Why You Get Dry Skin Behind Your Ears And How To Treat It

Have you noticed that the skin behind or around your ears feels irritated, itchy, or dry? It's natural to be concerned when you feel dry or cracked skin behind your ears, but rest assured that it's probably not caused by anything serious. Dry skin around your ears can be caused by a number of different factors, including chronic skin conditions, harsh soaps, and sun or heat exposure.

Because this dry skin can feel uncomfortable, itchy, or even painful, you probably want to find some kind of relief. Fortunately, plenty of options exist for treating and preventing dry skin in the area around your ears, from moisturizing your skin to avoiding common skin allergens. Determining the underlying cause of your dry skin will help you determine the appropriate treatment for you.

Here is everything you need to know about what causes dry skin behind your ears, how to treat and prevent dry skin in this area, and when to consult with a doctor.

What causes dry skin behind your ears?

Whether it's in, around, or behind your ears, dry skin in the ear area has several potential causes, including stress, smoking, dehydration, swimming in a pool, sun exposure, and chronic skin conditions. The environment, both inside and outside of your home, can also dry out your skin. Extreme hot or cold temperatures outside and overly dry air or warm temperatures inside your home can impact the skin around your ears.

Taking hot baths or wearing perfume can also cause dry skin, and using harsh cleansers and soaps contributes to the dry skin behind your ears by stripping your skin of its natural oils. You might also consider an allergic reaction as a potential cause. For example, if you have a nickel allergy, you might get crusty and dry skin on your ears from wearing earrings made of nickel.

Some common chronic skin conditions, including seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis, can also lead to irritated and dry skin behind your ears. Psoriasis can lead to a buildup of wax or skin cells on various parts of your body, including your ears. Eczema typically begins as slightly dry skin and eventually leads to soreness, skin loss, or even infection of your outer ear and inner ear. Seborrheic dermatitis causes greasy or powdery scales and dandruff both behind and on your ears.

Exposure to the sun

We all enjoy sitting or lying out in the sun throughout those warmer summer months, but sun exposure is a major cause of skin damage, including dry skin behind the ears. Sun exposure can dry out any part of your body, particularly if you aren't appropriately protecting your skin from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. Most people forget to apply sunscreen to their ears, which leads to higher levels of sun damage to the ears and an increased risk of getting skin cancer in that area.

When you don't properly protect the skin around your ears from the sun, the sun's dangerous UV rays can damage the external layer of the skin by killing off the skin cells. The ultraviolet exposure then damages the external skin layer, also known as the stratum corneum, which thickens and gets dehydrated, causing the skin to become flaky, rough, and dry. Luckily, applying a protective sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, but ideally 30 or higher, to the skin around your ears all throughout the year can help protect your skin and keep it from becoming too dry.

Swimming in a pool

Another common cause of dry skin behind the ears is swimming in a chlorinated pool. When you do so, the skin around and behind your ears comes in contact with the chlorine. Unfortunately, chlorine is a natural irritant, so it can potentially strip the skin on your ears of its natural sebum oil and dry out the skin. In addition to drying out your skin, the pool's chlorinated water can also lead you to experience some irritation or itchy rashes around your ears.

Excessive chlorine exposure can have a negative impact on your skin in general. Swimming in chlorinated pools or continually being exposed to chlorine over multiple years can impact the health of your skin a great deal. It's not uncommon for your skin, including the skin around your ears, to become red, inflamed, and even blistered if you are exposed to chlorine over a long period of time. You can also possibly get chlorine burns from high concentrations of chlorine in the water. Some of these negative effects can be prevented by showering and using a moisturizer after swimming.

Stress and dehydration

Have you been more stressed lately? No matter the cause of your stress, stress has a bigger impact on your body and your skin than you might suspect. When you get stressed out about anything, whether an upcoming exam or a big move, your fight-or-flight response takes over your body, causing it to release hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. This boost of cortisol and adrenaline leads you to sweat more than you normally would. In turn, your body starts to lose more water, which causes dehydration.

When your skin begins to feel dehydrated, this is a sign that your body is not getting enough water. Dehydration can cause your skin to look and feel dull and dry. Fortunately, you can prevent and treat this dehydration by drinking up to eight glasses of water per day and adding a moisturizer and oil to your skincare routine. Skincare oil will calm any dryness and redness and help repair the skin barrier.

Extreme weather and temperatures

Whether it's the dead of winter or the middle of July, extreme weather and temperatures, including dry heat, dry air, and cold winds, can all lead to dry skin around your ears. Extreme weather can also worsen eczema and other chronic skin conditions. Places that experience sudden changes in temperature, have constantly blowing winds, and are extremely cold in general can also cause dry skin behind the ears. That's why it's crucial to always have a moisturizer on hand to keep your skin from becoming too dry.

Another common cause of dry skin behind your ears is the temperature both outside and inside your home. You might be aware of how much the extreme heat dries out the skin around your ears, but you may forget to take this into account when cranking up your heater or taking hot showers. The high temperatures of hot showers and inside your heated home can also cause the skin behind your ears to dry out.

Harsh soaps and perfumes

Do you ever notice how dry the skin on your hands gets when you wash your hands a little too much? Harsh chemical-based cleansers and soaps can dry out the skin behind your ears as well. These harsh body cleansers and soaps strip your skin of its natural oils, causing dry skin and irritation. The surfactants in these soaps and cleansers actually damage your skin's lipids and proteins, causing skin barrier damage, dryness, itching, and tightness after you wash the skin behind your ears.

Unfortunately, perfumes can also cause dry skin, so if you dab perfume behind your ears on a regular basis, this could be contributing to your dry skin. Luckily, you can do several things to prevent your skin from getting too dry in this case. Switch out your harsh chemical-based cleansers and soaps for more natural alternatives, or stop using perfume since scented products and fragrances tend to dry out the skin more than unscented products.

Allergic reactions

Dry skin around or behind your ears can sometimes be caused by allergic reactions. Nickel is one of the most common skin allergens related to ears since many people wear earrings made from nickel. If you are allergic to nickel, you might get crusty and dry skin on or around your ears from wearing nickel earrings. Keep this in mind, particularly if you are getting your ears pierced for the first time. Other metals, including silver, platinum, and gold, tend to work better for those with sensitive skin, but they tend to be more expensive.

Allergic reactions can also happen from wearing a hearing aid. If you wear a hearing aid, you might get dry skin around the ears because of the device rubbing against and irritating the sensitive and delicate skin in and around the ear. You might also find that the material your hearing aids are composed of to cause an allergic reaction. If this happens, consult with your doctor about alternative devices containing materials better suited for sensitive skin.

Skin conditions

Chronic skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis, can lead to dry skin behind the ears. Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition causing skin cells to grow too quickly, leading to a buildup of skin cells and itchy, dry skin nearly anywhere on your body, including behind your ears. Since the skin cells grow too quickly, the old skin cells can't easily slough off the skin, so it builds up, becoming thick skin plaques, typically beginning red or pink before turning silvery-white. It can appear on your outer ears or the skin around your ears, causing your skin to feel uncomfortable and itchy.

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin condition beginning with dry skin, eventually leading to soreness, itchiness, or even infection to the skin around your ears. Eczema can show up on the backs of your ears or the folds of your ears — anywhere your earlobes connect to your face. You might also find eczema sores on the eardrums, ear canals, ear openings, conchal bowls, and earlobes.

Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition leading to dry and flaky skin patches that flake off in yellow or white scales. It typically shows up on your inner ears, face, or scalp but can also appear behind the ears. Your skin might feel itchy, particularly if infected. No one knows what causes seborrheic dermatitis, but it can be triggered by nervous system disorders, heavy alcohol use, weather extremes, obesity, fatigue, stress, and oily skin.

How to treat and prevent dry skin behind your ears

Dry skin behind your ears can be treated and prevented many different ways, which include moisturizing your skin, avoiding scratching or rubbing your skin, using a humidifier, avoiding common allergens, wearing a warm hat in cold weather, bathing in lukewarm water, using mild soap, and wearing cotton clothing. You can certainly try different methods to prevent and treat your dry skin at home, but if you start to notice pain or signs of infection, you should consult with a doctor to determine if the cause is something more serious.

The home treatment and prevention method you use depends on the underlying cause of your dryness. For instance, ask yourself if you have recently tested out any new skin or hair products or if you've pierced your ears or switched out earrings, since your ears could be reacting to these new products or earrings. Stop using any new products, and watch what happens to the skin around your ears. If the dryness improves, avoid these products moving forward. You might also want to treat your skin with a high-quality moisturizer.

Moisturize your skin

One of the best ways to treat dry skin behind the ears is to moisturize with a lotion, cream, or ointment. Ointments offer the best layer of protection to your skin and include a mixture of water in some kind of oil such as petrolatum or lanolin. Creams also contain oil, but the main ingredient in this type of product is typically water. If you choose to apply a cream rather than an ointment, keep in mind that it must be applied more frequently than an ointment.

Lotions are mainly composed of water mixed with powder crystals and feel cooler to the skin than creams or ointments. To properly relieve your symptoms, you need to apply lotions often to your dry skin. As long as you continue to experience dry skin behind your ears, you can use all of these products as often as needed. At the very least, you should apply them immediately after bathing and drying off with a towel.

You can also try over-the-counter creams containing lactic acid or both lactic acid and urea. These creams can be beneficial if your skin is extremely scaly or dry. Make sure to ask your pharmacist how often to use the product and how much to use, and follow the product instructions carefully.

Avoid allergens, harsh soaps, and scratching

Another excellent way to treat or prevent dry skin behind your ears is to avoid whatever you know might cause or worsen dry skin, including allergens, harsh soaps, and scratching. If you think you may be allergic to your nickel jewelry, stop wearing it. Many people are allergic to nickel, and once you develop an allergy or sensitivity to the metal, it doesn't go away. Stop wearing your nickel earrings and allow your ears to heal. Once your ears have healed, you can try wearing jewelry made of metals or materials better suited for sensitive skin, including polycarbonate plastic, solid gold, sterling silver, and stainless steel.

The same goes for switching out your harsh soaps and shampoos for products that are healthier for your skin, including mild moisturizing soaps and cleansers. If you're unsure about what to buy, check out the product labels and steer clear of any antibacterial cleansers or products with fragrances or alcohol.

If your dry skin is itchy, you might be tempted to scratch your skin, but scratching your skin too much can allow bacteria to enter your skin and cause infection. Instead of scratching, place a cool compress on the dry skin behind your ears to relieve the itchiness. You can also use an ointment or cream with hydrocortisone to assist with inflammation.

Treat skin with medication

Some medications are available that can either treat the underlying causes of your dry skin or soothe the pain and itchiness. Some top medication options include antibiotics, phototherapy, medicated shampoo, and topical steroids.

You can try taking topical steroids to treat the inflammation, redness, and itchiness that accompany the dry skin behind your ears. If you see a dermatologist, they will probably suggest beginning with an over-the-counter topical steroid first, and if the OTC medication doesn't work, you can try taking a prescription steroid instead. If you do take topical steroids, make sure not to apply them inside your ear canal since doing so can obstruct the canal.

If you notice signs of infection around your ears, such as discharge or foul smells, your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic in the form of an oral pill or topical antibiotic cream. Your doctor might also suggest cleansing the area around your ears with a medicated shampoo if they suspect seborrheic dermatitis is the cause. Phototherapy is another treatment option that involves using UV rays to treat seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis.

When to consult with a physician

You might wonder when you should consult with a physician about dry skin behind your ears. Call your doctor if it gets painful, red, or itchy or if you start noticing symptoms of infection, such as foul smell, swelling, weeping, the formation of crusts, or discharge of oozing pus, fluid, or blood.

An infection can happen when the dry skin behind your ears cracks or is scratched, enabling bacteria to enter beneath the skin. It's crucial to consult with a doctor right away if you begin to experience redness, itchiness, or pain or you notice signs of infection, since eczema and some other causes of dry skin behind the ears can actually impact your hearing if they go untreated.

Contact your doctor or dermatologist if the itchiness or dryness continues even after using over-the-counter solutions or trying home care. If the dry skin behind your ears seems to be caused or worsened by cleaning your ears too much, try having your physician clean your ears for you. Your doctor will typically clean your ears by gently flushing them with warm and sterile water.