Eyelid dermatitis develops when the folds of skin above and below your eyes come into contact with an allergen or irritant. It’s a form of contact dermatitis. The symptoms are annoying, but shouldn’t interfere with your daily life.
Eyelid dermatitis (also called eyelid eczema, periocular dermatitis or periorbital dermatitis) is a type of contact dermatitis. As that name implies, it’s a skin condition caused by your eyelids coming into contact with something — a substance or physical trigger that you’re allergic to or irritated by. Your eyelids react by turning red and scaly, and they may swell and thicken. Stinging, burning and itching are common symptoms of eyelid contact dermatitis.
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Eyelid dermatitis is divided into two types: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. These names refer to what causes the swelling, scaling and itching — either an allergic reaction or some sort of irritating substance. Irritant contact dermatitis makes up about 80% of contact dermatitis cases.
With treatment, the symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis may start to feel better after one to two days. If you have allergic contact dermatitis, it might take two to three days of treatment to see improvement.
Contact dermatitis is a very common skin condition. About 15% to 20% of people will experience it at some point during their lives, but it’s unclear what percentage of those cases are dermatitis of the eyelid.
Eyelid dermatitis can start slowly or hit you suddenly. It usually starts with red skin and itchiness.
Anyone can get eyelid dermatitis, but you’re more vulnerable and at a higher risk if you have any of the following:
No, eyelid dermatitis isn’t hereditary. But you may be predisposed to asthma or a weaker skin barrier, which can put you at a higher risk for dermatitis.
No, dermatitis is not contagious. It can’t be spread from person to person.
Eyelid dermatitis is divided into two types: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis of the eyelid can be caused by either a physical trigger or an external irritant.
Allergic contact dermatitis is your immune system reacting to an allergen. You may have no problems using makeup, for example, for a long time and then, suddenly, it causes eyelid dermatitis — usually a day or two after you apply the product. Allergic contact dermatitis is often caused by cosmetics, but there are other substances that can trigger it as well, including:
Whether your eyelid dermatitis is caused by contact with an irritant or contact with an allergen, the symptoms on your eyelids are the same. Those symptoms include:
Eyelid dermatitis is painful to some people. It can also cause stinging and itching.
No. Experts have observed that people sometimes assume something they ate or drank caused their contact dermatitis, or made it worse, but that usually does not happen.
Since your eyelids are separate from your eyes, eyelid dermatitis doesn’t hurt the eye itself. But if you itch your eyelid, your eye may get red and sore.
Eyelid dermatitis is a temporary, treatable skin condition that results from exposure to an allergen or irritant. It’s not a sign of skin cancer.
Your healthcare provider may examine you for telltale symptoms like red eyelids, scaly skin and swollen eyelids. If you report that your eyelids are itchy, stinging and/or burning, that will help narrow down the diagnosis.
Your provider may order a patch test if they think you may have an allergy.
Your primary healthcare provider may be able to diagnose your dermatitis and prescribe treatment. You may also be referred to a dermatologist (who treats skin) or an allergist (who treats allergies).
Your healthcare provider may treat your eyelid dermatitis with:
You should not wear eye makeup while you have eyelid dermatitis.
See your healthcare provider for your eyelid dermatitis instead of trying any at-home treatments.
You can prevent eyelid dermatitis if you know what caused it and avoid that trigger. Additionally, try the following:
No, there are no foods or drinks you can ingest that can prevent eyelid dermatitis.
There are no known medications that can reduce your risk.
Eyelid dermatitis is treatable. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to clear up the contact dermatitis. But the condition can come back. It’s a good idea to try to figure out what caused it so that you can avoid the trigger.
Dermatitis shouldn’t keep you from going about your normal daily activities. If it’s so painful and annoying that it interferes with your work or keeps you up at night, be sure to tell your healthcare provider.
Absolutely. Eyelid dermatitis is annoying but shouldn’t impact your quality of life.
No. Eyelid dermatitis won’t spread to the rest of your body. However, keep in mind that what caused your eyelid dermatitis could cause dermatitis on other parts of your body.
See your healthcare provider as soon as you notice the symptoms of eyelid dermatitis. You’ll want to get treatment right away before the symptoms get too severe.
Go to the emergency department right away if your eyelids swell up so much that you can’t see. Unrelated to dermatitis, you should go to the emergency department if you have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Although eyelid dermatitis won’t stop you from going about your daily activities, it is a nuisance. It can cause itching and sometimes pain, so it’s important to get checked out by a healthcare provider as soon as possible to keep the symptoms from getting severe. Try your best — with the help of the people around you — to figure out what may have caused the dermatitis. If you can figure that out and avoid the trigger, then you can prevent future flares. Around 15% to 20% of people experience contact dermatitis at some point in their lives, so know that you’re not alone.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/25/2021.
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