Common Causes of Eyelid Rashes

Eyelid Eczema

Eyelid Rash
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Eyelid rashes are a common problem, especially for women, and can be caused by a variety of allergic reactions and autoimmune diseases. The skin over the eyelids is very thin and is especially susceptible to rashes caused by an allergy. A large portion of these patients has allergic causes to their symptoms, often due to cosmetics or hair care products that they use in everyday life.

Contact Dermatitis

"Contact dermatitis" of the eyelids is particularly common and is often caused by cosmetics that are directly applied to the eyelids, such as eyeshadow or eyeliner.

These cosmetics may contain various antigens which cause the rash, such as formaldehyde or quaternium-15. Eye cosmetics that have a green or blue color may contain nickel or cobalt, which are also common causes of contact dermatitis. Mascara also can cause eyelid dermatitis, either from formaldehyde/quaternium-15 or from the nickel present in the applicator device. As well, eyelash curlers can cause eyelid dermatitis due to nickel.

It's not just eye makeup that can cause problems, chemicals used on the scalp—including shampoo, conditioners, hair dye, and other hair care products—can cause eyelid irritation even if there isn’t a rash on the scalp. The skin on the scalp is very thick, and often a rash won’t appear on the scalp initially. Likewise, hair sprays can also cause eyelid dermatitis since a person usually is closing their eyes when applying hairspray, the spray frequently ends up getting on the eyelids.

Eyelid dermatitis can also be caused by chemicals present on the hands, which are transferred to the eyelids when touching the face. Nail polish and nail resins/hardeners are common causes of contact dermatitis on the face for this reason.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis can result in eyelid dermatitis, often as a result of allergies to pollens, pet dander, mold spores and dust mites.

Typically there are other areas of the body affected by atopic dermatitis, especially flexural surfaces, but the eyelids alone may be affected, especially in adults. Food allergies may also be the cause of atopic dermatitis, particularly in children, which may include the face and eyelids.

Other Eyelid Rashes

Many other diseases can cause eyelid rashes, particularly autoimmune diseases such as dermatomyositis and systemic lupus erythematosus. Usually, other symptoms will be present with autoimmune diseases, such as weight loss, night sweats, fevers, fatigue, muscle aches, and pains.

Treatment of Eyelid Dermatitis

If an eyelid rash is determined to be caused by a contact or atopic dermatitis, then various skin creams may be useful for treating the symptoms. The skin on the eyelids is particularly susceptible to the side effects of topical steroids, and getting these medications into the eyes can result in glaucoma or cataract formation. Therefore, low potency topical steroids, such as over-the-counter strength hydrocortisone cream (Cortaid), should be used sparingly, short-term, and with extreme caution on the eyelids.

Alternative creams that can be used on the face include the topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs), Elidel and Protopic.

These medications are approved by the FDA for atopic dermatitis in adults and children 2 years of age and older. Unlike topical steroids, TCIs do not cause many of the side effects of topical steroids, nor do they lose effectiveness with prolonged use. In addition, TCIs can be used on any skin, including the eyelids.


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Beltrani VS, Bernstein IL, Cohen DE, Fonacier L. Contact Dermatitis: A Practice Parameter. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2006;97:S1-38.