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Eye makeup poses a risk to your eyes if you use the wrong products or don’t follow some basic best practices.
Avoid products that may dodge U.S. regulations, such as those purchased overseas or from unverified online dealers. If any product irritates your eyes or skin or affects your vision, cease use immediately and contact a doctor.
Eye Makeup Safety Tips
Eye cosmetic safety, which applies to any cosmetic product used near the eye, is especially important because the eye is one of the most sensitive organs on your body. The eye is fairly fragile, and infection or scratches can cause permanent damage in some cases.
The FDA recommends some safety tips to help use these products safely.
- Keep your products clean, and apply them with washed hands and sterile applicators.
- Pay attention to product expiration dates, as many cosmetics can develop mold and other bacteria, spoiling in a way similar to food products.
- Always apply eye makeup in a still environment with stable hands. Do not apply it in a moving car.
- Don’t trust products not properly labeled or that otherwise break packaging regulations, as this means you cannot know if they are safe for human use.
- Watch out for “illegal colors” that may use color additives that are considered unsafe by the FDA.
Things to Avoid
For the most part, practicing the above safety tips and only using products from legitimate, trusted retailers can help you avoid the most serious dangers eye cosmetics pose.
- Always read the warnings on packaging, and follow all provided instructions. Research brands and products you haven’t used before, as even established retailers can sell products the FDA may not consider safe.
- Do not permanently dye eyelashes and eyebrows. This trend has caused serious eye injuries in many people. The FDA has not found any permanent dyeing or tinting products to be safe for this use. The eye is too sensitive and the chemicals can cause permanent changes and do significant damage. In some cases, these dyes have even caused blindness.
- Avoid kohl. One fairly common but dangerous color additive is called kohl. Kohl is a traditional cosmetic additive used to enhance the appearance of the eyes, but research has found it is actually dangerous as a result of the heavy metals that compose it. In fact, the FDA has linked kohl to lead poisoning in children. Unfortunately, many illegal importers falsely label their products “FDA approved” despite getting no such approval. Remember that the FDA will never approve cosmetic products containing kohl.
- Do not share makeup. Sharing makeup can spread bacteria easily, resulting in eye infections and other issues.
- Avoid makeup with metallic glitter. The small metallic pieces can scratch or cut the eye. This can result in serious injury and infection.
Fake Eyelashes & Eyelash Extensions
False eyelashes and eyelash extensions are somewhat borderline eye cosmetic products. They carry clear risks to the eye but are not excessively dangerous when used correctly.
If you want to use fake eyelashes, research how professionals apply them and avoid using an applicator if possible. Eyelash glue can damage your eyes if it gets in them. The glue can also harm your natural lashes. Other problems arise if you are allergic to an ingredient in the glue.
Pay attention to the ingredients of the adhesives used with fake eyelashes. Safety regulations are important for body adhesives, as traditional adhesive products can irritate and outright injure the skin. If you feel any kind of irritation after applying adhesive, contact a doctor immediately.
Eyelash extensions are more involved than standard fake eyelashes. A professional applies eyelash extensions to each of your natural lashes individually.
Eyelash extensions can be expensive and short-lived, but the demand for them undeniably exists. Make sure you choose a knowledgeable professional who knows how to safely apply eyelash extensions. Since the eyes are a delicate area, you want to ensure you work with someone who is experienced.
Common Eye Makeup Complications
One of the most common problems that can arise when applying eye cosmetics is accidentally touching the eye with a foreign object or exposing it to an irritant, such as mascara. Many of these incidents are minor, as many companies design their cosmetics to be relatively safe and most incidental touching of the eye happens without much force.
With the above in mind, it is important to avoid touching the eye or getting products in it as much as possible. When anything touches the eye, especially something hard like a plastic or metal applicator, there is a risk of scratching or otherwise injuring the eye. These injuries can damage critical parts of your eye and also expose the eye to bacteria, which can do further damage.
If you ever feel significant pain or irritation in your eye for more than a few minutes, contact a doctor immediately. You should also contact a doctor immediately if you experience any loss of vision, even if it is a minor loss, as it may worsen over time without intervention.
How to Safely Remove Eye Makeup
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends Vaseline as an effective makeup remover. It is lubricating and soothing to skin, which makes the removal process much easier. It is also unlikely to cause any irritation.
AAO also recommends baby shampoo for removing eye cosmetics. Baby shampoo is designed to be as mild as possible while still being effective for cleaning. Look for “tear-free” products, especially if you have sensitive eyes.
Regardless of what product you choose, it is important to avoid getting any makeup remover in your eye. This is especially important if the product contains any kind of harsh chemicals. Ideally, avoid any makeup remover that contains these chemicals.
Clean your face and the area around your eyes thoroughly. Many people forget to remove makeup from their eyelids, which can cause irritation and increase infection risk. A clean cotton swab can help to safely and gently remove all makeup remnants around your eyelids.
Signs of a Problem With Eye Makeup
If a cosmetic product causes any rash, redness, or irritation, stop using it immediately. These are common problems that may occur with cosmetics used near the eyes:
- Red or dry eyes
- Irritation or itchiness
- Pain, swelling, or inflammation
- Blurred vision
- Unusual sensitivity to light
If you notice any changes in your vision or can see changes on your skin or eyeball, contact a doctor immediately. Because eye problems can progress quickly, it is best to cease use of any product that may have caused even a mild reaction. Talk to a doctor as soon as possible, just to make sure no permanent harm occurs.
If you believe you’ve had a reaction to a product despite using it as intended, you can report the cosmetic product to the FDA. Keeping your report anonymous, they will add it to their database and may take action if they receive similar reports.
Eye Makeup Safety FAQ
Is makeup harmful to my eyes?
Used as intended, most cosmetic products approved for use in the United States don’t pose significant risk to the average user.
If you follow all instructions and are vigilant about any adverse reactions, permanent harm is extremely unlikely and even mild irritation is not expected. However, people with sensitive skin and certain allergies may wish to talk to their doctor before using new kinds of makeup, as a precaution.
The real threat is in the misuse of products or use of products from unscrupulous dealers. Only use products that follow all current regulations and make sure you know how to use them before applying them.
Never trust unverifiable claims from cosmetic companies, especially those operating outside the U.S. or on unverified market sites such as Etsy. Also, keep in mind that it is easy for companies operating online to claim the FDA has approved their products when that isn’t actually true.
How can I protect my eyes from makeup?
Only purchase eye makeup from trusted brands or that you have heavily researched. This can help you avoid products with unsafe ingredients.
When applying makeup, take your time. Use gentle, deliberate motions. Watch videos online from reliable sources of people applying the makeup you’ve purchased.
Do not share makeup with other people, as this encourages the spread of bacteria. Avoid using sharp objects around your eyes, such as pointed metal brushes to separate your eyelashes.
Is eyeshadow safe?
Most modern eyeshadows from major cosmetic companies are safe when used correctly. The biggest danger is likely the applicator, which can collect bacteria and has the potential to brush against your eye. It is important to properly clean your applicators and brushes, but many people fail to clean these on a regular basis.
Eyeshadow can contain bacteria if it is old, or it could contain harmful chemicals if it is produced without following U.S. regulations. If a product like this got into your eye, it could pose a danger.
How do you treat eye irritation from makeup?
Stop using the product immediately. See a doctor if the irritation doesn’t clear up within a day or two. You may need a prescription ointment or eye drops to address the issue.
Can you wear makeup if your eyes are irritated?
If you have swelling, redness, or other irritation in or around your eyes, it’s best to avoid eye makeup until the issue clears up.
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How To Use Cosmetics Safely Around Your Eyes. (March 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Import Alert 53-06. (April 2022). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
What to Know Before Getting Eyelash Extensions. (March 2022). Oprah Daily.
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The FDA Warns That Neon Makeup Might Not Be as Safe to Wear as You Might Think. (July 2019). Business Insider.