Seborrheic dermatitis around the eyes: Causes, symptoms and treatments

Seborrheic dermatitis (SD) is a skin condition that can cause red, itchy, scaly patches on the skin. It’s common in people with oily skin or who have dandruff but no one really knows why it affects some but not others.

SD is often found on the face, scalp, chest, and back but condition can also affect the eyebrows, eyelids, and the skin around the eyes. SD around the eye area can be tricky to treat because the skin around the eyes is sensitive. SD can also affect your meibomian glands, causing dry eyes. 

Let’s take a deep dive:

Can seborrheic dermatitis affect the eye area?

It’s less common for SD to affect the eye area and even more uncommon for the eyes to be the only part of your face affected by SD. However, never say never, it is certainly possible for seborrheic dermatitis to only affect the eye area, especially your eyelids and eyebrows.

Surprisingly, SD can also affect the eyes itself. They don’t get mentioned much but there are oil glands all round the eyes and even in the eyelids of each eye. The role of oil glands around the eyelids is to secret miebum (oil) into the tear film.

And where there are oil glands, there is seborrheic dermatitis. Researchers did comprehensive eye exams on 50 patients with seborrheic dermatitis, comparing them to 100 people without SD and found that a significant number of SD sufferers have meibomian gland dysfunction and dry eye disease.

What are the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis around the eyes?

Seborrheic dermatitis around the eyes can look different compared to SD of the rest of your face. When your eyelids are affected, it most often presents as dry skin with a reddish tinge. If your SD is severe, it may look redder and even a bit swollen. It may also be a bit itchy, making you feel like rubbing your eyes all the time – which is not a good idea.

When SD affects the eyebrows, it actually looks like you have eyebrow dandruff. It looks scaly and flakes may fall off when you rub your eyebrows.

If your eyes are affected by SD, the most common symptom is dry eyes. Your eyes may feel uncomfortable and tired. Your vision may blur because of how dry your eyes are.

Causes of seborrheic dermatitis around the eyes

No one really knows what causes seborrheic dermatitis to occur in some people but not others. Even less is known about why SD affects come parts of the face but not other parts. However, possible causes of SD around the eyes include:

  • oily eye area from using eye creams that are too rich. It’s important to moisturize your eye area, but when you use the wrong creams, you get clogged pores and encourage Malassezia growth. One of my favorite hydrating eye gels is the Clinique 48 hour Moisture Surge Eye Gel (read my review here).

Moisturisers by Clinique Moisture Surge Eye 96-Hour Hydro Filler Concentrate / 0.5 fl.oz. 15mlCheck it out on Amazon

  • Not taking all your eye makeup off every night. Over time this causes accumulation of dirt, bacteria and oil, increasing your risk of SD of the eyelids.
  • Using makeup removers that are too ‘stripping’ for the eyes, affecting the skin barrier around the eyes. Make sure you use a gentle, natural eye toner instead of alcohol-based ones or God forbid, Vaseline.

EARTH SCIENCE - Chamomile & Green Tea Natural Eye Makeup Remover (4 fl. oz.)Check it out on Amazon

Even if you did everything you shouldn’t do with your eyes, you still won’t get SD of the eyes if you have no predisposition towards it. The underlying reasons why one person gets SD and not another is not fully known but I take a deep dive in this article: Why do I have seborrheic dermatitis (and not them)?

Treating seborrheic dermatitis around the eyes and eyelids

I don’t need to tell you that the skin around your eyes are thinner and more sensitive than the rest of your face. While the principles of treating SD around the eyes are the same as elsewhere on your body, you need to be a lot more careful about what you put around your eyes.

Keep the area clean by using a gentle eye toner like rose water. Apply with a soft cotton pad using dabbing motions rather than rubbing it in.

Rose Water Facial Toner by Leven Rose, Pure Natural Moroccan Rosewater Hydrosol Face Spray 4 ozCheck it out on Amazon

You can use an antifungal cream like clotrimazole on the skin around the eyes and your eyelids but make sure you only use a little and dab it on gently. Never apply antifungal cream on your eyelash or in your eye.

(5 pack) Globe Clotrimazole Antifungal Cream 1% (1 oz) Relieves the itching, burning, cracking and scaling associated with fungal infections | Compare to the Name Brand Active IngredientCheck it out on Amazon

Once the antifungal cream is absorbed, you can then use a moisturizing eye cream to keep the area hydrated.

If you have dry eyes from SD, you can use artificial tears or an over-the-counter eye lubricant for comfort. If you have significant eye symptoms, please see an optometrist or opthalmologist for a proper diagnosis. You don’t want to assume that your eyes are just dry from SD. It may be something more severe.

Never, I repeat, NEVER apply steroid cream on your eyelids, around your eyes and in your eyes.

Further reading: The Ultimate Guide to Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment

Can you use eye makeup with seborrheic dermatitis of the eyes?

You can use eye makeup even when you have seborrheic dermatitis of the eye area. You’ll probably need to use a primer to give yourself a smooth base to work on.

Mineral Fusion Smoothing Eye Primer, 0.07 Fluid OunceCheck it out on Amazon

Even then, your eye shadow won’t go on as easily as it would usually. You may also find that your makeup doesn’t last as long.

I’ve found it best to leave the eye make up off when I’m having an SD flare. I find the dry skin and scales show through after awhile and the eye makeup pulls more attention to it. I also like to let my skin heal in peace without having to deal with makeup and what-not. This way, my lids repairs quicker and I can get back to my normal makeup routine.

You may be interested in Makeup for seborrheic dermatitis: How to make yourself look beautiful

Types of dermatitis that can affect the eye area

It’s easier to make a diagnosis if you have seborrheic dermatitis elsewhere that also affects your eyes. Hoeever, even though it’s not common, some people only get seborrheic dermatitis around the eyes. If you have what looks like an SD rash only around the eyes, don’t assume it’s SD.

Common causes of a rash around the eyes include:

  • allergic dermatitis
  • contact dermatitis
  • photosensitivity (sunburn)
  • blepharitis
  • cellulitis (infection of the skin)

It’s difficult to differentiate the various causes and you don’t want to miss a potentially serious disease. To get a proper diagnosis, see your doctor for a proper assessment before you start self-treating your rash.

To wrap up

Seborrheic dermatitis can affect the eyes, especially your eyelids. It’s a bit harder to treat because the skin around your eyes is more sensitive than elsewhere on your face but you can keep the area clean and hydrated.

4 thoughts on “Seborrheic dermatitis around the eyes: Causes, symptoms and treatments”

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