Eyeliner Particles Can Move into Your Eyes

By Sherry Baker @SherryNewsViews
June 01, 2015

Eyeliner particles can give you irritated and infected eyes instead of more beautiful ones.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that makeup can become contaminated with disease-causing bacteria. That’s why it’s potentially dangerous to use old cosmetics, share your makeup, try opened makeup samples at retail stores, and use beauty products moistened with saliva.

But now there’s evidence one type of makeup — eyeliner — can hold risks, even when it’s brand-new.

Researchers found for the first time that particles from pencil eyeliner used on the inner eyelid and inside the eyelash line quickly migrate into the tear film (the thin coating protecting the eye). The result can be irritation, redness and, for some people, eye infections and vision problems, according to a study headed by Alison Ng, MD, of the Center for Contact Lens Research at Waterloo in Ontario.  

Ng and colleagues used video recordings to document and compare the amount of eyeliner particles that moved into the tear film after volunteers applied glitter eyeliner in different styles, including outside and inside the eyelash line and along the inner lid area closer to the eye.

"We noticed that the makeup migration happened quicker and was greater when eyeliner was put on the inner lid margin," Ng said.

In fact, it took less than 5 minutes after eyeliner was applied to the inside of the lash line for 15 to 30 percent more particles from the makeup to travel into the eye's tear film, compared to eyeliner that was applied outside of the lash area.

The eyeliner particles entering the tear film decreased quickly and, after 2 hours, there was only a tiny amount of eyeliner residue left in the eye. But that doesn’t mean the possible danger from the makeup was gone.

Eyeliner particles, which typically contain oils, waxes, silicones, and natural gums, can leave the tear film altered, according to Ng and her research team. The result, especially for those with dry or sensitive eyes, can be discomfort, redness, irritation, and even vision woes.

Eyeliner poses extra risks for contact lens wearers. When the waxes and oils contained in the makeup enter the eye, they can stick and build up on contact lenses used more than one day — leading not only to irritation but also the risk of infections from bacteria and blurred vision.

"If they have eyeliner stuck to their lenses, increasing deposits might cause vision disruption as the lens becomes cloudier,” Ng explained.

If you are going to use eyeliner, there are some precautions that decrease your risk of experiencing eye problems from the cosmetic. "If you thoroughly sharpen your pencil eyeliner before each application and get rid of the stuff that's stuck to the end, you'll have a fresh tip which can help prevent infection," Ng said. "With twist-up eyeliner, cut some off the end before each use. And always make sure to fully remove eye makeup before bed."

The National Eye Institute notes that many cosmetics, including mascara, face creams, and eyebrow pencil, can cause allergies that affect the cornea, the eye’s outermost dome-shaped surface. If you experience redness, itching, stinging, or other symptoms after applying a cream or makeup near your eyes, wash your face quickly and avoid contact with the offending cosmetic in the future.

Most eye cosmetics are safe when used correctly. The FDA offers tips on avoiding bacterial infections from contaminated makeup and injuries from applicators, as well as information on unapproved and potentially dangerous eye makeup additives.


March 25, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN