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Why does oily skin make my eyes burn?

RizosMios says…Is it normal for sebum to burn the heck out of my eyes? I wash my face twice a day and my morning wash goes normally for the most part, but my nightly wash burns my eyes and leaves me looking high afterward, they are so red. Is it normal for sebum to affect one this way? Could it be something else that I’m not considering? I do think I excrete an excess of oil, by the way.

The Beauty Brains respond:

We addressed this question in our Forum a few months ago but thought that the rest of the Beauty Brains community might like to hear about this as well.

Skin oils can cause eye irritation

As the article “Sebaceous gland lipids” (from Dermatoendocrinol. 2009 Mar-Apr; 1(2): 68–71.) explains, sebum consists of about 20 to 30% fatty acids, of which the most abundant is palmitic acid. And, according to this study, these fatty acids have been demonstrated to cause mild to moderate eye irritation in similar concentrations (at least in rabbit eye testing.) Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that if enough sebum enters your eye it could cause a burning sensation.

We’re assuming that you’ve already ruled out that the effect is caused by any makeup or moisturizer you might be wearing. If you’re still unsure of the cause, here’s an experiment you can try to see if it is the oil: get some of the oil blotting sheets and blot HALF your face. If everything else is constant and only the unblotted eye stings, then it is more likely to be the facial oil causing the problem.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Carole Rains October 13, 2014, 9:41 pm

    I have very oily skin even at 63 years old. The stinging could also be from salt in sweat on the eyelids…removing all traces of sweat and oil from eyelids could help a lot…….it has solved my stinging problem……
    best of luck to you ..

  • Stephen November 23, 2014, 4:50 am

    I get this stinging and I have to wash my face with soap and water immediately. I don’t wear make-up so its just the oil. It seems to be getting worse as I get older – and I don’t remember having this problem until my 40’s.

    • Jeff December 18, 2017, 6:48 am

      My eyes burn every evening or late afternoon. If I use a wet wash cloth or even a paper towel this stops. Also, at 60 you would not think oily skin or scalp would be an issue. I would like to know how to prevent the oil rather than respond to the problem. Suggestions are welcome.

  • walker rowe April 10, 2015, 10:04 pm

    you are supposed to wash your face with baby shampoo. thats what the eye doctor told me. I think the ph is neutral in the baby soap. so buy neutral ph soap. like glycerin I think its called.

  • G1985K April 29, 2016, 3:08 pm

    Talking my son’s dermatologist just yesterday, I asked “Oh, by the way” why do my eyes sting when my eyelids get oily in the evening? (I’m a man of 52 years)
    He said that it was probably the fatty acids in my sebum; Johnson’s Baby Shampoo has a neutral pH, so put a drop of it into a shot glass of water and use a Q-Tip to wash the eyelash and eyelid.
    When I said that I normally wash my eyelids with Ivory soap, he said to get rid of it because it has a very harsh pH of 9.x–use Dove instead.

  • Wbramsey December 31, 2016, 7:09 am

    My eyes also burn from my skin oils but in addition if I do not wash my hair daily, my scalp will itch like mad. Does anyone also experience this?

    • Alex Gawler March 26, 2018, 2:22 am


  • Stephanie October 3, 2017, 2:42 pm

    Does Jason’s Quick Clean Makeup Removers have the correct amount of “neutral pH” in them? I used to use them to remove my makeup and since I stopped, I’m having more trouble than ever with the oil from my eyelids. If you can confirm I will go back to these. I’ve tried a couple of my Rx products and they don’t last and I can only use them here and there, not everyday like the makeup remover.

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