6 Ways Your Makeup Routine Could Be Harming Your Eye Health

Old or shared makeup can jeopardize your eye health, and there are a few other missteps to avoid.
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You wanted a smoky eye — not a red and crusty one. But the wrong eye makeup routine can leave you vulnerable to problems like irritation and infection. Or worse: According to the FDA, makeup wearers have been "temporary or permanently blinded by an infection from an eye cosmetic."

What's more, flecks of pigment from eye products can get into eyes, causing discomfort, Ashley Brissette, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

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This can be more of a problem for people who wear contacts, have sensitive eyes or have dry eyes, notes a September 2015 study in Eye & Contact Lens, which found that glitter and eye liner can get into the eye's tear film.

To keep your peepers both pretty and healthy, here are the makeup habits you should try to avoid:

Mistake 1: You’re Not Taking Off Your Makeup Before Bed

Not only will leftover mascara smudge your pillowcase, but the habit of hitting the sack sans washing your eyes and face can be irritating. Lingering "bacteria, dust, allergens and makeup can lead to infections, styes, redness, dryness and eye strain," Dr. Brissette says.

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Need proof of why this habit is important? Alarmingly, one woman sought medical attention because she felt like she always had something in her eyes, per a May 2018 case report in ​Ophthalmology​. It turned out to be hardened mascara that had embedded under her eyelids. The cause? She said she wore mascara for more than 25 years without removing it properly.

Always remove makeup before bed, Dr. Brissette advises — it's good for your skin health, too. If you're feeling too lazy to head to the sink, keep pre-moistened cleansing towelettes next to your bed to quickly swipe away makeup.

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Even if you're not wearing makeup, you still need a good eye-area cleansing regimen in place. "My biggest piece of advice is to wash your eyelids and eyelashes every day. Everyone knows to brush their teeth every day, but not everyone knows you should be washing around your eyes," Dr. Brissette says.

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Instead of using a harsh facial cleanser (read: one with anti-aging or anti-acne ingredients) on your delicate eye area, Dr. Brissette recommends using baby shampoo: "Apply the cleanser to a cotton pad or your fingers and gently wipe over closed eyes and rinse off.”

Mistake 2: You Share Makeup With Friends

While it's handy to grab a friend's mascara in a pinch, that's an easy way to transfer bacteria and other nasties right into your own eyes. "Never share eye makeup with others," Dr. Brissette says.

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Oh, and if "testers" ever come back to beauty and department stores post-pandemic, avoid using those, too — their risk of contamination may be even greater, says the FDA. (You simply don't know if someone really used the disposable cotton swab provided to try out the shadow.)

Mistake 3: You Can’t Remember When You Bought That Eyeshadow

The pandemic has been the era of sweatpants and no makeup. And now that you may be going out more, you might be grabbing eye makeup that's a year old — or older. It's time for a refresh.

Dr. Brissette recommends keeping opened eye makeup for no more than six months. "This will help avoid infection," she says.

By the way, if you get an eye infection, you're going to want to throw away any eye makeup you were using when the infection developed to avoid re-contaminating yourself.

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Mistake 4: You Apply Makeup on-the-Go

Time is tight, for sure, but don't leave home without putting on your mascara first. And definitely don't apply it in a moving vehicle.

As the FDA — slightly gruesomely — notes, if you hit a bump, that wand can go in your eye and scratch your cornea. (Are you wincing yet?) If that wasn't bad enough, that scratch can then develop into an infection.

Mistake 5: You’re Wearing Eyelash Extensions

For the occasional big event, eyelash extensions are a great way to amp up your look. For everyday wear? Well, that can cause problems.

"Eyelash extensions can make it hard to clean in the eyelashes and around the eyelids, which can lead to infections," Dr. Brissette says. Synthetic lashes and the glue can also cause eyelid reactions (think: rashes and other yucky side effects).

Mistake 6: You Don't Wash Your Hands First

Before you grab that eyeliner or shadow, wash your hands, Dr. Brissette advises. The bacteria on your hands can be transferred to your eyes, especially if you're giving things a good blend or smudge with your fingertips, and that can easily lead to an infection.

Remember: You'll want to suds up for a solid 20 seconds, or about the time it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice through.

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
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