Don’t Let Makeup Use Endanger Eye Health

Whether you wear makeup only for special occasions or haven’t left the house without mascara in decades, you may not be aware that makeup use can pose risks to your eye health. Before lining your lids or adding a sweep of shadow, learn more about the biggest makeup-related eye concerns and how to help make your beauty regimen safer.


“The big problems that you have to be concerned about are bacteria and scratching your eye,” said Dr. Linda Chous, chief eye care officer at UnitedHealthcare. “Most makeup contains preservatives, but bacteria can grow over time.”

To avoid exposure to bacteria, Dr. Chous suggests keeping your makeup brushes clean, avoiding sharing makeup and brushes and replacing eye products every three to four months.

In addition, these tips may further decrease risk of infection:

  • Always wash your hands before applying makeup.
  • Put on soft contact lenses before applying makeup.
  • Keep brushes clean by washing with hand soap or brush cleaner and air-drying.
  • Store makeup in a cool, dry place to avoid bacterial growth.

If your eyes become infected (“pink eye”) despite these precautions, Dr. Chous recommends a visit to your eye doctor. Bacteria can’t be washed out and would need to be treated with anti-bacterial drops.

There may also be a risk of injury when applying makeup. If you accidently scratch your eye — by poking it with a mascara wand, for example — see your eye doctor immediately, Dr. Chous says optometrists and ophthalmologists can spot an abrasion, determine the extent of injury and prescribe medication if necessary to curtail a serious infection.

She offered these tips to avoid scratches:

  • Avoid mascara containing fibers and metallic eye shadows that can flake. Both can irritate and scratch the eyes.
  • Take makeup off before bed to avoid eye irritation and abrasions.
  • Never apply makeup in a moving vehicle.

The advice above can all be followed without changing your look, but there is one makeup trend that Dr. Chous advises against completely: applying eyeliner inside the lash line. Oil glands there produce an important part of the tear film. Clogging those glands can make your eyes feel dry and cause other serious problems, such as sties.

Blurry vision, red or swollen eyes or itching are all symptoms that could warrant a same-day appointment. Dr. Chous recommends avoiding urgent care or the emergency room for these symptoms, opting instead for you eye doctor, with whom you should already have established a relationship during your yearly eye exams.

When determining whether to seek medical attention for your eyes, Dr. Chous shared her golden rule: “If you don’t see good, look good or feel good, go to your eye doctor.”