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Is eye irritation or eye disease caused by makeup?

Have you landed here because you’ve noticed your makeup is making your eyes feel irritated or dry? Maybe you think that’s normal because it seems to happen to you and all your friends no matter which brand you choose or how much it costs.

The truth is that what you use around your eyes ends up in your eyes and absolutely has an impact on eye irritation and even eye disease. So today, in this blog I’d like to cover why makeup IS PROBABLY to blame and more importantly, give you some helpful tips to find some alternative products that won’t irritate your eyes.

This is the eye school blog, with me Dr. D, where I write about products and treatments related to dry eye syndrome and eye beauty. I’m an eye doctor that treats patients with dry eye syndrome and I pay special attention to makeup and skincare.

I even have an esthetician that I work closely with in my practice. I’m obsessed with helping you achieve beautiful, comfortable healthy eyes.

Let’s talk about eye safety first before we address makeup irritation

There seems to be a huge misconception that makeup and skincare have nothing to do with the eyes or the ocular surface. Over and over I talk to patients or colleagues or viewers on this channel who don’t realize the impact that cosmetics and skincare have on the ocular surface. In Optometry school, we had exactly ZERO lessons on makeup and skincare, yet when I started in practice I found that my patients were asking almost DAILY about eye safe makeups and how to choose them.

Before we get started, I’m going to assume you’re applying your makeup safely, avoiding the water line and never ever sleeping in it. This blog is for you if you swear you’re wearing makeup safely and correctly yet you still feel eye irritation.

First, studies show that particles contained within cosmetic eye products can migrate to the ocular surface and destabilize the tear and lipid structure, and result in discomfort and dry eye syndrome. At even low levels, BAK kills meibomian gland cells within 1 day.

Here are the top reasons your makeup might be hurting your ocular surface

Waterproof mascara is a common reason for eyes to be irritated or feel dry. The chemical that makes it waterproof is called dimethicone, which is very drying to the lashes. In addition, waterproof makeup tends to be more difficult to remove, requiring more elbow grease to get it off.

All this rubbing on the sensitive peri-ocular region doesn’t help with dryness and irritation. In a perfect world, avoiding waterproof mascara is the most ideal solution. Mascara in general is an eye irritant, and its use can cause irritation, as well as eyelashes falling out or loss. Using water to remove waterproof varieties increases lash loss as well.

Preservatives - So you would think that if you can buy a cosmetic in the store, it must be tested and proven to be safe…right? Well, per the FDA “The federal food, drug and cosmetic act does not require cosmetic products and ingredients to be approved by FDA before they go on the market.”

Some of the worst ingredient offenders include BAK, Formaldehyde, parabens and phenoxyethanol. I will add some of the other ingredients that are problematic on the screen so you can take notes of what you should be looking to avoid. Keep in mind that it is incredibly difficult to find makeup without ANY of these ingredients, and that’s just because the US bans very few ingredients compared to other countries. Ingredients should be listed from highest to lowest concentration, but ingredients at less than 1% can be listed in any order.

Glitter - there are two main types of glitter, both of which can have an impact on your eyes. The first is craft glitter that you might find at stores like Michaels or Joann Fabrics. These contain larger particle sizes, and can be made from plastic, metal, or glass. They are often coated with dyes and can be very problematic to the ocular surface.

The second type is cosmetic glitter, which are made from microplastics and have a smaller particle size. These can be biodegradable but are not always. Craft glitter is generally more abrasive, if it makes contact with the eye can cause damage like a corneal abrasion that can even lead to infection or an ulcer.

Cosmetic glitter is generally less dangerous for the eyes, but some cosmetic products containing glitter could still damage your eyes if they get somewhere they’re not supposed to be. In general, glitter can cause irritation, inflammation, foreign body sensation, infection, corneal abrasion, smaage to the meibomian glands, and allergic reaction. The FDA does not currently consider any type of glitter as completely eye safe.

Further top reasons your makeup might be causing eye irritation

Unsuspecting Ingredients

Retinol - Although wonderful for a whole host of skin issues like pigmentation, wrinkles, elasticity etc and even though retinol is highly encouraged by almost all dermatologists, the reality is that retinol and derivatives of retinol can be very damaging to the meibomian glands.

That’s because retinol is really good at working on sebaceous glands and…you guessed it, those precious little friends I call the meibomian glands are indeed sebaceous glands.

I’ve seen patients with meibomian gland atrophy after accutane which is obviously much more powerful and is an oral drug, but I have also seen patients that are using retinol serums and creams daily. It’s important to flip over those labels and make sure your makeup doesn’t contain retinol, as it does seem to show up in unsuspecting places.

Lash Growth Serum - these have various ingredients, but the most problematic type can be prostaglandins or prostaglandin derivatives. Not only do prostaglandins possibly darken the lid margin or even iris, they can also cause periorbital fat loss. 4% of latisse users experience itching, redness and watering

Potential for Infection/Bacterial Transfer - Mascara tubes and Eyeliner are perfect little breeding grounds for bacteria to flourish. Think about it, these applicators touch the lids and lashes directly and are then placed into their dark, wet little homes where bacteria is just able to multiply.

This is why your lash wand or eyeliner stick could be to blame when you get a stye. Be careful with that wand, change out your makeup every 2-3 months and go to a doctor right away if you believe you may have an infection.

Potential for Scratches - Mascara wands are notorious for causing corneal abrasions. Just be careful out there, friends! If one does occur, use artificial tears and call your eye doctor.

Allergies/Hypersensitivities - Contact Dermatitis - If you have an allergy or hypersensitivity to any of the ingredients in your makeup, you may develop contact dermatitis.. This can manifest as redness and swellings, but sometimes looks like crepey or thickened skin. You may also have swelling around the eyes.

Finding your holy grail makeup is a task worth undertaking. It can be extremely difficult, especially here in the USA where there are only 11 banned ingredients in makeup as compared to Europe where thousands are banned. Keep in mind that hypoallergenic brands do not necessarily guarantee that they won’t cause irritation and become a student of your makeup brands. Flip over those bottles and study the ingredients and preservatives against my suggestions above.

That's it for today’s eye school. Class is dismissed, I’ll see ya next time!


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