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How makeup can enhance — yet harm — your eyes

By The Health News Team | March 16, 2022
Woman putting on eye makeup

People throughout the ages have used makeup to enhance their eyes. From the kohl used by ancient Egyptians to the glitter worn by modern makeup mavens today, the eyes are a popular focus of adornment.

Sales of eye makeup soared during the pandemic, as people wore face masks over their nose and mouth and wanted to highlight their eyes. In fact, according to a McKinsey & Company report, while sales of lip products dropped 15% during the pandemic, sales of eye makeup rose a whopping 204%.

The pros and cons of eye makeup
When used correctly, eye makeup can enhance eye color and make eyes appear larger, more youthful and expressive. However, according to Dr. Gayle Howard, a board-certified ophthalmologist affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group, if used incorrectly, eye makeup can harm eye health and make eyes more at risk of infection.

“Eye makeup can harbor bacteria and should be cleaned often and replaced on a regular schedule,” Dr. Howard says. “Additionally, applying eye makeup along the lid edge — inside the lash line — can cause clogging of the glands located along this edge.”

Dr. Howard says this can lead to the development of styes, which are painful red bumps that are often filled with pus. Inflammation of the eyelid, known as blepharitis, can also occur. Symptoms include red, itchy, burning eyes or eyelids, and crusty eyelids or eyelashes. While both conditions can usually be treated at home with warm compresses, sometimes prescription antibiotics or steroid eye drops may be necessary.

10 eye makeup safety tips
“Keeping your eyes healthy and safe is important for overall good health,” Dr. Howard says. “There are a few things you can do when using eye makeup to protect your eyes.”

Dr. Howard recommends the following tips:

  • Wash your hands before applying cosmetics and use only clean applicators.

  • Use only high-quality, hypoallergenic cosmetics meant specifically for the eyes, and ensure eye pencils are well sharpened to avoid having to increase pressure when applying.

  • Never share makeup with others.

  • Avoid applying makeup products directly on the lash line and do not use sharp instruments near the eye, for example, to separate mascara-clumped lashes.

  • Tightly close product packaging to avoid contamination.

  • Avoid false eyelashes that require liner containing magnetic particles or glues, which can cause irritation, infection and allergic reactions.

  • Avoid eyelash curlers that use heat and can cause burns.

  • Do not use glitter makeup or gritty cleansers near the eye, as rough particles can cause scratches on the eye, known as corneal abrasions.

  • Replace eye makeup products every three months or if you develop an eye infection (to avoid reinfection).

  • Remove all eye makeup every night but be careful with chemical makeup removers near the eye; baby shampoo is a very gentle remover to consider.

Dr. Howard also recommends that you maintain regular eye care visits. Have a vision exam every year and seek care from an ophthalmologist if you notice any changes to your eye health or vision.

Learn about eye and vision care at Sharp.

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