Make-up and Your Eye Health

Make-up has been used around the eyes to enhance them since Ancient Egypt when naturally occurring agents like henna, minerals and even blood were used. Even things like deadly nightshade or belladonna were used in eyes to dilate the pupils to make them look more attractive! The fact that this would have made vision so blurry that seeing would have been impossible did not seem to deter anyone.

In any event, fast forward some 5,000 years and the formulation of eye cosmetics and their intended application is vastly different. Now we have so many choices when it comes to eye make-up that we are often left overwhelmed!

This article will hopefully provide some guidelines for choosing make-up that is not harmful to your eyes and further how to use it correctly. We all use eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, concealer and creams around our eyes at some point whether it is daily or for a special occasion. Eye cosmetics are obviously applied in close proximity to the eye surface. Whilst eye shadow and mascara are applied to the eyelids and eye lashes, respectively, eyeliner is often applied millimetres away from the lid margins or directly on the lid margin. All of these cosmetics can make their way into the eye (whether due to eye rubbing or improper application techniques) and can then disrupt the tear layer causing discomfort, irritation and sometimes even severe infections. It is important to never apply eyeliner along the eyelid margins as it can clog the little glands which secrete part of the tear layer necessary to keep our eyes moist and comfortable.

All eye cosmetics eventually show bacterial contamination. One study found bacteria in 30% of mascaras tested after three months of use. The amount of bacteria within a product is related to the amount of use, the age of the product and the number of users. It is vital to NEVER share your eye make-up as cross contamination of Herpes, Moraxella and other pathogens can occur. Also never try cosmetics on your eyes from testers at cosmetic counters! Who knows how many people have used that mascara brush or eyeliner and you can pick up a nasty infection from them.

If you do ever suffer with an eye infection then refrain from any cosmetic use around the eye during that time, and replace all your eye cosmetic products after the infection has cleared, or else re-contamination will occur.

Mascara and eyeliner should be thrown away after 6 months of use, as their preservatives will stop working properly allowing bacteria to flourish. Never place water in your mascara tube as this provides a wonderful moist growth medium for all sorts of bacteria!

What about contact lens wearers?

Using eye cosmetics simultaneously with contact lenses may cause symptoms of dryness and discomfort. Cosmetic products are prone to binding to the surface of contact lenses which may not be readily removed with rubbing and rinsing with multipurpose solutions.

Irreversible lens deformation and reduced optical clarity of contact lenses can be caused by cosmetics such as mascara and eye make-up removers.

ALWAYS remove your contact lenses with clean hands prior to removing your eye cosmetics. If you apply eyeliner onto your lid margin instead of along the lash line then you will contaminate your contact lenses with the make-up. This will affect both the comfort of your eye as well as the clarity of your vision.

What about anti-aging creams?

Research has shown that some anti-aging eye creams may ignite meibomian gland dysfunction (the glands along the lid margin).

Retinoic acid (and its derivative, retinoid), a common ingredient found in anti-aging skin care products and some anti-acne products, has been shown to cause thickening and hardening of the little ducts of the glands along your eyelid. This can lead to dry eye. If you are using these creams make sure to keep them well away from the region around your eyes.

What about sensitive skin or allergies?

People who suffer from dermatitis, eczema or are very allergic are particularly prone to be affected by certain eye make-up formulations.

If you are highly allergic it is important to try and obtain hypo-allergenic formulations to use on or near your eyes. There are several of these available.

In fact women who wear contact lenses should also try and use these agents as they are less likely to flake and get into the eye itself.

In a Nutshell

  1. Buy good quality eye make-up that is hypoallergenic if necessary
  2. Never put eyeliner on the inside of your eyelid margin
  3. Change your mascara and eyeliner every 6 months
  4. Don’t apply creams that are not designed for the eye area around your eyes or on your eyelids
  5. Throw away eye make-up if you have had an eye infection
  6. DON’T share make-up or use testers at the cosmetic counter
  7. Be vigilant about contamination and infection if you are a contact lens wearer

Concerns or Questions?

Please contact us for more information on anything in this article or if you have a specific concern about your eyes or eye-health.

Call our practice in Southdale Johannesburg

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