Makeup: Is It Hurting Your Eyes?

Makeup: Is it hurting your eyes?
Posted on 05/06/2020
Makeup: Is it hurting your eyes?

Our eyes go through a lot of daily abuse, whether it’s from the makeup we wear, environmental irritants and toxins, or hours of screen time on the computer. Research by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found that the average American woman applies an average of 168 chemicals to her face and body every day. Another survey, conducted by a beauty retailer in 2016, found women averaged 16 products a day on their face alone. Though we can’t avoid most environmental eye irritants, we can control the products that we use daily on our skin, especially around our eyes.

The FDA doesn’t actively regulate the safety of ingredients in cosmetics except for a select few compounds that have been banned from use in the United States. Other countries, such as Canada and the UK, have many more restrictions on cosmetic ingredients. Curious about which harmful ingredients may be part of your daily beauty routine? Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) Skin Deep Cosmetics Database breaks down the ingredients of over 60,000 products and gives an overall hazard rating for each product. Products with a score or 1-2 are considered low risk, scores of 3-6 are moderate risk and 7-10 are high risk.


Be sure to avoid makeups with any of the following ingredients: arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, carmine, lead, nickel, selenium, thallium, retinyl acetate. If you are prone to allergies, avoid all products containing parabens (i.e. Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, and Propylparaben) and propelyne glycol (found in mascara).

Other harmful habits include the following:

Loose powder/glitter eye shadow

Loose powders and glitters can clog the oil secreting glands in the eyelids called meibomian glands. This can cause chronic dry eye, eyelid disease, acute styes and eye irritation. Replace loose powders with a cream shadow or apply with a damp brush to minimize migration into the eye. (Tip: Over-the-counter lubricating eye drops are a great way to wet your eye shadow brushes! NEVER use your own saliva!)

Fiber lash lengthening mascara

Similarly, the fibers in these mascaras can enter the eye and cause mechanical irritation to the eye’s surface and clog glands. Instead, opt for a volumizing or conditioning mascara.

Eyeliner applied to the inner lid margin

Applying liners to the inner lid margin or “water line” exposes the eye directly to whatever chemicals/irritants are in your products. The reason this is called the water line is because that is where your tears sit. With every blink, the tears drag eyeliner particles and disperse them onto the ocular surface. This changes your tear stability, causing tears to evaporate more quickly, drying out the ocular surface. Imagine driving in the rain with dirty wipers! The inner lid margin is also where the meibomian glands open up to release oil into your tears. You don't want to be drawing on these or they will get clogged further, drying out the eyes and making the glands more prone to infections (i.e. styes).

Makeup Removal

I cannot stress enough the importance of proper daily eye makeup removal. During sleep particles from makeup are more likely to migrate into the eye and cause irritation. This can lead to chronic dry eyes or chronic allergic conjunctivitis. Additionally, many makeup removers are not specifically formulated for ophthalmic use and may be too harsh for daily use around the eyes. Try to avoid products with mineral oil (i.e. baby oil), sodium lauryl sulfate, diazolidinyl urea and parabens.

Hypoallergenic/Gentle Eye Makeup Removers

  • ALMAY - Oil Free Eye Makeup Remover Pads or Liquid
  • AVEDA - Pure Comfort Eye Makeup Remover
  • BLINK - Eyelid Cleansing wipes
  • BURT’S BEES - Micellar Cleansing Water, Eye Makeup Remover Pads
  • CERAVE - Hydrating Micellar Water
  • CLINIQUE - Extremely Gentle Eye Makeup Remover, Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm
  • GARNIER - Micellar Cleansing Water
  • L’OREAL - Micellar Cleansing Water
  • WE LOVE EYES - Tea Tree Oil Makeup Remover

Talia M. Mishkin, O.D.

EWG Testimony on Exploring Current Practices in Cosmetics Development & Safety

Millennium Eye Care

  • FREEHOLD - 500 W. Main St, Freehold, NJ 07728 Phone: 732.462.8707 Fax: 732.462.1296
  • EAST WINDSOR - 440 Route 130 South, East Windsor, NJ 08520 Phone: 609.448.3990 Fax: 609.448.4197
  • MARLBORO - 455 Route 9 South, Englishtown, NJ 07726 Phone: 732.591.2200 Fax: 732.591.6347
  • MONROE - 4 Research Way, Monroe, NJ 08831 Phone: 609.495.1000 Fax: 609.495.1005
  • BRICK - 515 Brick Blvd., Brick, NJ 08723 Phone: 732.920.3800 Fax: 732.920.5351
  • JACKSON - 2080 W. County Line Rd, Jackson, NJ 08527 Phone: 732.364.5123 Fax: 732.364.3865

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