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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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • 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 ..

    • Helena Stark December 24, 2019, 11:38 am

      Thank you, I’m 24 and not finding advice anywhere!

  • 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.

      • Kevin May 7, 2018, 11:49 am

        Perhaps your skin is getting very dry and your body’s trying to make up with it by producing oil or perhaps you have hormonal changes causing the oil production

    • James Jaragosky March 11, 2020, 4:46 pm

      I too have this problem. it came in my 50’s. I have to wash my face and then it’s fine. I use no products on my face. it seems to be to only come when wearing my glasses.

  • 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


    • Irene Ritchie May 10, 2019, 10:21 am

      Yes. I though it was just me! I stumbled on this thread while searching for my the oil on my eyelids caused them to sting.
      But yea, itchy scalp which makes me feel like washing it more as it feels kinds dirty when it itches 🙁 x

      • Lizzy Schneider May 12, 2020, 11:29 pm

        I have issues with stinging eyes at night and an itchy head. For my itchy scalp, my doctor told me it was a yeast based dandruff that was causing it. They prescribed a shampoo that was orange in color – I don’t remember the name. But it worked like wonders!! I used it for about a year and then ran out about 8 months ago. Since I stopped using it, I haven’t been experiencing an itchy scalp. It’s the only thing that actually made a difference.

    • Savonnah April 6, 2020, 11:09 pm

      Yes, I’m so glad to know im not the only one :/ my dermatologist prescribed me a shampoo for it but then my hair just got more oily so I had to wash it more anyways. The place I went to was a joke whwn it comes to actually helping me

  • 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.

  • Neha April 9, 2019, 11:44 am

    Though am not oily skin person, my eyes burns on applying oil to my hair…why so???

  • tiffiny j graven July 19, 2019, 4:35 pm

    hi so I’ve been dealing with that also. I found that I have gummy skin and my scalp didnt look different then I noticed I had hair like growth under then skin from scalp to eyes to nose ect. this isnt something I noticed right away. I looked back at videos and I saw that I had the same mark in one spot. I’ve looked and asked everyone. it seems when the hairlike pieces I try and break they fray I think maybe due to hitting air. I noticed on my arms new freckles but when rubbed tiny black speck comes out or black hair. i was thinking fungus. idk. but i have no other symptoms. it’s almost been a year. my facial skin is thin this happened really fast towards the last few months. at first u think they are white heads but if you look just right you can see the line. it’s so tiring. no fever, no rash, no ring worm, no swollen lymphoids. help since kertian and sebum come to surface it burns the eyes. I’ve tried tea tree oil, coconut oil taking chephlaxin antibiotics.

  • Cara Llot February 12, 2020, 12:41 am

    So, I have this problem as well and have found that only 2 things helped (me at least). (1) Washing my face ONCE a day with a *gentle* cleanser. When your skin is dried out, it overproduces oil and makes the problem worse. If you are concerned about acne, I recommend trying a glycolic acid product rather than a salicylic acid one – I find it’s a little gentler. But, that might just be me and you might want to double-check with your dermatologist if you have one. And, (2) ALWAYS wearing a makeup setting powder or something similar (even if you don’t wear makeup, I personally am pale enough to get away with a cornstarch-only baby powder). Similar to a dry shampoo, the powder absorbs and traps the oil before it can spread into my eye and cause problems.

  • Carmenmaria April 10, 2020, 6:24 pm

    I noticed when I started working from home and stopped wearing makeup my eyes started burning about late afternoon. I was thinking it was just my oily/salty skin that was causing it. I didn’t think my makeup absorbed that much of the oils on my face but I guess it does. Going back to wearing makeup while I’m Sheltering-in-place.