Tips for Applying Eye Makeup Safely

Article provided by College of Optometry

Americans spend billions of dollars each year on cosmetics. While we’re busy trying to look our best, we often forget (or never realize) that some of these products can potentially be harmful. The eyes are one of the most delicate and sensitive organs in our bodies so it’s critical to protect them from harmful external factors. Eye makeup can often aggravate or even cause dry eye by thinning the outermost oily layer of the tear film and causing natural tears to evaporate more quickly.

Dr. Tamara Petrosyan provides some tips below for helping to prevent eye makeup from contributing to a dry eye problem.


Always apply makeup outside the lash line and apply mascara from the tips rather than the roots of the lashes, preferably to the top lashes only. Never apply eye makeup over the oil glands that line the very edge of your upper and lower lids, just inside the eyelash line. These are the glands that secrete oils to keep the eye lubricated.

If you need to use an eye drop, apply it 15-30 minutes before putting on your makeup.


It is critical to remove makeup before going to bed. Sleeping with eye makeup on can lead to clogging of the oil producing glands and lead to eye infections. Try a gel based product that is oil and paraben free. Avoid getting the makeup remover into the eyes as this may irritate them further.

Avoid mineral oil, sodium lauryl sulfate, and diazolidinyl urea. While they work well to remove makeup, they are known to cause irritation to the eyes.

A gentle lid scrub with baby shampoo on a clean cotton pad or soft cloth or a store bought lid scrub can help remove excess makeup and unclog the eye’s oil glands.

Makeup Hygiene

Keeping makeup applicators clean is critical to keep infection at bay. Make sure to sharpen your makeup pencils before application to remove the top coat of bacteria. Also, wash makeup brushes and use a brush cover to keep them clean. Avoid using store samples but, if you must, make sure to use a fresh applicator.

Do not use the same applicator on different parts of the face. For example, do not use the same pencil on your lips and your eyes.

Avoid sharing makeup with anyone else and using makeup past its expiration date. As a rule of thumb, dispose of your eye makeup every three to six months. You can keep a marker in your makeup kit to note the date the makeup was opened.

Do not use any type of eye makeup if you have an eye infection and see your optometrist right away. If you do develop an infection, throw away all your eye makeup and buy a new set to start with after your optometrist tell you that it is ok to start wearing it again.

Always wash your hands before applying makeup and avoid using saliva to assist in putting your makeup on as this could lead to an eye infection.

Makeup Type

The tiny particles in glitter and powder-based shadows and foundations can get into and aggravate the eyes. Instead use small amounts of cream shadows, highlighters and foundations.

Use a thickening mascara instead of lash-lengthening or waterproof one as they are less likely to flake and get into the eyes.

Stick with hypoallergenic brands to avoid excess irritation. Avoid makeup with arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, carmine, lead, nickel, selenium and thallium.

Find Alternatives

A plastic eyelash curler is a great alternative to mascara. (The metal in regular eyelash curlers can cause irritation and dryness around the eye.)

You might also get away with less eyelid makeup if you concentrate on your eyebrows instead.

If you suffer from severe and chronic dry eye and are intolerant of eye makeup, try highlighting other aspects of you face, such as your lips and cheeks, which allows you to highlight your natural beauty without ever touching your eyes.

Petrosyan Named AOAs Young Optometrist of the YearDr. Tamara Petrosyan is an assistant clinical professor in the primary care clinic of the University Eye Center

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