1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Makeup and Your Eyes

Problems Related to Cosmetic Eye Makeup


Updated May 12, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Are you jeopardizing your eye health by enhancing your eyes with makeup? For centuries women (and some men) have worn eye makeup to beautify and accentuate their eyes and eyelids. All types of colors and dyes have been used to attract attention. Long ago, pigments were applied to the eye that contained dangerous concentrations of lead.

Today, the chemical makeup of eye makeup has improved dramatically. Billions of dollars are spent in the industry year after year to improve the quality of facial and eye makeup. Mascara alone accounts for $3.7 billion annually on a global level.

However, makeup is often responsible for eye problems. Makeup can contribute to the following conditions:

  • allergic or contact dermatitis
  • infections
  • watery eyes
  • dry eyes
  • eye trauma
  • chronic inflammation
  • styes

Preservatives Can Be Harmful

Studies have shown that roughly 25% of an eye doctor’s patients are using makeup that accounts for adverse reactions and don’t even know it. Because makeup is considered a non-prescription item, it is not regulated by the FDA. The FDA does regulate which preservatives can be used in makeup. However, preservatives begin to break down when exposed to air and repeated use. Many types of eye makeup, such as mascara, are applied with an applicator that is dipped and re-dipped into a tube. Because of the repeated dipping, there is a much higher risk of bacterial and fungal contamination.

Sharing Makeup Is a No-No

Sharing makeup with friends and family is another way to spread potential contamination. How many times have you seen women in department stores sampling makeup? Studies have shown that these samples may contain bacterial growth such as the following:
  • staphylococcus aureus
  • staphylococcus epidermis
  • micrococcus
  • pseudomonas aeruginosa

Makeup Safety Research

Elizabeth Brooks, Ph.D., of Rowan University, performed a two-year research study of actual in-store makeup samples and found that 67-100% were contaminated by bacteria. She found several varieties of bacteria, including the infamous Strep and E.coli. If a person with corneal disease, dry eyes or a history of contact lens wear comes into contact with bacteria, it places them at even higher risk for a serious eye infection.

Apply Eye Makeup With Caution

Another very big concern eye doctors have is how people apply makeup in the eyelid area. Eye makeup is often applied on top of eyelid glands, called meibomian glands. These glands play a crucial role in creating a healthy eye environment and when they are plugged up, you may develop painful styes, dry eyes and eye irritation. Some people may actually be allergic to some of the ingredients or preservatives and develop allergic dermatitis. Heavy use of mascara also plays a role in pigmented lesions on the white part of the eye.

As an eye doctor, I am all too familiar with eye trauma, such as a corneal abrasion, caused by an inadvertent mascara brush to the eye. Eyelash curlers have also been implicated in corneal burns. Straight pins, paper clips or sharp toothpicks should never be used to separate lashes or to remove mascara as it is extremely easy to cause an injury to the eye using these methods.


The Handbook of Ocular Disease Managment, Thirteenth Edition, Is Beauty Skin Deep? pp 35-37. Supplement to Review of Optometry, 15 APR 2011.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Vision
  4. Eye Health and Safety
  5. Eye Makeup - Eye Makeup Safety

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.