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Make-up Products and Eye Health

Our beauty routines and eye care intersect when it comes to applying eye make-up and lash treatments. The efforts we make to make our eyes more attractive in the short-term can have long-term negative consequences to our eye health and appearance. Certain make-up products and techniques can cause problems with the oil glands in our eyelids, resulting in red, irritated eyes and thickened, red eye lid margins. Not the attractive look we are going for!

Our tear film is made up of three layers: an aqueous (watery) layer produced by our lacrimal gland, a mucous layer produced by eyelid goblet cells, and a lipid (oily) layer produced by our Meibomian glands. Make-up products can clog up the glands producing the different layers of our tear film, causing dry eyes, bacterial infections, styes, and inflammation. The biggest culprits in our make-up routines: glittery eyeshadows, lash serums, mascara and certain eyeliner applications.

Glitter has sharp edges and it can migrate onto the surface of the eye and cause tiny cuts on the surface of the eye. This is irritating, and also increases the risk of bacterial infections. Glitter can also clog the oil glands in our lids. While it’s best to avoid glittery eye make-up, shimmer cream shadows are a safer option that glitter powders if you can’t live without some shine!

Lash serums are generally considered to be safe, but it is important to note that they have a few potential side effects. These serums promote growth and thickening of the lashes. Chronic use of lash serums can cause redness and irritation, as well as darkening of the skin pigment along eyelid margins.

Mascara contains preservatives which are toxic to the Meibomian glands and ocular surface. The preservatives are needed for liquid make-up products to prevent bacterial growth in the tube and on the eyes. Best practice is to replace mascara products every three months, limit use, and do a thorough removal of your mascara and eyeliner at the end of each day to prevent bacterial eye infections. Remember too to clean your brushes and applicators every month or two.

Tightlining is the practice of applying eyeliner to the inner eyelid areas. This should never be done – do not apply make-up or creams inside the lash line! This gums up and blocks the Meibomian glands, causing dry eyes and styes. Over time, the Meibomian glands will die off due to chronic blockages and they may never recover and regain function. If this happens, you will suffer with dry eye symptoms that may not be treatable in the future.

Men out there… you may not be wearing eye make-up products (no judgement if you do!), but eye hygiene is still important for you too. Cleaning your eyelids on a daily basis helps prevent bacterial build-up and keeps all of the glands healthy to prevent styes and dry eyes. Use a gentle cleanser approved for use around the eyes. Your Doctor of Optometry can offer specific recommendations and products.