Eyelid Dermatitis: Overview and More

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Dermatitis is a skin condition caused by inflammation that can affect any part of your body—but it can be particularly uncomfortable when it’s on your eyelid. This condition, also called eczema, causes dry, itchy skin that can be flaky or scaly.

This article will give an overview of the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment for eyelid dermatitis.

eczema or dermatitis on the eyelid

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Types of Dermatitis

There is more than one type of eyelid dermatitis. The most common forms are:

  • Contact dermatitis occurs when your skin has a negative reaction to something that touches it, such as chemicals, bleach, soap, or other substances. Although contact dermatitis is painful, it is also temporary. Once you’ve removed the irritant, your symptoms go away.
  • Atopic dermatitis is different than contact dermatitis. With this condition, inflammation occurs when your body identifies a substance (called an allergen) as “foreign.” It then tells your immune system to fight it off, which causes your uncomfortable symptoms. There’s no cure for atopic dermatitis, and symptoms can ebb and flow.

Symptoms

Both contact and atopic dermatitis cause similar symptoms. Eyelid dermatitis symptoms can include:

  • Redness of your eyes
  • Dry, scaly, or rough-feeling skin
  • Itching around your eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Oozing liquid or crusted skin

Try Not to Itch

It can be very tempting to scratch itchy skin that occurs with eczema—especially when it affects your eyelids. However, scratching can lead to bleeding, which opens the door for infection. This can be particularly dangerous when it involves your eyes.

In addition to physical symptoms, eyelid dermatitis can also lead to stress, difficulty sleeping, and decreased quality of life.

Eyelid dermatitis can also increase your risk for other eye conditions, such as conjunctivitis (pink eye) and keratitis (inflamed cornea). Repeatedly rubbing your eyes can actually change the shape of your cornea, which is the outer layer of your eyeball. This condition is called keratoconus and can lead to loss of vision.

To rule out other eye conditions, see your doctor if you notice a change in your eczema symptoms or develop any of the following problems:

  • Pain in your eyeball
  • Sticky, wet, or crusted eyelashes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • “Gritty” feeling in your eye
  • Blurry vision
  • Any other changes to your vision

Causes

The exact cause of dermatitis, whether on your eyelids or other parts of your body, is not always known.

Contact dermatitis can be triggered by many common substances. Flare-ups in eczema symptoms can be caused by a variety of triggers, including exposure to:

  • Household chemicals
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Fragrances
  • Metals, such as nickel
  • Certain fabrics
  • Dyes

Weather conditions, such as dry air or large temperature changes, can also trigger eczema flare-ups.

Atopic Dermatitis and Genetics

Atopic dermatitis often runs in families. You might have a genetic mutation that makes you more prone to atopic dermatitis. With this mutation, your body doesn’t produce enough of a protein called filaggrin which helps to keep your skin strong.

If you have other allergies, such as hay fever, you are also more likely to develop eczema around the eyes or other parts of your body.

Diagnosis

Your primary care doctor will likely be the first person to diagnose your eyelid dermatitis. You’ll probably be referred to a specialist, such as a dermatologist or allergist, to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms.

Contact Dermatitis

Triggers for contact dermatitis can be identified with a patch test. The doctor will put small amounts of potential allergens on a bunch of patches, which are then placed on the skin of your back. After 48 hours, the patches are removed and the doctor will check for skin reactions.

Your skin will be reassessed after another four to seven days have passed, as some allergic reactions can be delayed.

Atopic Dermatitis

There is no specific test for diagnosing atopic dermatitis. Your doctor will examine your skin and ask you questions about your symptoms and how they developed. Consider keeping a diary to track your symptoms and document the products that you’re using on your eyelids, such as moisturizers, facial cleansers, or makeup.

Treatment

The best treatment for eyelid dermatitis is avoiding the trigger for your symptoms. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible.

Eyelid dermatitis flare-ups are often treated with topical medications (applied directly to your skin). During a flare-up, your doctor might prescribe a steroid cream to decrease inflammation. But, the potency of the cream will be low because the skin of your eyelids is very thin, compared to other parts of your body. In severe cases, your doctor might also prescribe oral steroid medication.

Topical calcineurin inhibitors are another type of ointment or cream used to treat eyelid dermatitis. These medications block the action of certain chemicals in your immune system. While they are safer for your eyelid skin than steroid creams, they can make your eyes sensitive to light.

Coping

Even if you don’t know the exact cause of your symptoms, there are steps you can take to help prevent a flare-up:

  • Go all-natural: If you suspect your makeup might be causing your eyelid dermatitis, go without it for a few days and monitor your symptoms. If you’ve got artificial nails, consider having them removed as well. These nails can contain plastic materials called acrylates that, if they come into contact with your face, can cause eyelid dermatitis.
  • Check the label: Use facial cleansers, moisturizers, and makeup products that are free of fragrances, dyes, and other common irritants. Many of these products are labeled “made for sensitive skin.”
  • Use gloves: Consider wearing gloves when using household cleaners or doing laundry. Be sure to remove your gloves and wash your hands before you touch your face.
  • Reduce stress: When you’re under stress, your body releases hormones that can trigger a flare-up in eczema symptoms. Make deep breathing or other relaxation techniques a regular part of your routine.
  • Exercise in style: Sweat can trigger eczema flare-ups. Consider sporting a headband when you work out to stop excess sweat from dripping onto your eyelids.

A Word From Verywell

Eyelid dermatitis or other types of eczema can significantly impact your everyday life. Talk to your doctor about treatments that can reduce your symptoms and help prevent flare-ups. Consider joining a support group for additional encouragement.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for eyelid dermatitis to go away?

    Flare-ups in symptoms of eyelid dermatitis can take several weeks to go away.

  • How can I treat eyelid dermatitis at home?

    Eyelid dermatitis is typically treated with topical medications. See your doctor for treatment instructions.

  • How does nail polish cause eyelid dermatitis?

    Nail polish contains harsh chemicals that can cause allergic reactions when you touch your eyelids.

  • Does drinking water help eczema?

    While drinking water doesn’t directly improve eczema symptoms, it does help keep your skin hydrated which can reduce the risk of flare-ups.

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8 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.
  1. National Eczema Society. Eczema around the eyes.

  2. National Eczema Association. What is eczema?

  3. National Eczema Society. About atopic eczema.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Adults with eczema should watch for eye problems.

  5. National Eczema Association. Eczema causes and triggers.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Patch testing can find what’s causing your rash. Updated March 15, 2021.

  7. National Eczema Society. Topical calcineurin inhibitors.

  8. Moreira J, Gonçalves R, Coelho P, Maio T. Eyelid dermatitis caused by allergic contact to acrylates in artificial nailsDermatol Reports. 2017;9(1):7198. doi:10.4081%2Fdr.2017.7198