Dry Skin Around The Eyes: What Causes It + 5 Ways To Keep The Area Soft & Supple
Ah, dry skin. An aggravating skin care woe in its own right, but the eye area seems to elicit an extra groan of frustration. That's because the delicate tissue is already super-thin, so any dryness tends to bring itchiness, flaking, and irritation along with it. Not cute.
But what exactly causes dry skin around the eyes, and how can you keep those flutters soft and supple? There's more at play here than you might think.
What causes it?
Most of the time, dry, flaking skin around the eyes boils down to two main causes: allergic reactions (or contact dermatitis) or genetic skin conditions. While other factors can also be at play (think dry weather, sunburn, or simply aging), those two frequently fit the bill:
- In terms of dermatitis, check your topicals. Contact dermatitis is more prevalent around the eyes, as the delicate tissue is already quite thin. That said, there are a host of products that could contribute to dry, itchy lids. Board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, says the eye area can easily react to ingredients that the rest of your skin may be able to tolerate—ingredients like fragrance, sulfates, even the nickel in your eyeglass frames or mascara wand.
- And don't forget about expired skin care products: Those have the potential to become contaminated with bacteria and cause an allergic reaction for some. You can usually tell if it gets worse every time you use the suspected product. As Ciraldo notes, "Sometimes you need to do some detective work to determine the cause."
- Rubbing your eyes can also cause the dermatitis, says board-certified dermatologist Jeanine Downie, M.D., be it with a makeup remover wipe or with your hands after a good morning stretch. Especially if you frequently use nail polish with formaldehyde, the harsh ingredient can irritate the delicate skin every time you touch your eyes.
- On another note, if you suffer from skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, you can totally experience a flare-up in the eye area. Triggers differ for everyone, and not all of them are so easy to place blame (read: cold weather, spicy foods, even internal factors like stress).
Of course, you may just be facing some run-of-the-mill dry skin. Because the area is so thin, it's naturally more prone to dryness. Annoying, sure, but it's not necessarily cause for alarm; you can soothe and protect the tissue-thin skin quite easily, as you'll see.
How to treat the dry skin.
With dry skin around the eyes, delaying the onset is just as important as managing any irritation itself. Good news is, there are a number of ways you can do both:
Protect the eye area with sunscreen.
The eye area is oft-neglected when it comes to SPF—but you should take the time to swipe a proper sunscreen across your lids. "The last thing you want is sunburn in this area," says Downie. "Unfortunately, sunburn can wrinkle your skin faster." Wrinkles, as we know, go hand-in-hand with dryness; after all, dry, flaking skin only accentuates those creases. Don't forget, sunburns can manifest as irritation, itchiness, and peeling after-the-fact—what you may regard as "dryness" may very well be sunburned skin.
Use fragrance-free beauty products.
Artificial fragrance is a common aggressor for sensitive skin. And because the eye area is so delicate, you may need to invest in gentle, hypoallergenic products, even if you don't think your overall skin itself is that sensitive. "Don't use anything fragranced or scented around your delicate eye tissue," says Downie. (Note: Even products labeled "unscented" can still contain fragrance, so look for truly fragrance-free options).
Replenish ceramides in your skin.
People with chronically dry and sensitive skin1 tend to naturally have fewer ceramides, the lipids naturally present in our skin cells2 that act as a barrier to keep moisture in. That's why you can find them in many skin care products marketed to dry and sensitive skin. And while it's a good thing to use ceramides topically, they only provide their benefits to the top layer of the skin—which is why you need to ingest them, too, so your body can enhance its natural levels as well. Phytoceramides (which are just plant-based ceramides often used in supplements) help reduce dryness3 and wrinkles while significantly improving skin hydration, elasticity, and smoothness. In fact, one clinical trial shows that when you take ceramides orally, it may help the skin just as much as prescription-strength topical ceramides3.*
Know when it's time to toss your makeup.
Remember: If a product is old and crusty, there's a good reason. While you might hear of old tricks and tips to extend the shelf life of your products (such as adding eye drops to your mascara), reviving those old items might do more harm than good. Ciraldo even suggests investing in new eye makeup every six months, just to be safe.
Moisturize the area.
It may sound obvious, but it bears repeating: Dry skin is practically screaming for moisture. If you have chronically dry skin, you'll want to swipe on a moisturizer or nourishing eye cream to hydrate and soothe the area. Especially at night when the skin is more permeable4, as your skin loses significant hydration as you sleep—a pesky little thing called trans-epidermal water loss5. Locking in moisture with a trusty eye cream can manage the dryness before the flaking and irritation make their appearance.
Dry skin around the eyes can happen for a multitude of reasons, and it isn't always so easy to tell. It may take some trial and error to find the root cause, but there are plenty of avenues you can take once you pinpoint the issue at hand. You can always touch base with your derm, too, especially if the irritation seems to stick around—they'll be able to differentiate between run-of-the-mill dryness and contact dermatitis in a snap.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.