Impact of Makeup on Dry Eye Disease

by | Jan 11, 2016 | News

Tamara Petrosyan, O.D.
Petrosyan 2016Dry eyes are becoming a part of people’s lives more and more frequently. It is estimated that one in every eight adults, or 33 million people, suffer from dry eyes in the United States. For some, the irritation is fleeting and depends on things like season, time of day and diet. For others, it is a constant and chronic part of their day. While dry eye disease (DED) may sound like a simple problem, it is actually a quite complex disease with a wide variety of symptoms, severity, causes, and treatment options.

Aside from providing lubrication to our eyes, our tears carry nutrients to the cells on the surface of the eye and help remove dead cells and debris. Our tears are composed of three layers. The outermost oily layer is produced by the meibomian glands found lining the upper and lower eyelid just inside the eyelash lines. The oily layer slows evaporation of the tears from the surface of the eyes. The middle water layer is the thickest part of the tear film. It is produced by the lacrimal glands situated in the upper outside portion of each eyeball socket. The tears originate from the outer part of the eye and are wiped across toward the inner part of the eye where they are drained out. The innermost mucous layer is produced by the cells of the cornea (outermost clear part of the eye) and allows the tears to spread smoothly and evenly over the eye.

makeup-dry-eye-disease-2DED can be caused by one of two factors: either the tear system is not producing enough tears or the tears that are present are not sufficiently lubricating the eyes. Patients suffering from dry eye disease will report discomfort, eye pain, feeling of something in the eye, eye fatigue, red eyes, itchy eyes, excessive tearing, light sensitivity, swollen eyes, and a change in their vision. If dry eye is left untreated, the damage can range anywhere from a simple nuisance to the patient to possible corneal damage and vision loss in very severe cases. Dry eyes can also be an initial sign of some systemic diseases, such as a thyroid dysfunction, so it is important to get a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist if you experience dry eye disease.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, we spend around $10 billion a year on cosmetics, beauty supplies, and perfume. While busy trying to look our best, we sometimes forget that some of these products can lead to harm. Our eyes are one of the most delicate and sensitive organs of the body and protecting them from harmful external factors is important. Eye makeup is one thing that can cause or aggravate an already dry eye, and is something that most women wear, if not every day then on occasion. One of the main causes of makeup related dry eye is that makeup thins out the outermost oily layer of the tear film allowing a much faster evaporation of the natural tears.


A study published by scientists at the University of Waterloo was to first to officially show that makeup migration happened quicker and was
greater when eyeliner was put on the inner lid margin. The vision scientists found that within five minutes, 15-30% more particles moved into the eye’s tear film when subjects applied eyeliner to the inside of the lash line, compared to outside it. The makeup also moved more quickly into the eye when eyeliner was applied inside the lash line.

The following are some tips for makeup use to keep eye makeup from contributing to a dry eye problem, especially for those already suffering from dry and irritated eyes.


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 a must to remove makeup before bed. Sleeping with eye makeup on can lead to clogging of the oil producing glands and 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 as well as using 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 OKs you 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 foundation can get into and aggravate the eyes. Instead sparingly use cream shadows, highlighters and foundations.
Use a thickening mascara instead of lash-lengthening or waterproof ones 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.

Doctors of optometry perform more than 75% of all primary eye care visits in the country. They are trained to identify and prescribe medications to treat all external conditions of the eye and surrounding tissue. Although the above information can help with preventing or improving dry eye, be sure to see your optometrist for a comprehensive eye and vision examination if you experience dry eye symptoms or any other eye or vision problems. You can find an optometrist in your area by using the ‘find-a-doctor’ application at