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  • Dr. Sandra Chiu

Dry Eyes and Cosmetics

Do you wake up feeling like you’ve got sand in your eyes? Do you reach for your eye drops more often than your car keys? Then it’s a safe bet you’ve got dry eye, a condition that affects more than 6 million Canadians. Often a chronic condition, dry eye can be treated with over-the-counter remedies, prescription medications, or even surgery. But few people know that many everyday products - from eyeliner to night cream - may also play a hand in the dryness of their eyes.

The good news? Simple adjustments to beauty routines will often improve dry eyes. Check out these four simple steps you can take - today - to help get your eyes back on the right track.

1: Read the labels

While the government’s Food and Drugs Act and Cosmetics Regulation somewhat control the quality of beauty products, their standards typically aren’t stringent enough for optimum eye health. Slogans often found on packages aren’t defined by federal law. This means that even products with harmful ingredients can be labeled as “hypoallergenic” or “sensitive.” And these ingredients don’t just irritate the eyes - they can contaminate your tears and even affect your meibomian glands, the structures along your eyelids that help produce the oil in your tears.

To combat this, get in the habit of looking at a product’s ingredient list before buying it. Some common cosmetic irritants include alcohol, DMDM Hydantoin, EDTA, formaldehyde, parabens, retinoids, sodium laureth sulfate, and urea. Or go directly to the source and ask your optometrist which beauty products they recommend for optimum eye safety. While these precautions do take a bit of time and effort, your eyes will thank you in the long run.

2: Be super cautious with eye makeup

Some common eye-enhancement practices and treatments often contribute to uncomfortable, scratchy eyes. For example, “waterlining” or “tightlining” - the trendy practice of applying eyeliner to the inner rims of the eyelid - can introduce chemicals into eyes and even block the meibomian glands. Keep liner only on the “dry” parts of your eyelids, and you’ll be much less likely to damage them. Another big offender: permanent or tattooed eyeliner. While always-on eye makeup is convenient, the inks that are used to draw the lines around the eyes often contain harmful metals like chromium, nickel, and lead. This can cause irritation of the skin around the eye (dermatitis), damage to your eye’s protective tear film, and even granulomatous reactions - growths in your eye caused by inflammation. (Not comfortable, and certainly not attractive!)

And of course, there’s eyelash extensions. The glues used to secure the extensions to your natural lashes give off formaldehyde gases, which can make eyes feel irritated and dry. (That’s the strong odor you smell when you walk into your eyelash studio.) Plus, studies show that people who use eyelash extensions are far less likely to properly clean their eye area, which can lead not only to dry eye, but eyelid inflammation (blepharitis). Lack of proper cleaning also makes it more likely you’ll develop demodex - a condition in which the eye area becomes contaminated with tiny parasitic mites.

Lastly, avoid glittery or sparkly products. They often contain mica or other minerals, which can cause eye redness, or even actual glitter, which can get into your eyes and cause infection.

Bottom line? Be picky about the products you use, and adopt the au naturel look when possible to give your eyes a break.

3. Wash your brushes

Be honest: When was the last time you washed that eyeshadow brush? (Yeah, we thought so.) It’s a beauty-routine step that’s often missed, but it’s an important one for eye health since dry eyes can be caused (or made worse) by irritation from contaminated products and cosmetic implements. Most experts recommend washing all brushes and sponges around once per week. To clean, choose a gentle soap and mix it on your palm with a little bit of water to make lather, then massage gently into your brushes and rinse with warm water. Gently squeeze out excess moisture and lay them flat to dry. So simple - and yet so overlooked.

Every once in a while, you should also do an age check on your beauty products, especially those that go around your eyes. Though they’re not required to do so in Canada, many cosmetics come with a special label on the package to show how long the product should be kept after opening.

If there’s no label, use these general guidelines for eye products:

  • Liquid eyeliner and mascara: discard after 3 months

  • Eyeshadow: discard after 1 year

  • Eye pencil: discard after 2 years

And speaking of dirty - clean your eyes! Even if it’s late, resist the temptation to fall asleep with eyes full of makeup. Use an oil-based eye makeup remover to gently wipe away liner, shadow, and mascara. By doing this, you’re far less likely to get makeup particles in your eyes, which can cause the growth of irritating microbes.

4: Choose eye creams wisely

Makeup isn’t the only cosmetic product that can cause dry eye - skin treatments are guilty as well. Anti-aging serums that claim to lessen dark circles and wrinkles around the eyes are popular, but they often contain retinoids. In high concentrations, retinoids can affect meibomian glands, ultimately leading to dryness.

Pay attention to the package that your eye cream comes in, too. When possible, pick products that come in tubes rather than pots. If they’re squeezed onto your (clean) fingers, they’re less likely to get contaminated than those that are dipped into.

Eyeing the truth

While an eye-friendly cosmetics routine isn’t guaranteed to get rid of dry eye, it’s a great step towards overall eye health. Dr. Sandra Chiu, owner of Carey Optical, takes a holistic approach to eye care in the Saugeen Shores area. Learn more at, or call 519-832-5000 for an appointment.

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