eye makeup safety tips

As an optometrist, I get up close and personal with a lot of eyes. I see a fair amount of complications related to not-so-great eye makeup habits, so I wanted to share my top 10 eye makeup tips (from an eye health standpoint). 

Avoid applying eyeliner on the waterline, as demonstrated on the left
Image via Beauty Insiders

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

This tops my list of eye makeup no-nos. “Waterlining” is the practice of applying eyeliner directly on the waterline. The waterline is the thin area between the eyelash line and the eye. Within that area are the openings of your meibomian glands. Meibomian glands secrete oil onto the front surface of the eye to help keep your tear film stable and your eyes moist and comfortable. Applying makeup inside the lash line can block these important glands, which can cause meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). If the oil is not being secreted onto your tear film properly, your tears evaporate more quickly and your eyes are more dry. Dryness can manifest as a burning sensation, a sandy/gritty feeling, redness, tearing, and discomfort. Meibomian glands can also get infected (this infection is called a hordeolum, commonly referred to as a stye), so keep makeup away from the waterline!

Image via All About Vision

Makeup applied inside the lashline is also more likely to migrate into the eye and contaminate the tear film when compared to application outside the lash line (1). This presence in the tear film can cause irritation (especially for contact lens wearers) and tear film instability, which is a factor in dry eye disease.

Beyond affecting your tear film stability and potentially causing infection, applying makeup inside the lash line can cause the makeup to build up in the eye over time and cause irritation. Below is an example of this. One of my patients came in reporting red and irritated eyes for several weeks. After examining her eyes, it appeared that she was applying a nude eyeliner to the water line, and that same nude eyeliner was found deposited in her lower eyelid tissue (the palpebral conjunctiva). When we discussed the findings, she realized that her symptoms began shortly after she adopted a new makeup technique she found on a YouTube tutorial. 

The arrow is pointing to some of the nude eyeliner particles that have become
embedded in the conjunctival tissue of the lower lid

Something else you shouldn’t put on your waterline? Bling. That’s right. Apparently, it needs to be said.

Don’t do this. Just don’t.
Image via Allure

2. Replace mascara and eyeliner every 3 months.

Liquid and cream makeup can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Get in the habit of cleaning out your makeup bag every quarter and replacing your mascara, eyeliner, etc. If you develop an eye infection, throw out your old makeup and start fresh. 

3. Don’t sleep in your makeup.

You know this. But it happens. This is a report on a 50 year old woman who admitted to heavy mascara use with inadequate removal for 25+ years. The below photo shows mascara particles embedded in the tissue that lines the upper eyelid. Thoroughly clean your lids and lashes every night! After removing makeup, gently scrub along the lid margin with a premoistened wipe or a q-tip dabbed with a lash/lid cleanser. I recommend using a product that contains diluted tea tree oil, but avoid getting it IN the eye. Tea tree oil is effective against eradicating a mite that lives amongst your lashes (more on that in a previous post). Some of the products I frequently recommend to patients: BlephadexCliradexWe Love Eyes. *I have no financial interests in any of these companies- just sharing my recommendations!*

Mascara particles embedded in the conjunctival tissue
Image via Ophthalmology

4. Don’t apply mascara in a moving vehicle, or use a sharp object to separate your lashes.

This may seem obvious, but it needs to be said. Mascara wands are a common cause of corneal scratches or abrasions. Keep sharp things away from your eyes!

Corneal abrasion from a mascara wand
Image via Clinical Optometry

5. Avoid using makeup that flakes. 

Glittery eyeliner is an example- the glitter particles can enter your eye and swim around in your tearfilm, irritating the eyes and adhering to contact lenses

Fiber mascara is another no-no in my book. The fiber particles often flake off and enter the eye, causing irritation and inflammation

This image shows glittery makeup particles within the tear film

6. Stop using a product if your skin/eyes become irritated, red, and swollen. 

It could be an allergic reaction to a new product. It’s a good idea to patch test new makeup on your hand or arm before using it on/around your eyes

If you experience symptoms of redness, irritation, pain, itching, and/or dryness, discontinue makeup use and see your optometrist. This also applies to eyelash enhancers; there are many out there that cause inflammation and irritation of the eyelid margins. 

7. If you wear contact lenses, opt for daily disposable contacts. 

If there are any makeup particles adhering to your contact lenses, daily disposable contacts allow you to just throw them away at the end of the day. So you’re not worrying about makeup deposits accumulating on your lenses day after day

8. Keep makeup brushes clean.

Bacteria and dust collect over time, so keep your makeup applicators clean.

9. Avoid eyelash extensions.

Blasphemy, I know. But just hear me out, and do with it what you will. 

Many of the complications I see relating to eyelash extensions stem from neglecting to clean the lash line well. With how expensive eyelash extensions are, I can understand being super cautious about bringing anything near them! Bacteria and dirt can collect and get trapped around the base of the lashes, causing irritation and infection. If you have eyelash extensions, avoid wearing mascara and oil-based makeup on or around the extensions. Use an oil-free cleanser on your lash line daily, gently cleaning the lash line using a bristle brush or spoolie (cotton can snag, so avoid that). Oil-based makeup removers weaken the adhesive and can cause the extensions to fall out prematurely, so use oil-free cleansers (thus, the tea tree oil cleansers I recommended earlier would not be a good option for those with extensions). 

The glue used to adhere eyelash extensions may contain formaldehyde, which can cause an allergic reaction. Ask your aesthetician what ingredients are in the glue he/she uses.

Dislodged or loose extensions, or flakes of glue, can rub against the eyelid and/or the cornea, which causes extreme irritation. If that happens, see an optometrist to remove the offending lash/particle. 

Eyelash extensions can also damage your natural eyelashes and even damage the hair follicle, which can slow down or halt hair growth. 

The best way to avoid these complications is obviously to avoid eyelash extensions. However, if you choose to go that route, here are some tips:

  • Make sure you look into the certifications and experience of your aesthetician
  • Choose a reputable salon that is safe and hygienic
  • Ask about adhesive ingredients beforehand
  • Avoid wearing mascara and oil-based makeup with eyelash extensions
  • Clean lashes daily with an oil-free cleanser
  • See an eye doctor if you develop redness, irritation, etc. 

10. Don’t borrow or share makeup.

Sharing makeup introduces more bacteria and increases the likelihood of infection. Sampling makeup at a beauty counter is not a great idea, especially if multiple people sample the same bottle of product. 

 

CliffsNotes: 1) Don’t apply makeup to the waterline, 2) Replace mascara and eyeliner every 3 months, 3) Don’t sleep in your makeup, 4) Don’t apply mascara in a moving vehicle or use sharp objects to separate lashes, 5) Avoid using makeup that flakes, 6) Stop using a product if your skin/eyes become irritated, red, and swollen, 7) If you wear contact lenses, opt for daily disposable contacts, 8) Keep makeup brushes clean, 9) Avoid eyelash extensions (if you must use them, be safe and keep them clean!), and 10) Don’t borrow or share makeup.

 

Additional Recommended Resources:

 

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