Learn Some Common Causes of Irritating Eyelid Rashes

Identifying and Treating Allergic or Autoimmune Causes

Eyelid rashes are a common problem, especially in people who use cosmetics on their eyes. They may be caused by everything from an allergic reaction to an autoimmune disease.

The skin over the eyelids is extremely delicate and especially vulnerable to rashes and infections. In addition, cosmetics or facial cleansers can sometimes make the rash on the eyelid worse.

This article explains the conditions that can cause an eyelid rash and how to treat one if it does occur.

causes of an eyelid rash
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is an itchy, red rash. It occurs when your skin comes into contact with something that irritates it.

This kind of rash is common in people who apply makeup to their eyes. Many cosmetics contain allergens. These include things such as quaternium-15, which releases the chemical formaldehyde.

Eye makeup with a green or blue color often contains nickel or cobalt. These are also common allergy triggers. Even certain applicators, like those used for mascara, may contain nickel.

And, it's not just makeup causing the problems. Certain chemicals used in shampoos, conditioners, hair dyes, hairsprays, and other hair products can seep into the skin and trigger a reaction.

In fact, anything you touch can be transferred to the eyelids if you scratch or rub your eyes. This includes detergents, perfumes, metals, or food allergens.

Contact dermatitis can affect the upper and lower lids. It can occur on one or both sides of the face. The rash will usually be itchy, often with a dull burning sensation.

The rash itself will be red and scaly. In addition, it may cause the skin to become thick and leathery (referred to as lichenification).

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is a common skin condition that leads to an itchy, scaly rash. It is commonly associated with asthma, hay fever (allergic rhinitis), and food allergies.

Allergens are not thought to cause atopic dermatitis, but they may worsen it. Some people notice that their eczema flares when exposed to environmental allergens like dust mites and pollen.

While eczema most often affects skin creases under the arms or behind the knees, it can develop anywhere on the body. Sometimes it develops on the eyelids alone.

People with eczema of the eyelids usually have the condition since childhood. They may also have a long history of allergy or hay fever.

Itchiness (pruritus) often accompanies the red, scaly rash. The itch can be very intense and is often described as maddening.

Due to the relentless itching and scratching, the skin of the eyelids will often look raw. There may even be visible hair loss from the eyelashes or eyebrows.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is commonly associated with dandruff. It mostly affects the scalp, but it can also cause dry, flaky patches on other oily parts of the body. These might include the face, upper back, and chest.

The cause is not entirely known. But it is believed to be the result of either a fungus found in skin oil, called Malassezia, or an autoimmune disorder.

Autoimmune Disease

Other autoimmune diseases such as dermatomyositis and lupus can also cause an eyelid rash. These rashes have more symptoms than an allergy. They include weight loss, fever, fatigue, night sweats, muscle aches, and joint pains.

Treating Dermatitis

Contact or atopic dermatitis are both commonly treated with topical creams or ointments. In addition, low-dose steroids are sometimes used for short periods of time.

Always follow a physician's guidance to treat eyelid dermatitis.

A low-potency, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, such as Cortaid, may be used. However, you should only use this under the supervision of a doctor and for no longer than 10 days.

Two non-steroidal eczema creams, known as Elidel and Protopic, are safe on the eyelids. These can be applied twice daily until the rash is fully resolved.

Severe cases may require a low-dose oral corticosteroid, such as prednisone. This medication is usually prescribed for no longer than one to three weeks to help relieve symptoms.


Eyelid rashes are fairly common. They may be caused by an allergic reaction, eczema, fungus, or an autoimmune disease.

Since the skin on the eyelid is sensitive, you should always see a doctor for guidance on treating rashes on the eyelid. Treatments may include topical ointments and short-term corticosteroids.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes a rash on eyelids?

    The most common causes of eyelid rashes are atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and autoimmune diseases such as dermatomyositis. 

  • Does eyelid dermatitis go away on its own?

    Not usually. If you have a rash on your eyelid, see a doctor and get it treated early. An acute case of eyelid dermatitis may clear up on its own in a few days, but most patients require treatment. A chronic case of eyelid dermatitis can take up to a month to heal with treatment.

  • How do you treat a rash on your eyelid?

    It depends on the type of rash. Start by making an appointment to see a doctor. Primary care doctors, dermatologists, and ophthalmologists can examine your eyelid rash and determine the best course of treatment. Most eyelid rashes clear up quickly with topical creams or ointments. Some eyelid rashes may require oral steroids to go away.

7 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. Oh JE, Lee HJ, Choi YW, Choi HY, Byun JY. Metal allergy in eyelid dermatitis and the evaluation of metal contents in eye shadows. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2016;30(9):1518-21.  doi:10.1111/jdv.13646

  3. Knopp E, Watsky K. Eyelid dermatitis: contact allergy to 3-(dimethylamino)propylamine. Dermatitis. 2008;19(6):328-33.

  4. Bhat YJ, Zeerak S, Hassan I. Allergic contact dermatitis to eye drops. Indian J Dermatol. 2015;60(6):637.  doi:10.4103/0019-5154.169161

  5. Thomsen SF. Atopic dermatitis: natural history, diagnosis, and treatment. ISRN Allergy. 2014;2014:354250.  doi:10.1155/2014/354250

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Additional Reading

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.