and you’re probably eager to take care of it as quickly as possible. The first step is determining the cause of the dry skin, and your dermatologist may be able to help. Once you know the cause of your dry skin, treatment may include discontinuing an irritating product or implementing a new medication like a topical steroid or antibiotic. Call your doctor if your dry skin becomes very itchy and painful or if you develop symptoms of skin infection including swelling, discharge, or a foul smell coming from the ear. 

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Eczema Society. Ear eczema. Updated 2018.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Eczema resource center

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Psoriasis resource center

  5. MedlinePlus. Seborrheic dermatitis. Updated May 4, 2021.