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Here’s Exactly How to Treat Dry Eyelids, According to Dermatologists

Back in college, I woke up one winter morning with dry eyelids for the first time. It was the year we started using the term polar vortex (meaning it was suuuper cold), and throughout the winter, the skin around my eyes got progressively dryer and flakier.

The flaking made all my eye makeup look cracked and messy, so I stopped wearing it. Eventually, I developed tiny, bleeding cracks in my eyelid creases, which were sensitive and painful. My eyes stung all the time; the skin was raw from trying to gently exfoliate.

I was able to calm it down when the weather got warmer, but still, every December or January, like clockwork, my eyelids erode into flakes right around the time we’re seeing flakes for the first time of the year.

What causes dry, flaking lids?

Everyone gets dry skin from time to time. But if your dry, flaking eyelids are especially severe and triggered by certain things, they might be considered a type of eczema, like atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis. These conditions often cause patches of dry, red, itchy, flaky skin in response to triggers like allergens, changes in temperature, or humidity.

Eczema is a general term that’s used to refer to several different types of rashes “caused by disruption of the outer skin layer, loss of hydration, and inflammation,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells SELF. These rashes can really happen anywhere on your skin, but eyelid skin is thinner than the skin on other parts of your body and face. That means “the skin barrier [on the eyelids] is more easily disrupted than in other parts of the body,” which makes the eye area especially vulnerable to eczema, Dr. Zeichner says.

Allergens and irritants are some of the most common triggers for eczema and often affect the delicate skin of our eyelids before causing trouble anywhere else on the skin, Amy Kassouf, M.D., a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. “There are ma

ny airborne allergens in our environment—think of the perfume droplets at the mall after someone has used a tester, or the pollen in the air in spring—and they often react with the very sensitive eyelid skin first, causing redness, itching, flaking, and even swelling,” she says. “Many things that we touch get transferred to our eyelid skin, like the nickel from handling money or touching doorknobs, the acrylates or formaldehyde in our nail polish.”

And, as is the case with my own lid issue, Dr. Zeichner, changing weather is also a very common trigger for dry eyelids. “Cold, dry weather during the winter strips the skin of oils, which ultimately leads to dryness,” he says. Other potential irritants that may bring on flakes are eye makeup (the pigments in eyeshadow can be a trigger), hairspray, chemicals, and rubbing your eyes.

Occasionally, dry, flaking eyelids signal a larger health problem, which is why it’s important to seek the advice of a dermatologist should your skin condition last more than a few weeks. Dry, flaky eyelids can be a symptom of many systemic health conditions, Dr. Kassouf says, including thyroid disorders and psoriasis.

If the flaking is accompanied by red, puffy, or purple discoloration around the eyes, Dr. Zeichner says this “may rarely signify an underlying medical condition,” particularly autoimmune conditions like lupus or dermatomyositis,” which also usually comes with muscle weakness and pain. These are rare but serious. So if you’re not sure what’s causing your dry eyelids or you have other symptoms along with the dryness, check in with your doctor or dermatologist.

How to treat dry, flaking eyelids:

If you’re not sure what’s causing your dry eyelids, the first step will be to check in with a dermatologist. They may want to conduct some patch testing to see if you have an undiagnosed allergy, Dr. Kassouf says. However, there are a few measures you can take on your own if you’re having eyelid eczema and dealing with an excess of flakes.