By Eyecare NG

Introduction   |   Risks   |   Safety Tips for Use   |   What to Do When Problems Develop


Eye makeup products are cosmetics that are applied to the eye region (eyelashes, brows and eyelids) mostly to enhance facial appearance and beauty. These cosmetics enhance the appearance of the eye, making it more noticeable and attractive.  They can also be used to create some special facial effects for stage performances and films.

Thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt and Greece, these products were used not just for cosmetic purposes but also as medicinal remedies and for religious rites. In modern times, many cultures and traditions still use traditional eye makeup for medicinal purposes.

There are different eye makeup products. They include mascara, eyeshadow, eyeliner and traditional eye makeup such as Kohl or Tiro (Yoruba) or Tozelli (Hausa) or Otangele (Igbo).

Risks associated with eye makeup

Eye makeup is generally safe, attractive and appreciated by many but poses a risk to eye health if the precautions for use are not taken. Some of the risks are directly from the cosmetic products themselves. Others are due to body reactions to the chemical components of the products or from the materials used in applying them. Here’s a list of risks associated with eye makeup:

Foreign body in the eye

Bits of eye makeup products can get deposited into the eye during use resulting in irritation and discomfort. Sometimes, these deposits accumulate in the eye over a long period of time such that they get embedded deeply under the eyelid or on the cornea and conjunctiva. This can cause scarring, development of new blood vessels and roughening of the surface of the eye. The roughened eye surface can make blinking uncomfortable leading to reduced blinking and dry eye syndrome.

Corneal injury (Abrasion and Ulcer)

Corneal injury can occur if deposits of eye makeup products get trapped under the eyelids and scratch the cornea during blinks. It can also occur if the eye makeup applicator accidentally pokes the eye. If not managed properly, a scratched cornea (corneal abrasion) can get infected and result to a corneal ulcer which usually leaves a scar on healing. Corneal scar can result to blindness if the whole cornea is affected or the scar obstructs the visual axis.

Allergic and inflammatory reactions

Some eye makeup products contain ingredients that may cause allergic reactions in some people. These reactions may be characterized by swelling, red and teary eyes, itchy eyelids and more.

Eye infections

Eye infections like conjunctivitis and blepharitis could occur due to unhygienic use of eye makeup. On the other hand, eye makeup can also worsen existing eye infection. Eye infection due to eye makeup use is common among people who share these makeup products with others or who use them past their expiry dates.

Exposure to dangerous substances

Some eye makeup products contain toxic substances that pose a risk to the eyes and the general health of an individual. Exposure to toxic substances like lead is common among those who use certain traditional eye makeup or unlicensed makeup products. Lead and other dangerous heavy metals can accumulate over time in the body with use of these products. High levels of lead in the body can damage the kidney, bone marrow and the brain leading to convulsion, coma and death.

Dry eye syndrome

Eye makeup can cause or worsen dry eye syndrome if not applied properly. Heavy eye makeup can clog the meibomian glands (the oily gland in the eyelid responsible for the production of the oily layer of the tear film) leading to Meibomian gland dysfunction (a condition in which the meibomian glands fail to secrete adequate and quality oil). This causes the tears on the surface of the eye to dry out quickly leading to dry eye syndrome.

Eye makeup safety tips

The following are safety tips for the use, application and removal of eye makeup. They can significantly lower the risks of infections and injuries due to eye makeup use.

  • Choose good and trusted eye makeup brands. Avoid traditional eye makeup and unlicensed products.
  • Take precautions to prevent deposits of eye makeup from getting into your eyes. You can do this by closing each eye while applying makeup to it and/or avoiding eye makeup products that easily flake off the skin.
  • Keep your hands steady and make sure you have enough room around you while applying eye makeup. Unsteady hands and unanticipated contact with someone or an object can result in injury to the eye with the makeup applicator. Hence, applying makeup in a moving vehicle should be completely avoided.
  • Do not share eye makeup products with others.
  • Never use makeup products past their expiry dates.
  • Do not apply eye makeup when you have an eye condition like blepharitis or conjunctivitis. These conditions can get worse with eye makeup use. Hence, it is better to allow the conditions to clear up before resuming eye makeup use. If you had an infection, replace your eye makeup to avoid reinfection. If you had an allergy that may be due to eye makeup, change to a hypoallergenic brand.
  • Replace your eye makeup often as germs can build up in the makeup container over time. The general recommendation is every 3 months for mascara and every 6 months for eyeshadows. However, to prevent a reinfection after an eye infection, replace your eye makeup products whether or not the recommended replacement schedule has elapsed.
  • Remove your eye makeup completely before bedtime.  This prevents the colonization of your eyelids and lashes by organisms that cause blepharitis. You can use water and baby shampoo to remove your eye makeup. Baby wipes can also be used, but they may not be good enough for oily or water-proof makeup. In this case, an oil-based eye makeup cleanser or wipe that suits your skin may be a better option.
  • Know your allergies and avoid any makeup that contains substances that you are allergic to.
  • Ensure that you do not use kohl for any reason especially for children as they can be dangerous to health.
  • If you are a contact lens wearer, insert your contact lenses before applying your eye makeup and remove them before wiping your makeup off. This ensures that makeup deposits do not deposit on your contact lenses or get trapped under them. Makeup deposits trapped under contact lenses can scratch the cornea and increase the risk of eye infection.

What to do if problems develop due to eye makeup use

  • If you notice that you are allergic to your eye makeup, stop using them and change to a brand that is suitable for sensitive eyes.
  • If makeup deposits get into your eyes, flush your eyes thoroughly with clean running water. Usually, the water will flush out the deposits from your eyes. If you still feel the deposits in your eye after flushing it with water, see your eye doctor.
  • If you poke your eyes with the applicator of your eye make-up, see your eye doctor to assess the extent of the damage and treat appropriately. Never self-medicate an injury inside the eye as the condition may get worse.
  • If you have an eye infection or concerns about your eye health, consult your eye doctor.