How to wear eye makeup safely

Some of the ingredients that make mascara 'waterproof' or eyeliner 'long-lasting' are actually really bad for your eyes.

Dr. Harleen Bedi and Dr. Manveen Bedi 6 minute read July 19, 2021
eye makeup safety

There are a lot of easy ways to make sure your makeup isn't damaging your eyes. GETTY.

Our eyes allow us connect, communicate and express ourselves. Studies have found that people spend about 50 to 70 per cent of the time looking at someone’s eyes when they’re talking to them. Eyes are also the focus of a lot of makeup trends: the smoky eye, winged eyeliner, “fox eye.”

Now more than ever, with the multitude of cosmetic products lining the store shelves, it’s important to choose the right option for your eyes and practice good skin care. Here are our top seven tips for healthy and safe application of cosmetics around the eyes.

1. Stay away from harsh chemicals

Eyes are delicate — especially the skin around the eyes. Certain makeup products contain preservatives, fragrances or stabilizers that increase the product’s shelf life but can seriously irritate the skin. One such ingredient: a complex group of 9,000 man-made fluorinated chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that’s in a lot of waterproof mascara, eyeshadow, eyeliner and eye creams. These compounds can be systemically absorbed, possibly through the mucous membranes and tear ducts. Studies have linked PFAS to a variety of health concerns such as increased risk of cancers, reduced immune response and fertility, altered metabolism and increased risk of obesity.

Often this “forever chemical” won’t be listed on the product label, so if you’re being careful, avoid products marketed as being waterproof, long-lasting or durable. The chemical makeup of those products is incredibly drying, causing the lash hair to become brittle and fall out.

Also, make sure to review the ingredient list on your eye makeup products and avoid those that include other harmful chemicals such as phthalates, formaldehyde, EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), BAK (benzalkonium chloride), parabens, carbon black, sulfates, urea, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), retin A, talc, and heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel and aluminium).

2. It’s best to avoid the waterline!

The eyelid margin contains oil glands that protect the eye surface from dryness. Studies have shown that the application of mascara, eyeliner and glitter-based eye shadow at the inner eyelash line can block these tiny oil gland pores, resulting in dry eye syndrome, blepharitis and stye-related infections.

In 2005, Health Canada released a public advisory warning about chemical exposure through the use of kohl (or kajal), a traditional eye cosmetic used in Middle Eastern, Asian and North African societies. The small particles can migrate onto the eye surface or enter the delicate tear channels and can aggravate ocular issues and dry eyes. In fact, mass spectrometry studies have found mascara-laden tear duct stones (dacryoliths) in some patients affected by chronic tear duct blockage.

3. Take extra care with mascara

You already know by now that waterproof and long-lasting formulas can contain damaging chemicals. But also, pay attention to the brush: pick one that’s flexible and has less dense bristles to avoid formation of mascara clumps, which can be difficult to remove without tugging out several lashes.

And most importantly, do not rush when applying your mascara! Avoid it if you’re in a rush, or in a moving car, because it’s important to go slowly to prevent any accidents. A sudden jerk can, all too easily, scratch the cornea. Corneal abrasions are very painful and can cause severe discomfort, tearing, redness, and blurry vision. In case of an eye injury, seek prompt medical attention to avoid further complication from a bacterial infection.

4. Don’t leave makeup on your face, or on your shelf, for too long

Remember that lash hair emerges from tiny follicles that are sensitive to clogging. Double cleanse every night, preferably with an oil-based cleanser as the first part of the routine for fragile lashes. Gently massage the oil cleanser in circular motions to get through to stubborn eye makeup and follow up with a second cleanse based on your skin type.

It’s also important to keep track of how long you’re using eye products. Follow the 3-month rule: replace your mascara, eyeliner, and eye makeup every three months, as it can accumulate bacteria and become contaminated over time. Avoid sharing makeup products even with friends and family. If you develop a pink eye or any eye infection, it is important to replace your eye makeup and discontinue wear until the infection is resolved.

5. Take good care of your eyelid skin

The eyelid skin is one of the thinnest parts in the body, and can show signs of early aging without proper care. Harsh chemicals, sun exposure, contact dermatitis or chronic inflammation can over time lead to loss of elasticity and formation of dark circles. The first step in managing dark circles is to identify the specific allergen and avoid it. Apply sunscreen liberally to the entire face and make sure to follow a daily skin cleansing routine. Avoid the use of any exfoliating scrubs around the eyes as they can be abrasive to the skin and can irritate your eyes. While concealers and mineral makeup foundation are the least invasive options for camouflaging dark circles, talk to an oculoplastic physician if you want to discuss nonsurgical options like laser, skin augmentation and resurfacing as well as potential surgical options such as blepharoplasty.

6. Apply faux eyelashes safely!

The boom in eyelash growth serums, lash extensions and curling procedures shows how intently people want long eyelashes. In the face of all these new beauty technologies, remember to put your safety comes first. Eyelash extensions can be done safely, if they’re chosen carefully and applied by a professional. They’re usually applied either with semi-permanent lash glue or secured on with magnetic strips. Look for products that are FDA-approved and work with a trained professional who you can ask about potential side effects beforehand. Talk to your eye doctor if you have sensitive skin or are unsure if a product is right for you.

7. Do your research and ask questions before trying a new trend.

Recently, eyeliner tattoos and permanent eyebrow makeup have gained popularity. The method of cosmetic tattoo follows the same principles of traditional body tattoos with the need for a needle, pigment or ink being injected into the skin. When the location of the tattoo is close to the eyes, there is an increased risk of complications such as eye trauma, scarring, skin infection or allergic reaction, and structural damage to the oil glands resulting in dry eyes and blepharitis. Make sure you do extensive research and talk to your eye doctor to learn about your options.


Dr. Harleen Bedi is an ophthalmologist who also specializes in cataract surgery, eyelid plastic surgery and orbital reconstruction. She runs a medical and aesthetics practice in Brampton, Mississauga, and Oakville, and can be reached at and on Instagram @eyeplasticsTO.

Dr. Manveen Bedi is a Brampton, Ontario-based optometrist who focuses on specialty contact lens fitting for corneal pathologies, aphakia, and prosthetics as well as myopia control and dry eyes. She can be reached at and offers eye health tips via her Instagram account, @drmbedi.