Dry skin around the eyes – How to soothe irritated skin around eyes

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Itchy, flaky and dry skin around the eyes, including under the eyes and on the eyelids, can be caused by a range of factors. This includes lifestyle choices, environmental changes and skin conditions such as eczema. In this article, we will outline the symptoms and causes of dry skin around the eyes as well as how to treat it effectively.

Symptoms of dry skin around the eyes

It is not unusual for dry skin to develop on your body. Our skin requires oils and water to make it naturally stay soft, stretchy and supple. Most people will experience xerosis, the medical term for dry skin, at some point during their lifetime. However, because we are more aware of irritants around our eyes than other parts of the body, dry skin around the eye area is likely to be more irritating and noticeable. 

As dry skin patches often develop in areas which are more exposed than others, dry skin around the eyes can develop due to environmental factors, although it can also be caused by conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. The symptoms of dry skin on the eyelids and under the eyes will differ depending on the severity and the cause of the dry skin

Mild dry skin around the eyes

dry skin under eyes
As the skin under the eyes loses further moisture, it becomes more dehydrated.

Mild dry skin around the eyes may not be noticeable at first. Typical symptoms include:

  • Patches of scaly skin as it becomes dehydrated
  • Rough skin, feeling tighter than normal
  • Flaky and itchy skin, with mild irritation
  • Redness

Severe dry skin around the eyes

severe dry skin under eyes
Cracked dry skin around the eyes can increase the risk of infection.

If left untreated or if any dry skin treatment used is ineffective, mild dry skin on the eyelids and under the eyes will become more severe, developing into extremely dry skin with the following symptoms:

  • Skin may be red, sore and damaged
  • Area around the eyes is more prone to irritation and may be very itchy
  • Stinging or burning
  • Peeling
  • Swelling
  • Cracked skin, which can be vulnerable to bacteria and infections

Chronic dry skin around the eyes can reduce elasticity, leading to premature wrinkles.

Eyelid dermatitis

If the skin on your eyes and eyelids is extremely dry, red and itchy, you could be suffering from atopic dermatitis around the eyes, commonly known as eczema.

Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema, often affecting the eyes in adulthood. This can develop around the eyes and on the eyelids, causing the skin to become itchy and swollen. Learn more about eyelid eczema.

How is the skin around your eyes different to other areas?

Medical illustration of the skin
Thin skin around the eyes makes them particularly susceptible to drying out.

Facial skin is much thinner and sensitive when compared to other areas of the body, but the skin around the eyes is even more delicate. While the epidermis (the external layers of skin) is normally about 0.1mm thick, around the eyes it ranges from 0-0.5mm thick. This makes the skin around our eyes particularly susceptible to drying out and to irritation.

The skin on our eyelids and under our eyes is very vascular, meaning that a lot of blood flows through the vessels around the eyes. Therefore, the skin is more likely to become irritated or affected by dry skin conditions than other areas of the body. Because of this, the skin around our eyes needs appropriate care as once the skin becomes dry and irritated the symptoms can quickly become worse, especially if the area becomes damaged through scratching or rubbing.

Does hay fever cause dry skin around the eyes?

plant pollen causing hay fever
Hay fever can trigger flare-ups of atopic dermatitis.

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen and can cause symptoms such as an itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears, sneezing, coughing as well as itchy, red or watery eyes. Hay fever symptoms usually flare up and become worse between March and September, in particular when it's warm, humid and windy. Because hay fever can cause your eyes to water and become itchy, this can cause dry, irritated skin around the eyes to develop as a result of frequent rubbing or scratching.

Hay fever can also trigger various skin rashes and conditions, such as eczema (atopic dermatitis). Those with eczema are much more likely to have hay fever, while hay fever can also trigger a flare-up of eczema or worsen existing symptoms.

Skin conditions related to skin under the eyes

Dry, flaky skin
Dry skin may be triggered by atopic dermatitis or psoriasis.

Dry skin around the eyes can be caused by a range of dry skin conditions and diseases, including:

  • Xerosis. Xerosis is the medical term for dry skin, and is experienced by most people at one point in their lives. You can find out more about xerosis here.

  • Inflammatory skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, can also cause dry skin around the eyes.

  • Metabolic conditions, such as diabetes mellitus and kidney diseases, can also increase the risk of dry skin on the eyelids and under the eyes developing.

You can find more information on skin conditions such as atopic dermatitispsoriasis and diabetes throughout our website. However, if you are worried about the dry skin around your eyes, or the symptoms are becoming worse, it is recommended that you consult your doctor or dermatologist for a face-to-face diagnosis.

Who suffers from dry skin under the eyes?

Some people have a higher chance of suffering from dry skin around their eyes, such as those who:

  • live in cold climates
  • are above the age of 40
  • smoke
  • have brown, black or fair skin, as opposed to a medium complexion
  • have a vitamin or mineral deficiency 

What causes dry skin around the eyes?

There are a number of causes of dry skin around the eyes and eyelids, as well as contributing factors which can worsen symptoms. These include environmental influences and inadequate skincare products, as well as skin conditions such as Atopic Dermatitis.

Environmental causes of dry skin

Woman in winter clothing
Skin loses moisture in the winter months when the weather is colder.
Woman in hat
Our face is exposed to more UV light than other areas of the body.

  • Harsh, dry weather conditions. Dry air (both hot and cold) can damage the skin’s barrier function and cause the skin to lose moisture therefore drying out. This is more common during the winter months when the weather is colder and humidity levels drop, but this can also be triggered in hot, dry climates.

  • Seasonal changes. Dry, flaky skin around the eyes can often worsen with seasonal changes, such as colder weather in winter or hay fever as a result of the higher pollen count in spring and summer. These changes can lead to skin drying out, or becoming irritated which can cause more frequent rubbing and scratching which in turn can cause damage to the skin around the eyes.

  • Ultraviolet (UV) sunlight. The skin on our face and around our eyes is more frequently exposed to UV light than other areas of the body. This exposure to UV light, coupled with the fact that the skin around our eyes is particularly thin and sensitive, can increase the rate of skin ageing. As the skin is more prone to dryness as it ages, it is more likely that skin around the eyes will dry out and become flaky, itchy and even red. You can read more about age-induced dryness here.

  • Exposure to hot water. Hot water from showers or face washing can cause the skin on our face to dry out and become dehydrated.

Skincare factors that affect skin hydration

woman washing face
Washing your face too often can remove the lipids which make up the skin barrier.

  • Washing too much. Frequently washing your face can dry out the skin, removing the lipids which make up the skin barrier. This can cause the skin to become dehydrated, dry and itchy.

  • Inadequate skincare routine. Because the skin around our eyes is delicate, it is important to use tailored products which have been dermatologically tested to treat dry skin. Unsuitable skincare products can strip away the skin’s natural lipids and worsen dryness symptoms.

There are numerous underlying skin conditions which can cause dry skin around the eyes, including contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, blepharitis and rosacea. These vary in severity and treatment, depending on the condition.

Eczema around the eyes

dry skin around the eyes
Atopic dermatitis on the eyelids is also referred to as eyelid dermatitis or eyelid eczema.

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a chronic dry skin condition that affects both children and adults. It causes the development of dry, itchy and often red skin which can be sore and can even become chapped and cracked.

The parts of the body which are more exposed to environmental factors, such as the face and hands, are more likely to be affected by atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis around the eyes can be caused by facial atopic dermatitis, as well as contact dermatitis. Find out more about atopic dermatitis on the eyelids.

How do you treat dry skin around eyes?

Dry skin is the result of a breakdown in the skin’s barrier function, causing the skin to lose moisture which impairs its water-binding capacity. To effectively treat dry, itchy skin around the eyes, your skincare routine needs to include products which do not cause any further deterioration in the skin’s ability to hold onto hydration and ideally would also replenish the skin’s missing natural moisture.

Woman applies care on her cheek.
Woman applies eye cream

Cleansing dry skin around eyes

Because the skin around your eyes is particularly delicate, to effectively cleanse the eye area without causing irritation you should use gentle eye make-up removers and cleansers. Opt for facial cleansers which do not contain any colourants or perfumes which can irritate the skin, and have been dermatologically tested on dry skin. It is also best to avoid applying any cosmetic products that contain fragrances and preservatives to the eye area, as these may exacerbate any dryness and irritation.

Choosing facial cleansers which contain moisturising ingredients naturally produced by the body, such as Urea, will also help to replenish the skin’s natural moisture balance more effectively. The Eucerin DermatoClean Eye Make-Up Remover and the Eucerin DermatoClean 3in1 Micellar Cleansing Fluid are both mild facial cleansing products which are gentle enough for sensitive skin while still being effective at removing even water-resistant makeup.

Moisturising dry skin around eyes

As the skin around the eyes is thinner and more delicate than the rest of the face, it is important to use moisturisers which restore the skin’s moisture balance but are also gentle enough to be used on the eye area. Moisturisers which contain compounds such as Urea and Lactate bind moisture into the upper layers of the skin (the stratum corneum), helping to keep the skin hydrated and soft.

For treating mild dry skin, a 5% concentration of Urea in a skin cream or lotion is enough to effectively treat dryness, including around the eye area. For extremely dry skin, a higher concentration of Urea may be needed. The Eucerin UreaRepair Replenishing Face Cream 5% Urea and the Eucerin UreaRepair ORIGINAL 10% Urea Cream can both be used on the face and eye area as part of a regular skincare routine to treat dry and extremely dry skin around the eyes.

Protect dry skin from sun exposure

To protect dry skin around the eyes from sun damage, it is advisable to reduce sun exposure by wearing sunscreen and protective sunglasses outside. When using sunscreen on dry skin, ensure that the product used is effective at blocking UV rays and also contains moisturising ingredients that hydrate the skin.

Sunscreens which contain irritating perfumes and colourants should be avoided as these can cause irritation. Eucerin Sunscreens for dry skin offer effective sun protection with COLIPA- and EU-compliant UV filters, as well as antioxidant Licochalcone A to protect against UV-induced oxidation and premature ageing.

Avoiding contributing factors

In addition to having a good skin cleansing and moisturising routine, it is best to avoid contributing factors that can worsen dry skin patches around the eyes.

  • Avoid dry climates (both hot and cold) by spending less time outside and using a humidifier indoors when indoor heating is on. 

  • Avoid washing your face with hot water. It is best to use warm water instead to prevent stripping the skin of its natural oils. Washing your face too frequently can also dry out the skin. Pat the skin dry instead of rubbing it.

  • Consult your doctor about hay fever treatments such as antihistamines if the dry skin around your eyes is being caused by a reaction to pollen.

  • Use cosmetic and skincare products that do not contain perfumes, colourants and parabens to avoid irritating the skin around the eyes.

  • Ensure that you drink enough water, especially those who are elderly as they are more prone to dehydration.

  • Maintain a healthy diet, including vegetables, fruits and antioxidant-rich foods. Avoid processed foods, fizzy drinks and refined carbohydrates.

  • Avoid standing or sitting close to heat sources like heaters or fireplaces.

Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes. Excessively touching, rubbing or scratching the skin around your eyes can worsen dryness symptoms and damage the skin. To prevent scratching and soothe itchiness, you can apply cool compresses to your eyelids and under your eyes.

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