Cosmetics and Your Eyes

Anytime you put anything on your face and near your eyes, you run the risk of causing issues with your visual system. Our Dry Eye specialist, Dr. Rachel Gilles, is passionate about educating her patients about the world of cosmetics and their relation to healthy eyes. Below you will find Dr. Gilles' favorite tips about being mindful as to what is in the product(s) you are using and what are the best practices for using cosmetics and keeping your eyes happy and healthy!

Approved Habits and Products

  • Remove makeup daily. Coconut, argan or jojoba oil may be used unless allergic. These oils are preferred over facial cleansers or soaps which require more mechanical force for thorough makeup removal and are more likely to dry the eyelid skin.

  • Consider the use of a primer before mascara application to help make removal easier.

  • Remove contact lenses before makeup removal.

  • Insert contact lenses prior to applying makeup. Alternatively, you can wait 10 minutes after application then insert contact lenses with clean hands.

  • If used, replace moist cosmetics monthly. Use solid pencils or hard-packed re-wetting powders to avoid the drying alcohols in moist cosmetics. Hard packed re-wetting powders completely dry between uses and can be replaced less frequently.

  • If using powders, shop for paraben-free formulas. These "grip" the applicator and eyelids, resulting in less fallout (powder dropping off the brush or eyelid). If not wearing a contact lens, consider placing a drop of an oil-based preservative-free artificial tear to the eye before applying powders. The oil will collect the fallout and you will be able to see it accumulate in the inner corner of the eye.

  • Clean application brushes regularly.

  • Apply beneath the base of the lower eyelashes and above the base of the upper lashes to prevent clogging of the meibomian glands. The openings of these oil glands are located along the eyelid margins.

  • Be wary of product labels claiming contents to be hypoallergenic, all-natural or organic. Check the label yourself to look for any of the offending ingredients found below. These ingredients cause more inflammation/damage the longer they are on the eye. Therefore, some of these ingredients may not cause significant inflammation when present in a wash or product that is quickly removed. But, when present in mascara, eyeliner or make-up it may not be tolerable.


Top 10 Offending Ingredients

  1. Alcohol
  2. Argireline (acetyl hexapeptide-3, Lipotec)
  3. Benzalkonium Chloride (BAK)
  4. Butylene Glycol
  5. Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid (EDTA)
  6. Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde donors
  7. Isopropyl Cloprostenate
  8. Parabens
  9. Phenoxyethanol
  10. Retinol

Offending Habits and Products

  • Sharing makeup. This may result in a variety of infections, especially in individuals with compromised tear films and meibomian gland function.

  • Moistening makeup or contact lenses with saliva. This bodily fluid is full of bacteria that could result in ocular infection.

  • Applying makeup while moving. You are at high risk of causing a corneal abrasion when applying makeup when riding in a car or walking.

  • Applying makeup on the waterline (aka: tight-line) of either the upper or lower lash lines. This clogs the opening of the meibomian glands and accelerates meibomian gland disease.

  • Waterproof makeup. Removal requires more mechanical force which can chronically weaken the connective tissue of the eyelids.

  • Over the counter lash enhancers and growth serums. Isopropyl cloprostenate, a synthetic prostaglandin analogue, causes localized inflammation and worsens the symptoms of ocular surface disease. It can also induce changes in eye color, loss of the eyelid fat and darkening of eyelid skin.

  • Eyelash extensions. Permanent sewn in options are difficult to clean and often cause bacterial overgrowth. Eyelash glue contains formaldehyde and other irritants. Be wary of products that claim to be formaldehyde-free. Longer than normal eyelashes also interfere with the proper wind/debris deflecting properties of your natural lashes.

  • Eyelash tint. May cause allergic reactions of the eye and eyelids.

  • Eyeliner tattooing. This process is associated with damage to the meibomian glands and ocular surface disease.

  • Eye-area products (often advertised as anti-aging) containing retinol, cis-retinoic acid, or tretinoin. Exposure to these metabolites has been shown to cause damage to critical cells needed for proper function within the meibomian glands.

  • "Botox in a jar" ingredients found in OTC cosmetics such as acetyl hexapeptide-8 or acetyl hexapeptide-8 (Argireline or Lipotec). These may interfere with proper blink function.

  • Botox Cosmetic (onabotulinumtoxinA, Allergan) for crow's feet can lead to the weakening of the orbicularis muscle and cause an incomplete blink. It is best to consider this treatment when performed by a Board Certified Ophthalmologist that specializes in oculoplastics.


Links to learn more!


Visit Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database to learn about the safety profiles of cosmetics, skin and hair care products:


Learn about cosmetics and dry eye in further detail by visiting:


Obtain ideas and instructions on making your own makeup by visiting:


Also, download the App ThinkDirty® to review the ingredients of your favorite cosmetics on the go.


Consider shopping for clean cosmetic products at:


  • Petit Vour
  • Aveda
  • Elate Cosmetics
  • RMS Beauty
  • Credo Beauty
  • The Detox Market
  • Lily Lilo (mascara)
  • Etsy Shop: twinkbeauty
  • Etsy Shop: KeepingItNatural
  •  “Lash Brilliance” eyelash growth