Scalp dandruff is a drag, but it's not unusual. What might seem strange is when flakes are falling from your brows. Yep, eyebrow dandruff is a thing.
Here, Aanand Geria, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New Jersey, explains why your brows may become dry and flaky, plus how to properly treat them to ditch the dandruff, stat.
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1. You Have Seborrheic Dermatitis
A common form of eczema, seborrheic dermatitis usually develops as dandruff or a rash in parts of the body that produce a lot of oil (think: the upper back, nose and scalp), according to the National Eczema Association.
But this chronic skin condition, which causes irritated patches of skin and inflammation, can also spark flare-ups near the eyebrows, Dr. Geria says.
Wherever it creeps up, seborrheic dermatitis is typically triggered by an overblown inflammatory immune response to an overgrowth of Malassezia, a normal type of yeast that resides on the skin, according to the National Eczema Association.
Certain factors can increase your risk of seborrheic dermatitis, including:
- Recovery from a stressful life event, like losing a loved one or a heart attack
- Hormonal changes or illness
- Harsh detergents, solvents, chemicals and soaps
- Cold, dry weather or a change in the season
- Some medications, including psoralen, interferon and lithium
- Certain medical conditions, such as HIV and Parkinson's disease
Fix it: “One can go the over-the-counter route with dandruff shampoos” to treat seborrheic dermatitis, Dr. Geria says. “Helpful ingredients to look for include salicylic acid, sulfur, tar soap and sulfacetamide.”
For a tried-and true OTC dandruff shampoo, he recommends Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ($14.70, Amazon).
“When using dandruff shampoo on the brows, it is helpful to lather it into the eyebrows and have it ‘set’ for a few minutes before rinsing,” Dr. Geria says. “Also, be careful to avoid getting the shampoo directly in the eyes,” he adds.
2. You Have Psoriasis
Your flaky brows could be a sign of psoriasis, a chronic skin disease that results in raised scales, patches or itchiness, Dr. Geria says.
While this condition most commonly affects the knees, elbows, trunk and scalp, it can also show up on other parts of the body, like your face (and, yep, your eyebrows).
This inflammatory issue is thought to be initiated by an overactive immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"When the immune system is off kilter, the skin makes new skin cells faster than the old ones are being shed," Dr. Geria says. Which is why you see the influx of flakes as they accumulate on the surface of the skin.
Fix it: To reduce psoriasis-related eyebrow dandruff, try using a gentle moisturizer, which can help decrease dryness that may develop into psoriasis flares. Look for skin care products with a seal of recognition from the National Psoriasis Foundation. These are formulated to be non-irritating and safe for sensitive skin.
In more severe cases, you may need to see your doctor, who can prescribe you a stronger medication to help calm an overactive immune system.
3. You Have Contact Dermatitis
When your scaly brows are brought on by irritation or allergies to ingredients in substances such as skin or hair-care products, contact dermatitis is usually responsible, Dr. Geria says.
From fragrances to detergent, many things can trigger this scaly skin reaction, which usually surfaces within a few days of exposure to the irritant. "The culprit might be a new product, even something as simple as shampoo," Dr. Geria says.
Normally, an itchy rash, redness or flakiness crops up, but other symptoms can appear, including the following, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Leathery patches that are darker than usual (hyperpigmented), typically on brown or Black skin
- Dry, cracked, scaly skin, typically on white skin
- Bumps and blisters, sometimes with oozing and crusting
- Swelling, burning or tenderness
Fix it: The best way to combat contact dermatitis — and decrease eyebrow dandruff — is by eliminating the problematic product from your daily routine.
If you’re having trouble identifying what caused your reaction in the first place, patch testing can be helpful. Your doctor will place sticky patches — which have tiny traces of possible allergens — on your skin to see how your body responds, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your skin becomes inflamed by a particular patch, this may signal that a certain substance is causing an allergic reaction.
In the interim, "an over-the-counter anti-itch cream or an over-the-counter antihistamine can help ease the symptoms,” Dr. Geria says.
4. You Have Dry Skin
Sometimes run-of-the-mill dry skin is the source of your flaky brows.
"Near the eyebrows, skin lacking in moisture can often be mistaken for dandruff [related to other chronic skin conditions]," Dr. Geria says.
Unlike eczema or psoriasis, which are triggered by an inflammatory response of your immune system, your average case of dry skin is usually related to the weather or the environment. For instance, dry skin in the eyebrow region is characteristic of those living in areas with cold temperatures or low humidity, Dr. Geria says.
Still having difficulty distinguishing between dry skin and other skin issues? Your best bet is to see a dermatologist.
Fix it: Flaky eyebrow skin “will typically subside with a good moisturizing routine,” Dr. Geria says. He recommends Neutrogena Hydro Boost Face Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid for Dry Skin ($16.99, Amazon), which is oil-free and non-comedogenic.
Additionally, applying jojoba oil, coconut or avocado oil to the area can also bring moisture to the brows and deter dandruff, he adds.
When to See a Doctor
"In general, if you are susceptible to eyebrow dandruff, be sure to moisturize your face well, use an SPF of 30 daily, don't aggravate the area by touching or rubbing it and keep track of new products you use on your face or hair to see if that exacerbates the condition," Dr. Geria says.
But if those simple, sensible steps don't resolve the issue, consider seeking help.
"For those with more stubborn or severe eyebrow dandruff, a visit to the dermatologist might be necessary," Dr. Geria says.
After a thorough evaluation, you doctor will determine which course of treatment is best for you, such as a prescription-strength anti-dandruff shampoo.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.