Is Eyeliner Bad for Your Eyes? Keep Makeup from Harming Your Health

How to reduce risk of infection and eye injury
Is Eyeliner Bad for Your Eyes? Keep Makeup from Harming Your Health

When we’re applying eye makeup, we don’t think our pencils, wands and powdery colors are potentially contaminated with bacteria, fungus or other creepy crawlies. Yet, they can become dirty in ways our eyes can’t see.

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To keep your eyes beautiful and healthy, ophthalmologist Shalini Sood-Mendiratta, MD, suggests seven eye makeup safety tips:

1. Throw away eye makeup after three months.

It can be easy to lose track of how long you’ve had that favorite eye shadow color, but cosmetics do have a shelf life — some longer than others. Dr. Sood advises against keeping eye products for longer than about three months.

“If the mascara or eyeliner itself is old, this increases chances that bacteria or fungus have contaminated it. If any of this gets introduced directly into the eye, you could end up with a serious eye infection,” she says.

One way to remind yourself to get rid of older makeup products is to use a permanent marker or sticker label with the date you should discard them.

2. Read labels and avoid harmful ingredients.

It is important to pay attention to the ingredient label on products. For example, those containing kohl sometimes contain lead.

Other ingredients you should consider avoiding include talc, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), urea, sulfates and phthalates, Dr. Sood says.

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Some of these ingredients act as preservatives, stabilizers or anti-caking agents, but they can also irritate skin or are associated with cancer risk in large quantities.

3. Don’t apply makeup inside the lash line.

Many women like to apply eyeliner along the inside of their eyelids. However, this practice, sometimes referred to as “waterlining,” blocks the oil glands that secrete oils that protect the cornea. This practice also can introduce bacteria directly into the eye.

A small, pilot study found that particles from pencil eyeliner applied inside the eyelids can contaminate the eye, though when this did happen, the particles were cleared away by the eye within a couple hours. Researchers concluded that this could be problematic for contact lens wearers and people with dry eye syndrome or sensitive eyes.

4. Just say no to glitter.

Yes, glitter in your makeup can add sparkle to your eyes, but it can also flake off and add sparkles in your eyes — causing redness and irritation.

“Not only can glittery eye shadow exacerbate chronically dry eyes; glitter is another common cause of corneal irritation and infection,” Dr. Sood says.

5. Sensitive eyes need hypoallergenic cosmetics.

If you have a history of allergies or just have extra sensitive eyes, Dr. Sood says it’s a good idea to use hypoallergenic eye makeup. Look carefully at the labels to find products designed for sensitive eyes, as they are less likely to be irritating. You can find all-natural, allergen-free cosmetics at larger drug stores.

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6. Curl your lashes before applying mascara.

If part of your regimen is to use an eyelash curler, do so on clean, dry lashes before you use mascara. Also, make certain the curler’s rubber is soft and not stiff and cracking.

If you have a nickel allergy, spend a little more money on a nickel-free eyelash curler, Dr. Sood advises.

7. Don’t apply mascara while driving or riding in a car.

You might feel tempted to save time this way while rushing to work or heading out to meet friends. However, a sudden tap on the brakes or bump in the road could cause you to slip and poke or scrape your eye with the mascara brush or other makeup tool.

“A mascara wand or applicator can scratch the eye and cause a corneal abrasion, which would need evaluation and treatment by an ophthalmologist,” Dr. Sood says.

Take these steps if makeup gets in your eyes

  • Rinse eyes thoroughly with clean tap water or eye-wash solution until you flush out all mascara, eyeliner or makeup flakes. (If you wear contact lenses, remove them before flushing out your eyes.)
  • Apply moisturizing eye drops to the affected eye after rinsing out makeup.
  • If you wear contacts, carefully clean the lens using your cleaning solution.
  • Don’t re-insert your contacts as long as your eye is still irritated.

What if problems persist?

Make an appointment to see your ophthalmologist if you continue to experience:

  • Pain in the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Persistently blurred vision
  • Swelling
  • Discharge

You may have a corneal abrasion or infection that requires medical treatment, Dr. Sood says.

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