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  • Writer's pictureDr. Zimski

Are Your Cosmetics The Culprit? The Connection Between Makeup And Dry Eye

When your eyes are unable to produce the quantity and quality of tears required to keep your eyes moist, or if your tears evaporate too quickly, the result is often dry and scratchy eyes. 

The three component layers of your eyes’ tear layer are oil, water and mucus. Unfortunately, wearing makeup can interfere with this balance.

Dry eye is a problem for one in every eight adults in the United States, about 33 million people. If you find yourself reaching for the artificial tears on a regular basis, you might be one of them.

While there are many possible causes of dry eyes, makeup can lead to meibomian gland dysfunction and other causes of dry eye syndrome.

The good news is you can reduce the harmful effects of makeup by adjusting the way you apply and remove your cosmetics. Even more important, you should learn to buy the right products to minimize potentially harmful exposure. 

Are Your Cosmetics The Culprit? The Connection Between Makeup And Dry Eye

The Ugly Side-Effects of Beauty Products

According to WebMD, eyeliner, mascara, and other makeup can create problems for dry eye sufferers by clogging the meibomian glands in your eyelids, which produce the oil needed for lubricating tears. 

Makeup that contains glitter and eyeliner applied to the inside of your lash line (the waterline) are common culprits.

But so are harmful additives and contaminants that are all-too-common in over-the-counter beauty products.

Retailers and brands may label their products as “clean makeup” or “all natural,” but in reality these terms don’t mean much. Marketing only adds to the confusion. Phrases like “dermatologist tested” are also virtually meaningless. Even hypoallergenic makeup can make dry eye symptoms worse!

Furthermore, while there are plenty of “natural” cosmetic ingredients that exacerbate dry eye symptoms, it’s important to remember that man-made “chemicals'' aren't necessarily bad for your health.

So how do you know what products to trust? Here’s part of the problem: Cosmetics and personal care products are notoriously under regulated in the United States, where only 11 ingredients are banned. Europe, Canada and Japan, in contrast, have banned hundreds more chemicals. 

It’s important to be educated about what goes into the products we buy and use. We are going to talk about a few common preservatives and how you can make sure your makeup isn’t contaminated with mold and bacteria that can harm your skin and your eyes.

Are Your Cosmetics The Culprit? The Connection Between Makeup And Dry Eye: powder brush

Be Vigilant About Mold and Bacteria

Mold spores are usually too small to see, but contaminated products can seriously irritate your skin and make your dry eye symptoms worse.

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, 70-90 percent of all beauty products and the tools used to apply them were contaminated with fungus and bacteria.

The Food and Drug Administration even has a Cosmetic Recalls and Alerts that lists voluntary product recalls due to the presence of mold, yeast and bacteria.  

The Forbes article linked above makes a few recommendations, including:

  • Store your makeup in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight. It’s also best to never leave the containers open.

  • Watch the expiration date. Preservatives degrade over time and won’t keep mold away forever.  Mascara and eyeliners should be replaced every three months. Cream-based cosmetics should be replaced every nine months. Powder-based products (eyeshadow and bronzers, for example) shouldn’t be used for more than a year.  

  • Avoid products labeled “preservative-free.” You’re probably thinking that’s a good thing, and for many food items it is. Not so with makeup!

  • Clean or replace tools often. For example, reusable makeup sponges should be discarded after three months of use. And make sure you aren’t dipping your fingers into the product. Use an applicator and get into the habit of wiping it with alcohol before using. Tools like brushes and beauty blenders need cleaning at least once a week, while liquid makeup applicators should be cleaned every day, 

  • Avoid wet bathroom counters. Mold and bacteria love humidity and moisture, so getting a mini skincare fridge for all your beauty products might be smart.

Are Your Cosmetics The Culprit? The Connection Between Makeup And Dry Eye: compact

Keep Formaldehyde Away From Your Eyes

If you suffer from dry eyes, allergies or eye irritation, some products should be avoided entirely. For example, formaldehyde (a common preservative) is one of the most common allergens in skin care products and has been shown to kill human corneal cells.

Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives (FRPs) are commonly found in nail hardeners and lacquers, as well as mascara, blush, eye shadow, and foundation. These preservatives may be listed under names such as:

  • Quaternium-15

  • DMDM hydantoin

  • Imidazolidinyl urea

  • Diazolidinyl urea

  • Polyoxymethylene urea

  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

  • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1

  • 3-diol (bromopol)

  • Glyoxal

Are Parabens Safe?

Methyl‐ and propyl‐paraben are common preservatives in skin care products such as powder or cream blush, moisturizing face creams, and powder foundation. 

Parabens have been linked in outdated and poorly-executed studies to increased risk of breast cancer. However, The American Cancer Society has found no such link between parabens in cosmetics and skin care products. Furthermore, The US Food and Drug Administration has deemed parabens safe for use in cosmetics, while The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety considers the use of methylparaben and ethylparaben in cosmetics safe at concentrations used in cosmetics.

Beware Benzalkonium Chloride

Benzalkonium chloride is an ammonia-based compound that is commonly used as a surfactant (something that makes products “wetter”). This well known ingredient that is often found in eye drops is also found in cosmetics.  It can reduce microbial activity and inhibit infections, but it can also make dry eye symptoms worse. Look for it in products such as mascara and liquid eyeshadow, as well as shampoos and conditioners.

Carnauba Wax Can Clog Your Pores

Carnauba wax is often added to cosmetic products to make them waterproof. Unfortunately, the wax can cause the pores around the eyes to clog and even lead to dry eyes.

IPL, Meibomian Gland Expression and Probing Can Bring Relief

If your makeup and skin care routine are creating problems for your eyes, our Denver office has treatments that can help alleviate your dry eye symptoms.

For example, meibomian gland expressions means applying pressure to the meibomian glands, releasing the natural oils that help lubricate the eye. This is often done in conjunction with lid debridement, heating the meibomian glands and is always done with IPL treatments.

Meibomian gland probing is something we do when the meibomian glands have already been plugged and other treatments have been ineffective. The process includes numbing the eyelids and inserting small probes into the gland openings to break through any scar tissue. This will allow the eye’s natural oils to begin flowing.

That’s just the beginning. If you think your beauty care routine may be creating problems for you, the office of Dr. Lauren Zimski can give you a customized plan to treat your dry eye symptoms and make sure they don’t return. If you want to get started, fill out our SPEED questionnaire (a few questions about your symptoms and what you've tried already). And when you’re ready you can book an appointment online or call us at 303-863-1231.


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