Crusty Ears: Causes and Treatments

Having crusty ears can be very embarrassing. You might even worry that it’s being caused by a serious underlying condition. Dry, flaky ears can be due to a variety of things.

From earwax buildup to seborrheic dermatitis, the potential causes are many. It might even be a certain shampoo or toner causing an allergic reaction.

While annoying, this symptom is oftentimes harmless. Below, we’ll talk about causes and treatments for crusty ears.

What Causes Crusty Ears?

This symptom is characterized by dry and flaky ears. If you clean the ear canal too often, it can cause your ears to become dry.

When you remove excess wax from the ear, you leave the canal bare and exposed. This can lead to the ears becoming dry, crusty, and even painful.

Crusty Ears

Certain people may suffer from a skin condition that causes their ears to secrete too much oil on the skin. This leads to the overgrowth of yeast and ultimately dry skin.

It’s also possible that your body is overreacting to an allergen within a shampoo or lotion. If that’s the case, replacing it should make your crusty ears go away.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

The overgrowth of a yeast P. ovale can cause seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition that results in scaly skin flakes.

If you get it on the ears, it can lead to dryness, itchiness, pain, and scaling/flakiness. People most commonly get it during the winter.

People with HIV and Parkinson’s disease are also at a higher risk. Seborrheic dermatitis is, for the most part, harmless.

However, it can be very annoying and difficult to deal with. The yeast is hard to get rid of, and sometimes a topical medication is the only way to make it go away.

The yeast feed on the natural oils of the skin. These oils are there for protection, so once they’re gone, the skin becomes inflamed.

If you think that your crusty ears are due to seborrheic dermatitis, go see a dermatologist.

Other Causes of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Aside from the overgrowth of yeast, there are other causes of seborrheic dermatitis that you should know about. These include:

  • Dry Weather
  • Cold Weather
  • Genes
  • Stress

People between the ages of 30-60 years old, as well as newborns, are most likely to be affected by crusty ears due to seborrheic dermatitis. Also, as far as gender, it tends to appear in men more often than it does women.

Other Types of Dermatitis That Can Cause Crusty Ears

Seborrheic dermatitis isn’t the only type of dermatitis that can be causing your crusty ears. Other types include:

  • Nummular Dermatitis
  • Irritant Contact Dermatitis
  • Atopic Dermatitis
  • Stasis Dermatitis
  • Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Upon closer examination, your dermatologist will be able to tell you which type of dermatitis (if any) you have. If the dryness in/around your ears is very bad, they may take a skin scrape to perform a microscopic analysis.

If it’s allergenic in nature, the doctor may perform a patch test. This will allow them to determine the allergen so that you can avoid it in the future.

What is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a type of dermatitis that happens whenever your ears encounter an allergen (like an earring for example).

The best way to treat crusty ears that are caused by contact dermatitis is to use a topical corticosteroid. You can either use a potent 0.1% betamethasone cream or a less potent 1% hydrocortisone cream.

Both are very effective at decreasing the itching and inflammation associated with dry, flaky ears. It’s recommended that you don’t use water or cotton swabs to treat the dry skin on your ear. That may simply make your symptoms worse.


Another possibility for flaky ears is sunburn. As UV rays hit the surface of the ears, they cause damage. This can eventually lead to itching and scaling.

Like dandruff, flaky ears cause dead skin particles to fall onto your clothing, which is embarrassing to say the least. This causes people to wear only bright-colored clothing, which can limit your fashion choices as well.

Needless to say, it’s a problem that you should take care of as quickly as possible.


Certain medications, including antihistamines, can cause the skin around your ears to become dry and flaky. Antihistamines cause the ear skin to dry up.

Aside from antihistamines, it’s possible for other medications to cause crusty ears. If you’re currently on any medications, and you think they’re the cause, talk to your doctor about it.

Treating Crusty Ears

How is this symptom treated? Well, like any symptom, you first need to determine what’s causing it. Then you can pick the right treatment plan. Treatment plans include:

  • Limit Sun Exposure: As we mentioned earlier, it’s possible for your symptom to be due to excess sun exposure. By cutting back, it should help alleviate the dryness.
  • Topical Medication: If it’s due to a bacteria, fungi, or yeast, then a topical medication will likely be prescribed by your dermatologist.
  • Not Picking at Ear Wax: Our bodies produce ear wax for a reason. If you consistently remove it, you leave the skin underneath susceptible infection.
  • Drinking More Water: One way to help alleviate dry skin is to drink more water. At a minimum, try to get at least 8 glasses of water per day.
  • Buying a Humidifier: If you live in a dry area, or if it’s winter, buy a humidifier. This may help lessen the ear dryness you’re experiencing.

Once you find the cause of your crusty ears, it will be easier to fix the problem. Unfortunately, these treatments aren’t guaranteed to work.

In those cases, you will need to speak with your dermatologist about a more effective prescription topical medication.

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