Eyelid dermatitis can make eyes itchy, swollen, or irritated. It typically results from allergies or sensitivities to fragrances, preservatives, or other chemicals.

If your eyelids often get itchy, swollen, or irritated, you may have one or more forms of eyelid dermatitis, a very common condition. The two types of eyelid dermatitis are atopic (allergic) contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis.

Keep reading to learn more about eyelid dermatitis, including treatments, causes, symptoms, and ways to prevent it.

Symptoms of eyelid dermatitis can occur in one or both eyes. Your symptoms may be chronic (long term) or they may only happen occasionally. They may also include the eyelids alone or the surrounding area.

Symptoms may include:

  • itching
  • swelling
  • pain or burning sensation
  • scaly, irritated skin
  • thickened, creased skin
  • a red or pink rash on lighter skin tones or a darker brown or tan rash on darker skin tones
Types of eyelid dermatitis: mild, severe chronic, severe acuteShare on Pinterest
Illustrated by Jason Hoffman

The skin on your eyelids is very thin. It contains many blood vessels and little fat. This composition makes them susceptible to irritation and prone to allergic reactions.

Eyelid dermatitis has many causes, and it may be challenging to figure out what is causing your symptoms.

In people with atopic contact dermatitis, symptoms can result from an allergy. Symptoms occur when your immune system produces antibodies as a reaction to a substance you’re allergic to.

These antibodies are called immunoglobulin E (IgE). The antibodies create a chemical reaction in the cells, which causes allergic symptoms, such as redness and itching.

Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the area around your eyelids comes into contact with an irritating substance. You don’t need to be allergic to the substance.

For example, makeup or eye cream may cause irritant contact dermatitis even if you aren’t allergic to any of the ingredients.

Many substances that cause allergic contact dermatitis also cause irritant contact dermatitis. The difference between the two conditions is determined by your immune system’s reaction.

No matter what type of eyelid dermatitis you have, the result can be itchy and uncomfortable. Both types can be treated with medication or lifestyle changes.

Keeping a daily journal may help you uncover an allergen or sensitivity that might be playing a role in causing your eyelid dermatitis.

Try writing down the products you use each day and looking for clues in the ingredient lists. These products should include personal care products that you use on your face, hair, and body, like soap, lotion, and shampoo.

You should also note items you use around the house, such as cleansers, since you may be transmitting irritants to your eyelids with your hands.

For some people, dust or even the weather may cause symptoms of eyelid dermatitis.

Causes of atopic contact dermatitisCauses of irritant contact dermatitis
foods you’re allergic tovery hot or cold temperatures
pollenextreme humidity or very dry air
latexrubbing or scratching the eyes
rubberinsect bites
plasticchemicals, including chlorine and bleach
contact lens solutionrubbing alcohol
personal care products, including eye makeup, moisturizer, cleanser, nail polish, hand cream, hair dye, or shampoopersonal care products, such as benzoyl peroxide in acne management products
metals, such as nickel, which might be found in tweezers, scissors, and jewelryindustrial solvents
medications, such as corticosteroids and antibioticsairborne contaminants, such as dust particles
preservatives in various products, including eye dropswood particles
dust mitesnew carpeting, furniture, and mattresses that may shed chemicals and cause a reaction known as “off-gassing.”
pet dander

If a trigger for your symptoms can be identified, eliminating it will be your first and best line of defense. If a food trigger is found, removing it from your diet is key.

Your doctor may prescribe the use of a short-term topical or oral corticosteroid, which will reduce inflammation, swelling, and itching.

If you decide to try an over-the-counter topical treatment, make sure to check the ingredient list first. Some of these products include preservatives and other ingredients you might be allergic to. Avoid any that have:

  • added fragrance
  • formaldehyde
  • lanolin
  • parabens

It’s important to keep your eyelids clean. It’s best to avoid touching your skin, scratching, or rubbing your eyes. Try not to use makeup or scented cleansers during this time. Even hypoallergenic cosmetics should be avoided until your symptoms improve.

If you work in a very dusty or contaminated environment, wearing wraparound goggles may help eliminate irritation to your eyelids.

There are a number of at-home treatments you can try. You’ll likely need to use a trial-and-error approach. Don’t continue with a treatment that doesn’t provide relief or that seems to make your symptoms worse.

Topical applications you might wish to try include:

  • cold washcloth compresses dipped in water
  • cucumber slices
  • a salve made from plain oatmeal and honey that you apply to the skin
  • aloe vera gel

The triggers for eyelid dermatitis vary, so you may end up having to prevent future issues after you’ve encountered an irritant. Here are some ways to keep contaminants and irritants away from your eyes:

  • Avoid old or expired makeup and skin care. Only use makeup that hasn’t shown any signs of expiration to avoid irritation.
  • Limit harsh ingredients on the eyelids. This could include benzoyl peroxide, retinols, exfoliants, and other active skin care ingredients.
  • Start slowly with new products. Only try one new face product at a time, just in case you end up having a reaction. You’ll be able to pinpoint the culprit more easily.
  • Be gentle with your eyes. Try not to excessively rub or touch your eyes, as that can increase the risk of infection.
  • Watch your meals. If you have any food allergies, you’ll want to avoid those foods, as they could trigger eyelid dermatitis.
  • Limit certain skin care ingredients. Check out ingredient labels on moisturizers and makeup for common irritants. These could include fragrance (often labeled “perfume” or “parfum”), formaldehyde, lanolin, or parabens. Not everyone is sensitive to these ingredients. Hypoallergenic makeup brands may help.
  • Wear protective eyewear and gloves. Goggles, protectice glasses, and gloves can help in situations where irritants may come in contact with your hands or face or are floating in the air.
  • Use mild soaps. As with moisturizers and makeup, look for any irritating ingredients in soaps, body washes, and hair products.

It can be hard to predict who is more likely to be sensitive to irritants that can cause eyelid dermatitis. A few factors may come into play:

  • Age. Babies and children are often more susceptible to skin conditions, especially rashes and conditions like seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Genetics. Allergies and other inheritied traits can make a person more susceptible to dermatitis.
  • Misusing personal care products. Using old products or not using products as recommended can trigger the sensitive eyelid area.
  • Medications. Some medications, such as antibiotics, beta-blockers, neomycin (often found in antibiotic creams), sulfa medications, and local anesthetics can cause dermatitis.
  • Medical conditions. Certain skin conditions like acne or psoriasis and conditions like asthma can sometimes trigger dermatitis.
  • Professions. Jobs where you’re exposed to triggering or irritating substances can be a factor. These include jobs within farm and agricultural, construction, and factory settings.

If your symptoms are clearly associated with a specific product, such as mascara, eliminating the product should also eliminate your symptoms.

If you cannot identify what is causing the condition, seeing a doctor, such as an allergist or dermatologist, can help.

Your doctor will review your symptoms and ask you questions that may help uncover potential triggers. They’ll also ask you about allergic reactions you’ve had and your history of:

If your doctor suspects you have an allergy, one or more tests may be done to determine what you’re allergic to. Some of these require needles or lancets but cause minimal pain. The tests include:

Patch test

A patch test is typically done on your arm or back. Your doctor will choose around 25 to 30 potential allergens to test in you. Tiny amounts of each allergen will be placed on your skin and covered with hypoallergenic tape, forming a patch.

You’ll wear the patch for 2 days, after which time your doctor will examine the area to see if you’ve had an allergic reaction.

Intradermal allergy test

Unlike the patch test, this test provides results in under 30 minutes. Tiny needles are used to inject small amounts of potential allergens right under the surface of the skin, usually on your arm.

Your doctor can test for multiple substances at one time. Each area is observed for an allergic reaction, such as redness, swelling, or hives.

Skin prick (scratch) test

This test also provides fast results and can be used to test up to 40 substances at one time. A tiny amount of various allergen extracts is gently inserted directly beneath the skin using a cutting tool, called a lancet.

In addition to the allergens, histamine is inserted to verify the accuracy of the test. Histamine should cause an allergic reaction in everyone. If it doesn’t cause one in you, then the entire test is considered invalid.

Glycerin, or saline, is also inserted. These substances shouldn’t cause an allergic reaction. If they do, then your doctor may determine that instead of allergies, you have highly sensitive skin and are experiencing irritation, not an allergic reaction.

Radioallergosorbent test

This is a blood test that detects specific IgE antibodies. It may help your doctor pinpoint the substances you’re allergic to.

When severe, eyelid dermatitis can have some complications. These include:

  • Infection. Scratching, rubbing, or generally touching your eye too much can cause an infection to the skin or to the eye itself. Limit touching and be gentle to avoid causing additional irritation.
  • Day-to-day issues. Symptoms of eyelid dermatitis may be severe enough to cause issues with seeing, working, sleeping, and doing day-to-day tasks.
  • Additional symptoms. Since the eyelids are such a sensitive area, you may experience eyelid symptoms prior to additional symptoms elsewhere, such as on the rest of your face or hands.
  • Neurodermatitis. Persistent scratching can cause scaly, thickened skin called neurodermatitis.

Both atopic and contact dermatitis can be successfully treated and eliminated. Determining what’s causing your symptoms can help to reduce your chances of a recurrence.

There are many irritants and allergens in the environment, so it’s not always possible to figure out what is causing your symptoms.

If you have skin that irritates easily, you may also become sensitive to substances you once were able to tolerate. Using personal care products and cleaners made from hypoallergenic ingredients may help.

You should also try to keep your eyelids and hands clean, which may help to prevent or reduce future recurrences. Try keeping your hands away from your eyes and keeping a daily diary of the things you eat and the products you use to look for patterns in any flare-ups.

Finally, it’s important to talk with your doctor if your eyelids are irritated. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can begin treatment and find relief.