Logo for Jan Vorster Optometrists

Why do my eyes burn when I wear mascara?

When you’re experiencing dry, red, and watery eyes, your first thought might be to blame allergies. Sure, allergies from pollen and animal dander are common. More common though, are eye irritations from chemicals and substances making contact with your eyes.  

Products that come in close contact with your eyes, such as mascara and eyeliner, could irritate your eyes and worsen dry eye symptoms. If your itchy eyes come sans a runny nose, irritation rather than allergy is likely the cause. Your daily habits, in particular your makeup routine, could be causing your uncomfortable symptoms. 

While it is possible to have an allergic reaction caused by cosmetics, it’s much more likely that your eyes are sore because of irritation from the products themselves. It could even be from plain old tiredness and strain from wearing mascara all day!

How to avoid makeup-related eye irritation

Ingredients and chemicals in makeup products can irritate your eyes. Some products irritate your eyes simply through contact with your tear film – the membrane covering your eyeball. Your best bet for reducing systems is to eliminate the culprit. The most common culprit of makeup-related eye irritations is mascara!

Throw out old mascara

Mascara breaks down with age and can go bad, just like any other product. It’s typically designed to be used within two years of its expiration date, but some mascaras start breaking down before that point.

If you notice your mascara becoming hard or clumpy, it’s probably time to replace it. Your mascara can also dry out and separate, even after just a few months of use. This makes the formula difficult to spread evenly onto your lashes and causes irritation when particles drop into your eyes. It’s a good idea to check how old your mascara is before applying it again. You could be accidentally using an expired tube!

Watch out for irritating preservatives

A common cause of eye irritation is the preservatives used in makeup and mascara formulations. Preservatives are added to cosmetics for their antibacterial properties, but they can also irritate. In some cases, preservatives can be more irritating than an allergy to a specific ingredient (like fragrance). Preservatives used in mascara that can cause irritation include parabens and sodium benzoate.

Be careful of how you apply makeup

How and where you apply makeup can impact how your eyes react. Applying eyeliner on the inner part of your lash line means it is easier for the product to make contact with the tear film and cause irritation. Similarly, applying mascara on the underside of your lashes or using mascara that is dry and crumbly increases the chances of the product entering your eyes. Instead, apply eyeliner on the outside of the lash line and mascara on the upper side and tips of your lashes.

Consider using an anti-inflammatory serum on your eyelids before applying mascara. This is especially important if you have sensitive skin in that area or suffer from conjunctivitis (pink eye).

Practice makeup hygiene

Always remove mascara and eye makeup before going to bed at night to avoid products from rubbing into your eyes. It is also a good idea to wash makeup brushes regularly and sharpen eyeliner pencils every time you use them. Never share mascara or makeup brushes with other people, especially if you have sensitive eyes and skin. When your eyes are irritated or you have an eye infection, avoid eye makeup altogether.

Keep your eyes clean and lubricated

If your eyes are irritated, the best way to treat them is by washing off the offending makeup and using artificial tears. These can help moisten and soothe your eyes to bring some relief. You could also insert lubricating eye drops about 30 minutes before applying makeup.