"The skin around the eyes is very thin and more sensitive than the skin on other parts of the body so naturally, this area can get irritated more easily," says Jeannette Graf, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. And this, she explains, can happen for a few different reasons—particularly right now.
First, there's superficial flaking, which comes as a result of dry skin or friction. "Like other areas of the face, dry skin may occur from time to time but tends to be more common in the winter due to cold, blustery weather, and because eyelid skin is thinner and more delicate, this dryness may feel more irritating than it would elsewhere," says Chaneve Jeanniton, MD, an oculofacial plastic surgeon and the founder of Epi.Logic Skincare. Plus, #masklife isn't exactly helping matters. "Since we're wearing masks that may occasionally migrate towards the eye area, dry, flaky skin may result from the frictional rubbing that disrupts the fragile outer layer of our skin," says Dr. Jeanniton. Dr. Graf adds that topical products like sunscreen, makeup, and soap can also cause dryness and flaking skin around the eyes.
However, if your eyelid dryness is accompanied by redness, itching, or swelling, it could mean that an allergy or contact dermatitis is to blame. "This type of dryness is triggered by irritants that are airborne or directly in contact with the skin," says Dr. Jeanniton. Common culprits include pollen, perfumes, makeup, nail polish, and hairspray. In these situations, you'll want to check in with your derm before trying to treat things at home.
As far as prevention goes (for the more superficial flakes, that is), there are a few cautionary steps you can take to keep your lids flake-free during the coldest winter months. First things first, you can start by removing all of your makeup before bed, which will keep it from irritating the skin as you sleep. Dr. Graf also recommends staying away from products that contain skin irritants—like alcohol, fragrances, dyes, sulfates, and parabens—plus harsh cleansers and exfoliating scrubs. "Use gentle skin-care products and soaps, and look into getting a humidifier to pump more moisture into your room when you sleep," says Dr. Graf. "Also, avoid hot water around the eyes, since it can strip the skin of its natural oil, called sebum, which will dry out the skin."
If your lids have already started to flake, Dr. Jeanninton suggests starting your treatment plan by pressing "pause" on your usual routine. "It’s possible that the eyelid skin is mounting an inflammatory reaction to an ingredient in your skin care or makeup, so my recommendation would be to streamline your routine—less really is more in this situation," says Dr. Jeanninton, who recommends using only hydrating, calming, and moisturizing ingredients around the eyes.
"I would discourage soap and water, even when gently cleansing the eye area," says Dr. Graf. "Instead I would use a makeup remover, micellar cleanser, milky cleanser, or even something thicker like Ponds. After using one of these removers, wiping the area with a wet soft cotton wipe is preferable."
Then, you can follow up with a moisturizing eye cream (be sure to apply twice a day!), like Epi.Logic Eye Contact 360 Night Repair Cream ($90) or Cetaphil Deep Hydration Refreshing Eye Serum ($20), and you'll be flake-free all winter long.
Dealing with dark circles and puffiness, too? Check out the video below for a derm's take on what to do about them.
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