Eye Care: Problems and Safety Tips

Since ancient history, women have worn cosmetics to enhance the appearance of their eyes. Most people who wear eye makeup never have a problem related to makeup use. Some women can, however, develop an allergic reaction, infection or injury of the eye or eyelids. These problems can range from minor annoyance, such as tearing of the eyes, to visual loss or even blindness.

Who has problems with eye makeup?

Contact lens wearers and people with allergies or sensitive skin are more likely to confront problems while using eye cosmetics. However, anyone who wears eye makeup should be aware of basic safety tips to help prevent injury or infection. (See safety tips below.)

What problems can occur?

The most serious problem related to eye make-up involves injury to the cornea (the clear front surface of the eye), often during application of the cosmetic. A mascara or eyeliner wand or a fingernail can scratch the cornea (corneal abrasion). Occasionally a corneal abrasion can become infected leading to a potentially blinding corneal ulcer. Corneal injuries are usually painful and always require prompt medical attention.

All eye cosmetics contain preservatives that retard the growth of bacteria in the makeup. However, if certain precautions are not taken, bacteria from the skin can still grow in the cosmetic after use. (See safety tips below.) Some women develop frequent conjunctivitis (infection of the outer part of the eyeball) due to contamination of their eye cosmetic or makeup applicator

What are some safety tips to using eye cosmetics?

  • Apply eyeliner outside the lash line (away from the eye) to avoid direct contact of the cosmetic with the eye. There also will be less chance that the liner will flake off into the eye.
  • Keep eyeliner pencils sharpened so that the rough wood casing won't scratch the eye or eyelid. As the pencil becomes old, the liner tip becomes stiff, requiring more pressure to apply. When this happens, replace the pencil with a new one.
  • Replace cosmetics every six months (more often if you wear contact lenses) to avoid excess contamination with skin bacteria. After any eye infection, such as conjunctivitis, buy fresh eye makeup.
  • Even though eye makeup removers are designed for use around the eye, they can irritate the eye. Apply them carefully to the eyelid and avoid getting them in your eye.
  • Never apply eye makeup while in a moving vehicle. You may accidentally poke the applicator into the eye during a sudden bump or stop.
  • Never use saliva to thin old or clumped makeup or to wet a mascara wand. Your saliva contains bacteria from your mouth.

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