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Eyelid dry skin

Eyelid skin stays naturally hydrated, thanks to oils that provide lubrication and moisture barriers as well as lots of blood flow. Yet, it’s prone to skin conditions and can get dehydrated easily for several reasons: failure to retain enough moisture, a decrease in natural oil production and penetration of drying agents because of its thinness.

Eyelid skin is the thinnest skin on the body, measuring less than 1 millimeter (about the thickness of a dime). It comprises several layers of hair follicles, elastin, glands, tissues, muscles, fat pads, nerves, blood vessels and conjunctiva. The upper eyelid skin extends from the eyelashes to the eyebrows, while the lower eyelid skin goes from the eyelashes to the start of the cheek. 

Signs and symptoms of eyelid dry skin

Dry skin on your upper or lower eyelids may look like red, rough or flaky patches accompanied by itchiness, tightness or a wrinkled appearance. These dry patches may appear and disappear quickly, as a one-time occurrence, or they may flare up frequently and for longer periods of time. 

Causes of eyelid dry skin

Dry skin is a common issue, and dryness specifically on the eyelids may occur as the symptom (or result) of one of the following underlying conditions:

  • Atopic dermatitis – A type of eczema, this skin condition features inflammation that can be severe and long-lasting. In many cases, it exists with hay fever or asthma. Atopic dermatitis accounts for 16.5 million cases in adults in the U.S. 

  • Seborrheic dermatitis – Seborrheic dermatitis isn’t contagious and is not an allergy, although some allergies can mimic it.

  • Blepharitis – With this condition, skin appears red and inflamed, with soreness, itchiness or stinging. Bacterial infections or allergies can cause eyelids to swell as can clogged meibomian glands along the lashes. 

  • Psoriasis – A skin disease with no cure, psoriasis looks like scaly, dry patches (or plaques) from extra skin cells. The affected area can be itchy or painful and can flare up in cycles due to stress, certain medications or infections. Of those with psoriasis, 10% have it on their eyelids.

  • Diabetes – People with diabetes can have a lack of tear production, and because of this, may rub or scratch their eyelids causing redness and dryness.

Dry skin on eyelids can happen to anyone at any time during their life.  In addition to the underlying conditions listed above, dry eyelid skin can be caused by:

  • Aging – Over time, eyelids undergo several changes, including the decrease in production of natural oils that keep moisture in. This dehydration can result in eyelid skin dryness. 

  • Contact with irritating substances (irritant contact dermatitis) – Eyelid skin can come into direct contact with irritants that trigger inflammation. They include creams, soaps and chlorinated pool water. Irritants reduce moisture levels and restrict natural oil production, leaving eyelid skin dehydrated.

  • Exposure to allergens (allergic contact dermatitis) – Eyelid skin can be exposed to allergens when they are transferred to the skin. Some allergens are poison ivy, hair dye chemicals and metals such as nickel. The body triggers an immune response when these substances penetrate the thin eyelid skin, causing an allergic reaction like dryness. 

  • Environment – Eyelid skin is susceptible to drying agents found in the environment. These include indoor heating systems used during cold weather that decrease humidity levels. Also in the environment are airborne irritants (dust) and allergens (pet dander) that can make sensitive eyelid skin react.

  • Lifestyle choices – Eyelid skin is affected by the choices people make, such as inadequate hydration, poor hygiene, living in cold climates or professions where there’s contact with chemical fumes.

Treatments of dry skin on eyelids

To reduce instances of dry skin on your eyelids, it may help to:

  • Drink more water and increase your overall hydration.

  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air.

  • Protect the skin around your eyes with sunscreen and sunglasses.

  • Keep problematic substances away from your face and eyes, including hot water, fragrant soaps, perfumes and makeup.

  • Try to avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.

Self-care with home remedies and products specially formulated for sensitive skin may also offer temporary relief from dry skin on your eyelids. For example, you can use fragrance-free moisturizers, cool compresses or an over-the-counter topical corticosteroid on the affected areas. 

When to see a doctor for eyelid dry skin

If you experience dry skin on your eyelids, an eye doctor can help identify the source of the problem and provide any necessary medical treatment.

You should schedule a comprehensive eye exam if:

  • Your symptoms worsen (dry patches start to blister or swelling occurs, for example).

  • The steps you’ve taken at home haven’t helped.

  • Your vision or eyes are affected in any way (such as overly watery eyes, blurriness or light sensitivity).

Eye health is important to your general well-being, so it’s always a good idea to consult with an eye doctor if you notice any changes to your sight or eyes.

Eyelid anatomy. My Plastic Surgeon. Accessed April 2021.

Atopic dermatitis. National Eczema Association. Accessed March 2021.

Seborrheic dermatitis. National Eczema Association. Accessed April 2021.

What's to know about psoriasis on the eyelids? Medical News Today. July 2019.

No relation between the severity of corneal nerve, epithelial, and keratocyte cell morphology with measures of dry eye disease in type 1 diabetes. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. November 2018.

Dry skin. American Skin Association. Accessed March 2021.

Blepharitis. American Optometric Association. Accessed May 2021.

How to hydrate and plump dry skin around the eyes. Byrdie. June 2020.

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