- for the beautiful skin you have always wanted

Free shipping. Every day!
Cart (0)
Shopping Cart is empty
Shop by

What's the most common cause of rash on the eyelids and how to use eye makeup if you have it

What's the Most Common Cause of Rash On the Eyelids and How to Get Rid of It


One of the advantages of being female, and a dermatologist, is having personal experience with many of the issues related cosmetics and skin care routines that are a problem for my female patients. Rash on the eyelids is one of them.

Rash Around the Eyes

Eyelid eczema is a rough, flakey, scaly, peeling, crusted, swollen, bright or dusky red patchy rash around the eyes, that is itchy, stinging, or irritated. It usually affects the upper eyelids and sometimes the lower eyelids. Most commonly affecting women, it makes eye makeup look unattractive and skin look wrinkled. In fact, in middle-aged or older patients, if it is severe enough and lasts for a while, it can actually make the skin wrinkle by stretching the skin so much the collagen and elastic fibers fracture.

Eye Shadow Causes Most Eyelid Eczema in Women

In my cosmetic dermatology practice, more than 90 percent of the time, the culprit that causes eyelid eczema is eye shadow.

Eyelid skin is thin and delicate. It is not designed for eye shadow. When applying eye shadow, you stretch the skin to hold it taut so the shadow goes on smoothly. When you stretch the skin, you make tiny microscopic cracks. When you make tiny little cracks, then stuff gets into the under layers of the skin that usually doesn’t. That stuff—creams, lotions, powders, colors, fragrances—all cause irritation.

Powder and cream-to-powder eye shadows are drying to the skin. To apply pencils and crayon type sticks smoothly, the skin must be stretched. The absolute worst is shimmer shadow or any eye shadow that lists mica in the ingredient list. Shimmers and iridescent shadows use mica to give shine. Mica is a sheet of reflective mineral with very sharp edges. Some are more finely ground than others, but all make microscopic cuts to the top layer of skin. Applying eye cosmetics containing mica is like rubbing little tiny glass slivers into the skin. Your eyelids don’t appreciate that.

Sponge tipped applicators worsen the problem by abrading the skin.

Using a synthetic pad, toilet paper, or Kleenex to remove eye makeup is very damaging to the delicate eyelid skin. Those products are too rough in texture and the fibers abrade the skin.

Occasionally, the rash is from a true allergic reaction to a specific color dye in the eye shadow.

Other Causes of Rash on the Eyelids

Certain topical creams or lotions, especially the retinoids Retin-A, Renova, Refissa, Tazorac or Differin, acne treatments, some anti-aging treatments, and OTC retinol can irritate the skin and cause eyelid eczema. Occasionally, the rash is from a true allergy to nail polish.

Sometimes, a rash on the eyelids may even be a sign of an underlying serious medical problem, like a condition called dermatomyositis. If your eyelids don’t respond to the suggestions below, or you are having other problems, see your dermatologist.

How to Get Rid of This Horrible Rash on the Eyelids


  • Stop using eye shadow and eyeliner for 4 months. Yes, I said 4 months. It takes about 4 months to completely repair skin barrier function. If you don’t let the skin heal, you will be right back where you started. That means you don’t use any eye shadow, period. That does not mean that you just use it once or twice a week when you go out. It means you don’t use it at all. If you are not going to do that, stop reading now, and go around with yucky eyelids.
  • Stop using exfoliant or astringent on your eyelids.
  • Stop using anything other than a 100% cotton ball to remove eye makeup
  • Stop rubbing your eyes or eyelids. Do not try to exfoliate the flakes.
  • Stop using any topical antibiotic, topical antifungal cream or OTC anti-itch cream to the area.
  • Stop using contact lenses for a while if you stretch the eyelids when inserting them, or rub your eyes because of them.
  • Stop any lash extensions.


  • Use a gentle, fragrance free, hypoallergenic facial cleanser.
  • Apply a fragrance free, hypoallergenic moisturizer to the eyelids twice a day and before bed.
  • You can use regular mascara. You cannot use waterproof mascara.
  • If the rash is persistent, try an OTC 1% hydrocortisone ointment (the maximum strength available over the counter) applied twice a day for no longer than 7 days. Use an ointment base rather than a cream base. Do not use a product with added benzocaine, Benadryl (diphenhydramine), vitamin E, menthol, pramoxine, antibiotic, antifungal or fragrance. Ask the pharmacist for help finding one without additives.


If these suggestions don’t help—see your dermatologist. Call us at 806-358-1117, 800-417-SKIN, or come by the office—Advanced Skin Treatment Center, Dr. Elaine Cook M.D., 2609 Wolflin Village, Amarillo Texas, 79109.


Posted on October 10, 2015 by Dawn

This all sound doable, but finding mice-free eyeshadows is turning out to be a real challenge :(  When you do find them they are terribly expensive and the colors are very lacking… I will sorely miss my copper shimmer shadow.

Posted on November 11, 2015 by Dr. Elaine Cook M.D.

Hi Dawn, yes it can be a challenge to find an eye shadow that won’t set off the eczema. I gave up and don’t use eye shadow at all.

Posted on January 01, 2017 by Danielle

I recently developed eyelid eczema, and it’s very depressing. I have always loved makeup, and this only recently has become a problem. I will definitely try your recommendations, and hope that this will cure itself within 4 months.

After the 4 month healing period is it possible to continue using products with mica if you are more gentle in application? I personally feel that the combination of using dry makeup wipes and multiple brushes caused my eye skin to become weak and cracked, causing the eczema and problems to set in—because it wasn’t a problem before.

Additionally is it safe to wear foundation over my eyelids?

Also, do you have any brand recommendations?

Thank you!

Posted on February 02, 2017 by Dr. Elaine Cook M.D.

Hi Danielle,
Yes it is depressing.
You might get away with using mica containing cosmetics during the 4 month period to re-build your barrier function of the skin. I can’t, most of my patients can’t, but maybe you can.
Be very gentle, let the barrier function re-build and just let it be. 
You can wear foundation, as long as it is a moisturizing type. That is usually not the primary problem. The problem is eye shadow, the sponge applicator, or using other things such as toilet paper to remove make up.
I don’t have specific brand recommendations, because the brands change their composition so often.
Just ask yourself, would I rather have to mess with it, or just not wear eye shadow and let it heal. For me, I look a lot better with skin colored eyelids that are not scabby, crusted and wrinkled but that have no colored shadow. I haven’t worn eye shadow for 30 years, and I am a dermatologist who can probably figure out what to try. I actually like the more natural look.

Posted on March 03, 2017 by Jenna

I developed eyelid dermatitis after two treatments of retin a. I stayed clear of the eye area while applying and used my regular moisturizer afterwards. Unfortunately, I am still stuck with the aftermath. I just started using witch hazel to help, which has always helped my skin tremendously. I stopped using all eye makeup since I’ve developed the dermatitis even though it was due to the retin a. How long should I avoid eye makeup? I feel quite naked without it

Posted on June 06, 2017 by Beth

Is it OK to use pencil eyeliner?

Posted on September 09, 2017 by Kelly W

So crazy, I had no idea I should not be using waterproof mascara. It’s been ar eal nightmare, Dr. Elaine. 8 months of swollen eyelids and undereye bags (dennie morgan folds?).. well, here I am. I thought it was my beloved cat, who I am actually allergic to it turns out, it took 8 months of depression to finally give him up. I couldn’t take it anymore. Eyes were fine for weeks, and it came back.

I was allergy tested but turns out, the most thing I am allergic to is Rabbits. I never see rabbits, but my cat WAS loving his Blue Wilderness Rabbit cat-food. It could be dander. Could be mold. Could be dustmites (although i bought pillow cases and a bedding case that was dustmite-proof) .. but I am also thinking it could also be makeup although I have worn makeup for so long I never had this problem, until I started wearing eyeshadow. Now, I only wear eyeshadow on my lash line and it doesn’t really bother me much. After reading this article, I went to my local Target to buy non-waterproof mascara. I was prescribed Elidel for my eczema. I also use witch hazel. I am so glad the nightmare is over and has been for several weeks.

I loved this article, wish I found this months ago.

Thank you Dr. Elaine.

Posted on December 12, 2017 by Linda Friedman

I have contact dermatitis. Redness now on luds and corners of eyes. I use Systane ultra Lid Wipes. I know that all my eye shadows have caused it. But I’m allergic to hydrocortisone so eye dr yesterday said FML ointment and I’ve already used Lotemax 0.5 ointment. Now they cost a few hundred dollars. I’m also allergic to nickel.
I live in Manhattan and there is no way as an older woman I can go without concealer or eye makeup.
I am so depressed as its the holidays. I have so much discoloration.
What about Red led light.  I have a photon at home.
It Cosmetics under eye concealer.  I’ve had bouts of eczema my whole life. But my face is now turning red.

Posted on December 12, 2017 by Ashley

I am in the middle of the healing process… Afterwards when I try eyeshadow again is there A good primer or should I use concealer on my lids as a layer of protection?

Leave a Comment


View All