The negative effects of makeup on your eyes

21 August 2019

Author: Kate Green

Negative impacts of makeup on your eyes

The evolution of cosmetics


Makeup has been around for thousands of years and is used in almost every society in the world – from colourful tribal makeup through to the Kardashian-style contouring we know today. Even Ancient Romans and Greeks used kohl to line their eyes and made their own face creams from natural substances like beeswax. Makeup certainly isn’t a new phenomenon but the health impacts of it haven’t been considered until more recent years. In an age where people are becoming hyper-aware of dangerous chemicals in everyday products, it’s only natural that we have started to question the ingredients of makeup – something which up to 96% of women apply to their eyes and face every day.


Blocked meibomian glands


Your meibomian glands are on the edges of your eyelids, close to where your eyelashes grow. In the makeup world, this spot is called your tight line (for the bottom lash line) or your water line (for the top lash line). The meibomian glands release an oily substance which makes up the tear film in your eyes. However, when makeup is applied directly onto the tight line and water line, it can block the glands and prevent the oily component of the tears from entering the tear film. The tear film is made of three different parts: one oily, one watery and one mucus-like.  Any imbalance across the three parts can result in dry eye, so blocking the glands of the oily substance can have severe knock-on effects.


With dry eye comes irritation, redness, blurry vision, and potential corneal tears. To minimise these complications, it’s recommended that you avoid applying eye liner to your tight line and water line, minimising the risk of blocking the glands. It also lowers the chance of other cosmetic products entering your eyes, particularly ones which feature glitter, known to be especially bitty. Instead, you can try applying liner to the skin close to the lash lines, rather than actually covering the meibomian glands.


Bacterial eye infections


Eye makeup has been called the “perfect breeding ground” for bacteria, causing uncomfortable eye conditions like conjunctivitis. Products like mascara or liquid eyeliner are damp and, once opened, can harbour all sorts of germs. You shouldn’t keep eye products for more than three months in order to avoid a build-up of bacteria inside the tube. Further to this, if you do develop an eye infection, you really should throw away your eye makeup. It’s likely to have come into contact with the bacteria and you may well catch it again from the same mascara or liquid liner.


Eye infections can also be spread from person to person by sharing makeup. This applies to sharing items like makeup brushes or lash curlers too, so try not to do this – even with your best friends! Similarly, regularly sharpening your pencil liners – both for lips and eyes – helps reduce infection risk as you are removing the germ-exposed section each time.


Dangers of contact lenses


In the UK alone, over 4 million people wear contact lenses, and this number is rising all the time. Contact lenses and makeup together can be a recipe for disaster, with particles from makeup often becoming lodged behind the lens, leading to irritation and potentially even infections. The risks of this are exacerbated by poor makeup hygiene, making it even more crucial to keep your makeup fresh and brushes clean if you wear contacts.


The potential for infection applies to both eye makeup and face makeup, with powders leaving deposits on your lenses, leading to further discomfort. You should wash your hands before applying and removing contact lenses, both to remove bacteria from your hands, and to stop smaller makeup particles from entering your eyes.


Potential makeup-related issues


The issues that can come with wearing makeup are numerous and often quite worrying. For products which millions of women wear each day, you might hope that the side effects would be less severe. Some of the most common problems are:

  • Infections
  • Toxic heavy metals
  • Allergic reactions
  • Lash loss
  • Blepharitis
  • Dry eye
  • Blurry vision
  • Scratched cornea


Lash loss can occur as a result of blepharitis, a crusting and inflammation of the eyelids, or due to complications from lash lifts and lash extensions. The germs triggering conditions like blepharitis can be found in mascara wands and on eyeliner pencils, particularly when makeup is stored in over 30 degree heat, encouraging bacteria to breed. Some products also contain toxic ingredients and heavy metals like lead, although this is becoming less common as the years go by and awareness around their toxicity grows. Make sure you always check the ingredients of products you buy – particularly if it is from a brand you haven’t tried before – and be aware of any reactions you might have.


Scratched corneas are a common accident when it comes to makeup application, with a jab in the eye from a mascara wand being the most common way to do it. To avoid this, don’t apply your makeup in a moving vehicle – just do it the traditional way sat down at home! Flaky, dry makeup can also lodge itself in your eye, scratching the cornea, causing irritation and even, in severe cases, causing permanent damage to your vision. Opt for cream-based products over powder-based, where possible, to prevent this. If you recently applied eye makeup and are experiencing redness, a gritty sensation, or eye pain, make an appointment with your eye doctor to get it checked – it could well be a scratched cornea.


It goes without saying that you need to keep your brushes clean, your makeup fresh and in-date, and refrain from sharing products with anyone else. We all know that removing your makeup properly before bed helps keep your skin in good condition, but what about eye makeup? Taking it off might actually be even more crucial than removing your skin makeup! When your eyes are closed for hours at a time, the chances of your meibomian glands becoming blocked are increased, and your risk of eye irritation from the chemicals in your makeup is also higher. Choosing oil-free eye products, and not leaving them on your eyes for extended periods, should help protect you from blocked glands and infections.


Top tips for using eye makeup safely:


Whether you wear makeup every day, or just for special occasions, it’s important to make sure you’re not compromising your eye health. To summarise, follow these tips to minimise risks to your eye health that come with cosmetic usage:

  • Remove makeup before bed
  • Throw away old makeup (3+ months)
  • Don’t share makeup or brushes
  • Be vigilant with contact lenses
  • Track the dates you open makeup
  • Pick oil-free products to reduce blocked glands
  • Clean your brushes regularly


If you’re suffering with dry eyes, blepharitis, or blocked glands as a result of makeup use, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. These are all treatable conditions which can be rectified with simple procedures at Optimax clinics up and down the country.

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