Dr. Carolyn MacNeil

Optometrist at Insight Eye Care

Dr. Alison Ng

Clinical Scientist at CORE

What's in your cosmetics?

Have you ever read the ingredients on your cosmetic eye products?
Or better yet… do you know what these products could do to your eyes?

The eyes may be the window to your soul, but they can also be the window of opportunity for infection, irritants or allergens. Don’t panic! This post isn’t intended to convince you to never reach for that mascara brush again, but instead to help you discover how you can do so safely. Let’s start with which products and techniques you can modify to improve your ocular health.


During an eye exam, your optometrist may observe small flakes of mascara along the eyelids and in the tear film that covers your eye. The small mascara particles may cause irritation and discomfort. Additionally, waterproof mascara is extremely difficult to remove and can build up on your eyelids. Removing may not be as easy as you would think. Eyelash breakage and loss can occur if you try to remove this type of mascara with only soap and water. It is important to use an oil base cleaner for removal.1

Always keep in mind that no matter how late you are running, never apply eye cosmetics while in a moving vehicle. A mascara wand can cause corneal abrasions if brushed against the surface of the eye.

Source: Research Gate

Mascara Tips: Avoid waterproof and fibre mascaras. Replace your mascara every three months. Remove mascara nightly and use oil-based lid cleansers for the removal of waterproof products.


Eyeliner that has been applied to lash margin along the “water-line”, also known as ’tightlining’, can migrate more quickly into your tear film compared to when it is applied to the lower lash line.2 Tightlining also covers the openings to the oil glands, meibomian glands, in your eyelids. The materials in eyeliner (ie. wax) may induce inflammation, clog the gland orifices and lead to meibomian gland dysfunction.3 Symptoms of meibomian gland dysfunction include burning, grittiness, and fluctuations in your vision.4
Source: Image by Dr. Doerte Luensmann and Jalaiah Varikooty

Eyeliner Tips: Avoid applying along the inner eyelid margin. Instead, apply the eyeliner anterior to the water line. Sharpen your pencil prior to each use.

Eye Shadow

The skin along your eyelids is very thin and easily absorbs chemicals.5 Certain colorants that are used in eyeshadow and powders, such as carmine and bismuth oxychloride, may cause allergic contact dermatitis.6 Additionally, colored pigments may contain heavy metals and metalloids that can contribute to allergic reactions.7 Signs and symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis include itchy skin, swelling, red rash, burning or hives.8 Similar to other eye cosmetics, eyeshadow powder may migrate into the tear film through blinking, accidental rubbing of the eyelids or during application.7
Source: Dermatology Advisor

Eyeshadow Tip: For powder eyeshadows, tap your brush over the sink before application to avoid loose particles.

Removers and Cleansers

Micelle-based cleansers are useful for removing oil-based and water-based products from the skin surface.5 As previously mentioned, oil-based removers, such as We Love Eyes, are best used for waterproof cosmetics. Various companies also produce pre-moistened lid wipes that can be used for eyelid hygiene, to treat blepharitis and to remove eye cosmetics. At Insight Eye Care, we carry the tea tree oil based remover by We Love Eyes, Blephaclean, Blephadex Eyelid Wipes and Systane Lid Wipes.

Remover Tips: Patients with sensitive skin should rinse with water after use to remove any residual surfactants from the skin.

Preservatives to Avoid

Preservatives are designed to extend a product’s shelf life and prevent the growth of microorganisms. However, these ingredients can also have side effects that are harmful to your health. Here are the top preservatives to avoid:

Formaldehyde/ Formaldehyde Donors

  • DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, bromopol, glyoxal
  • Check for it in shampoo, face washes, and make up removing wipes.
  • These ingredients can slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde, a human carcinogen, that can be absorbed through the skin or irritate your eyes.9


  • Check for it in eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, concealer/foundation, moisturizers, sunscreens, soaps and make up removers
  • May cause allergic reactions including eczema and hives.10

How do I determine if a product is safe?

There is no one brand or product that is guaranteed to be issue-free. However, with a bit of investigation, you can find products that minimize the use of harmful chemicals. Pay attention to the country in which the product was manufactured. In an effort to protect the health of the public, the European Union developed Directive 76/768/EEC. It is their main law on the safety of cosmetics. It states that cosmetic products must not be harmful under normal or foreseeable conditions of use, requires that ingredients be defined in terms of safety before they are available on the market and provides a list of banned substances. Other countries are slightly less prohibitive on the ingredients used by manufacturing companies.7

The Cosmetic Ingredients Review, https://www.cir-safety.org/, publish guidelines with respect to which ingredients are permitted in cosmetic products and the maximum dosages with which they are allowed to be used.

INCI Beauty is an application that allows you to quickly determine the ingredients of your products by simply scanning the barcode.You can also search through lists of products for comparison.

Source: INCI Beauty

Cosmetic Shopping Sources

Shop Insight

Cleansers, Eye Makeup Removers, Eye Drops

Eyes Are The Story

Cleansers, Eyeliner, Mascara

Lily Lolo


Eye Drop Shop

Eye Drops

We Love Eyes

Cleansers and Oil-Based Eye Makeup Removers

Petit Vour

Cleansers, Eyeliner, Mascara

Learn More

If you are interested in learning more about the impacts of eye cosmetics, please visit:​

Dr. Jennifer Lyerly

Dr. Laura Periman, Dr. Leslie O’Dell, Amy Gallant Sullivan


Don’t share your cosmetic products.
Replace products at the recommended time.
Remove all cosmetics before bed.
Clean your brushes regularly.
Avoid harsh chemicals.
See your optometrist if you experience any adverse effects.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Dr. Doerte Luensmann and Jalaiah Varikooty


1. Kadri, R., Achar, A., Tantry, T. P., Parameshwar, D., Kudva, A., & Hegde, S. (2013). Mascara induced milphosis, an etiological evaluation. International journal of trichology, 5(3), 144–147. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-7753.125611
2. Ng, A., Evans, K., North, R. V., & Purslow, C. (2015). Migration of Cosmetic Products into the Tear Film. Eye & contact lens, 41(5), 304–309. https://doi.org/10.1097/ICL.0000000000000124
3. Prabhasawat, P., Chirapapaisan, C., Chitkornkijsin, C., Pinitpuwadol, W., Saiman, M., & Veeraburinon, A. (2020). Eyeliner Induces Tear Film Instability and Meibomian Gland Dysfunction. Cornea, 39(4), 473–478. https://doi.org/10.1097/ICO.0000000000002198
4. American Optometric Association.(2018, September 4). The ABCs of MGD. https://www.aoa.org/news/clinical-eye-care/the-abcs-of-
5. Ng, Alison, Evans, Katharine, North, Rachel, Jones, Lyndon & Purslow, Christine. (2016). Impact of Eye Cosmetics on the Eye, Adnexa, and Ocular Surface. Eye & Contact Lens: Science & Clinical Practice, 42, 211-220. https://doi.org/10.1097/ICL.0000000000000181
6. Shaw, Daniel. (2009). Allergic Contact Dermatitis from Carmine. Dermatitis, 20, 292-295. https://doi.org/10.2310/6620.2009.09025
7. Świerczek, L., Cieślik, B., Matysiak, A. et al. Determination of heavy metals in eyeshadows from China. Monatsh Chem 150, 1675–1680 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00706-019-02467-7
8. American Academy of Dermatology. (n.d.). Contact Dermatitis. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/
9. David Suzuki Foundation.(n.d.). The Dirty Dozen: Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. https://davidsuzuki.org/queen-of-green/dirty-dozen-formaldehyde-releasing-preservatives/.
10. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.(n.d.).Phenoxyethanol. http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-