Eyebrow dandruff is frequently caused by the same skin conditions that lead to scalp dandruff, and the two often occur together. But eyebrow dandruff can be more annoying because the flakes cannot be hidden under a hat or scarf. Common causes include dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, and seborrheic and contact dermatitis. Mild eyebrow dandruff often responds to simple measures, like washing with shampoo and application of gentle moisturizer. Medical treatment is sometimes needed for more severe or persistent eyebrow dandruff.
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Your might notice a few small flakes in your eyebrows if the skin of your face is simply too dry. Many people experience dry skin, particularly during the winter months when the relative humidity is usually low. Use of harsh soap, toners, astringents and drying acne medications might also contribute to dry skin. Switching to less harsh facial products and use of a moisturizer often resolves this type of mild eyebrow flaking.
Seborrheic dermatitis commonly causes eyebrow dandruff. This skin condition is characterized by inflammation and flaking in areas with a high number of oil glands. Common sites include the scalp, eyebrows, ears and the skin folds beside the nose. Involved patches typically appear slightly pink, shed white or yellowish flakes, and are often itchy. A type of yeast called Malassezia is believed to contribute to the development of seborrheic dermatitis. The condition is chronic in adults, but typically waxes and wanes. Washing your eyebrows with an antidandruff shampoo containing selenium sulfide, coal tar or tea tree oil 2 or 3 times per week may control mild flaking due to seborrheic dermatitis. Topical prescription medicines may be needed for more severe, persistant or widespread facial involvement.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease in which errant immune system signals lead to an inappropriately fast rate of skin turnover. There are several types of psoriasis, each with a different appearance. Psoriasis skin lesions commonly occur on the elbows, knees, and scalp. Facial involvement can also occur, with the eyebrows being the most common site. As it is very rare for psoriasis to occur only on the scalp and face, the presence of psoriasis elsewhere on the body usually makes the diagnosis straightforward. Medical treatment is need for eyebrow psoriasis because of the systemic nature of this disorder.
Atopic dermatitis (AD), commonly called eczema, is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder. AD tends to run in families, begins in childhood and can persist into adulthood. The immune system plays a role in the disorder, which is characterized by extremely itchy, dry, scaly patches. Among adults with AD, the hands and arms are most commonly affected, but the face and neck can also be involved. The forehead and eyelids are common sites for facial eczema, which may extend into the eyebrows. Moisturizers are key to controlling eczema flareups, but see your doctor for specific recommendations if you suspect your eyebrow dandruff might be due to AD.
With the fashion trend toward bold brows, many people use cosmetics on their eyebrows. If you use this type of makeup and develop eyebrow dandruff, it's possible that chemicals in either the cosmetic or the makeup remover used to take it off are causing contact dermatitis. The rash associated with contact dermatitis resembles that of eczema, and would typically be limited to the eyebrow region if related to cosmetics you're using on your brows. Avoiding the product causing the irritation is usually sufficient to resolve the problem.
See your doctor if you have unexplained eyebrow dandruff, especially if it is persistent. Other than a mild facial cleanser, moisturizer or shampoo, do not apply over-the-counter medications to your eyebrows unless recommended by your doctor. The skin around the eyes is exceptionally sensitive, and some over-the-counter products can be damaging, especially if they accidentally get on your eyelids or into your eyes.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.