How Your Makeup May Be Affecting Your Eyes

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Woman applying makeup

There are few organs in the body more sensitive than the eyes. And when you add makeup to this delicate area, it can cause dry eye symptoms or other eye problems, or make an existing problem worse.

In fact, chronic dry eye mostly affects women, since most women wear makeup on occasion, if not everyday.

While many eye cosmetics are safe , misusing certain products can sometimes lead to infection and, in rare cases, even blindess. Knowing what to look for, and how to use cosmetics, can help protect your eyes while bringing out their beauty.

Dry Eye: A Look at Lifestyle Changes

What’s in your makeup?

Some of the ingredients in eye makeup can be irritating to the skin or aggravate already dry eyes. Used in large quantities, some may be associated with cancer risk, so it’s important to know what’s in your makeup before you buy.

Certain cosmetic ingredients have been strictly regulated or unapproved for cosmetic use in the U.S. These include ingredients that act as preservatives, stabilizers or anti-caking agents, as well as color additives. One such additive is kohl, also known as al-kahl, kajal, or surma, which consists of lead and has been linked to lead poisoning in children. Be sure to check any additives on the label against the Federal Drig Adminstration’s (FDA) list of approved color additives in cosmetics. Then make sure they are listed as approved for use in the area of the eye.

Other ingredients to avoid in your makeup include:

  • talc

  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)

  • sodium lauryl sulfate

  • diazolidinyl urea

  • sulfatesphthalates

  • arsenic

  • beryllium

  • cadmium

  • carmine

  • mineral oil

  • nickel

  • selenium

  • lead

  • thallium

The good news is there are plenty of options when it comes to makeup for dry eyes and other problems. When choosing products, try to stick with hypoallergenic brands, especially if you have sensitive skin, to avoid irritation.

Protect Your Eyes

There are several other things you can do to be sure you are using makeup safely, and protecting your delicate eyes:

  • Remove makeup before bed. When you sleep in your eye makeup, it can clog oil-producing glands, and may lead to infection. Be sure to remove all your makeup, paying special attention to mascara, which tends to stick to the lashes. Use a gel-based remover that is oil and paraben free, being careful not to get it in your eyes.

  • Toss the old stuff. If you keep your makeup for too long, it increases the chance of contamination from the growth of bacteria or fungus. This could lead to a serious eye infection. In general, it’s best to keep eye products for no longer than about three months. To keep track of a product’s shelf life, use tape or a sticker to write the date on your cosmetics.

  • Keep ‘em cool. When cosmetics reach hot temperatures, such as in a hot car, the preservatives begin to deteriorate, and bacteria may form. Be sure to store your makeup in a cool, dry place, at temperatures below 85 degrees F.

  • Keep it clean. You can also spread bacteria from your hands to your eyes, so be sure to wash your hands before applying makeup. Also, regularly clean any makeup instruments, such as an eyelash curler or makeup brush, with soap and water.

  • Never share. A surefire way to spread infection is to share makeup with others who may have contaminated products. This can also happen at beauty counters with sample products. If you must sample a cosmetic, be sure to ask for a disposable applicator, such as a Q-tip or cotton swab.

  • Don’t color inside the lines. You may be one of many women who like to apply eyeliner to the inside of your eyelid. But this can block the oil glands that protect the cornea. It can also transmit bacteria directly into the eye. Try lining the outer and under rims of the eyelid with liner or a cream shadow stick instead.

  • Don’t get glitzy. Those sparkly products with glitter or metallic may create dazzling eyes, but they also tend to get into the tear film (the three layers of tears that are in our eyes all the time). This can create irritation or infection, especially if you have dry eyes. Try using cream shadows and highlighters that create a sheen, without leaving behind the sparkly flakes.

  • Try not to dye. So far, the FDA has not approved any color additives for permanent dyeing or tinting of eyelashes and eyebrows, since these have been known to cause serious eye injuries, including blindness. There is also an FDA Import Alert in effect for eyelash and eyebrow dyes containing coal tar colors. Be sure to read product labels to avoid these ingredients.

Above all, if any eye cosmetic causes irritation or dry eye, stop using it immediately. If irritation persists, or you have other eye problems, be sure to see an optometrist right away.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 May 24
  1. Eye
    Cosmetic Safety. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  2. Using
    Eye Makeup. American Academy of Ophthalmology.
  3. Is
    Eyeliner Bad for Your Eyes? Keep Makeup from Harming Your Health. Cleveland
  4. Impact
    of Makeup on Dry Eyes Disease.
  5. Tear Film. American
    Academy of Opthamology.
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