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Wearing Cosmetics

Can Cosmetics Hurt My Eyes?

Yes. Although most cosmetic use is entirely safe, some cosmetics can cause red, irritated eyes, and eyelids. They can produce stinging, burning, itching, and tearing. Also, there are cosmetics with ingredients that can damage contact lenses. Some cosmetics, including some "hypoallergenic" ones, can cause allergic reactions or irritation in sensitive people. Accidents in applying makeup, particularly mascara, have caused serious eye infections and injury. Older people with dry eyes or oily lids have an increased risk of cosmetics-related eye problems.

Are Hypoallergenic Cosmetics Safer for my Eyes?

Generally, yes. But the answer is not clear-cut because there is no definition of "hypoallergenic" that all cosmetics manufacturers must follow. As it is generally used, the term hypoallergenic means some harsh chemicals and preservatives have been removed. Despite their name, hypoallergenic cosmetics are non-irritating rather than non-allergy producing. In addition, what produces irritation or allergy in one person may not produce it in another. Despite this, hypoallergenic products are generally preferred to products that are not hypoallergenic.

What Are the Best Eye Cosmetics and How Should They Be Used?

Any eye makeup (or eye makeup remover) that you use should be oil-free, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, and safe for your eyes and your contact lenses.

  • Mascara: To make the eyelashes look fuller, many mascaras contain rayon or nylon fibers. As the fibers dry out on your lashes, they can flake off and fall into the eye. If a contact lens wearer uses heavy mascara and the contact lenses are not completely cleaned off after wearing, the lenses can become damaged to the point where they must be replaced. It is best for contact lens wearers to use a water-based mascara that is oil-and fragrance-free. Try to find one that is fiber-free as well, and apply it to the tips of the lashes only. Be careful when applying mascara. Damage to the eye from mascara wands and brushes can lead to serious infections.
  • Eyeliner: When applying eyeliner, use only a non-wood clenched pencil. Use water-based eyeliner and never apply it inside the lid margin.
  • Eyeshadow: Use pressed powders only. Avoid frosted shadows. Do not use excessive amounts of shadow, which may flake off the lid into the eye.
  • Eye makeup removers: To be safe, take off your contact lenses before removing your makeup. Choose only oil-free and fragrance-free removers. Use a fiber-free pad to take off makeup. (A cotton ball has fibers that can get into the eye and cause irritation.) Use water and additive-free soap for makeup removal. If you use extended wear contact lenses and must remove makeup with the lenses in place, wipe very gently from the nose outward, being careful not to dislodge the contact lens. Try to keep debris from makeup out of your eye. If any gets in and the eye becomes irritated, remove the lens. Be sure to clean and disinfect the lens before putting it back on your eye.

What About other Kinds of Cosmetics and Toiletries?

Good contact lens hygiene requires that you take some care with all soaps and cosmetics. Here are a few rules designed to help keep your contact lens wear trouble-free:

  • Soaps: Before handling contact lenses or contact lens care products, always wash your hands thoroughly with an additive-free soap. Try to use a pure soap (like Ivory bar soap ). Avoid soaps that have moisturizers or antibacterial agents. Most liquid "pump" soaps have special ingredients to make them creamy; these ingredients can cause eye irritation and may damage your contact lenses. Bar soap or optical soap is preferred. After washing, dry your hands thoroughly with a lint-free towel.
  • Lotions: Use hand or body lotion only after putting on your contact lenses. If possible, choose lanolin-free and fragrance-free products. Many lotions-especially the "intensive care" kind-leave a residue on your hands even after washing. Avoid these lotions.
  • Nail polish and remover: Put on your lenses before using nail care products. Acetone, a common ingredient in nail care products, can ruin contact lenses. Try to stay away from nail care products that contain it.
  • Face products: For men, it is important to keep shaving cream, after-shave, and cologne out of the eyes. These products contain alcohol and can cause severe stinging if they get in your eyes. After shaving, be sure to wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling contact lenses. Individuals should take special care when applying moisturizers, especially on and around the eyelids. Whenever possible, use lanolin-free products. Extended wear lens users should take particular care to see that moisturizers don't get into the eye or onto the edges of the lids (where it can easily get into the eye).

How Can I Protect Myself from Eye Infections?

Once cosmetics are opened they can become contaminated with bacteria and other microorganisms. The danger is greatest with eye makeup, particularly mascara. Eye injuries from contaminated mascara brushes have led to serious infections that caused people to lose sight. Be careful! Makeup usually has preservatives to slow the growth of bacteria. But preservatives don't last forever; and you don't know how long a tube was sitting on the shelf before you bought it. (There is no expiration date on cosmetics.) To stay safe, store makeup in a cool, dry place, and replace open makeup every three months.

Can there Be Problems with the Preservatives?

Possibly. Some of the preservatives in makeup are chemical relatives of thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once used as a preservative in contact lens solutions. It is no longer used in contact lens solutions because it caused numerous allergic reactions. Today, mercury-based chemicals similar to thimerosal-including phenyl mercuric acetate and phenyl mercuric nitrate-can still be found as preservatives in makeup. Read the label, and when possible avoid products with these preservatives.

Do You Have any Tips for Using Cosmetics Safely?

  • Never share cosmetics.
  • If you develop an eye infection, throw out all your old makeup (Contaminated makeup could re-infect your eye).
  • Replace all eye makeup three months after opening.
  • Whenever possible, apply eye makeup with disposable applicators.
  • Read the labels on cosmetics.
  • Try to find hypoallergenic products.
  • Don't apply face or eye makeup in a moving vehicle (even if somebody else is driving).


The above information is taken from the CLAO Patient Information Pamphlet entitled COSMETICS AND CONTACT LENSES. Pamphlet Advisors were Sandra Mayer, FCLSA and Zoraida Fiol-Silva, MD. Copyright 1994-2004 Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, Inc. Thanks to the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, Inc. Contact Lens Docs for content used in the creation of this webpage. All rights reserved.  Reproduction other than for one-time personal use is strictly prohibited.