How Makeup and Beauty Products Affect Chronic Dry Eye

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

A study from 2017 found that on average, men and women spend more than $3,300 per year on makeup and beauty products. This adds up to more than $200,000 over the course of a lifetime. Most wear these products, including makeup, facial creams, and moisturizers, every day.1

When it comes to dry eye symptoms, it is not only your pocketbook that may suffer. Studies have shown that makeup and beauty products can cause or make your dry eye symptoms worse.1-3

To make matters worse, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently require makeup companies to list ingredients that are less than 1 percent of the total ingredients. This is a problem for anyone using these products, since toxic chemicals can be used daily, causing or making dry eye worse.2


Retinol is a molecule that is derived from vitamin A. Retinol is used in skin creams and under-eye serums to slow the signs of aging. Some studies have shown that retinol can damage the meibomian glands of the eyes, which are responsible for the oily (lipid) layer of the tears. With less oil in the tears, the tears evaporate more quickly, leading to dry eye symptoms.2,3

Waterproof eye makeup

Waterproof eyeliner and mascara have ingredients that allow them to stick to your eyelids and lashes. Harsh chemicals in eye makeup removers are needed to dissolve the waterproof makeup. Both the makeup and remover may lead to irritation of the eyes.2,3

Sparkly eyeshadows

Sparkly eyeshadows can worsen dry eyes, and glitter is another common cause of eye irritation. Minerals in the shadow that add sparkle can embed in the eye tissues, causing irritation.2


Parabens are chemicals that are used as artificial preservatives in many cosmetic and skincare products. Parabens can affect the hormones in your body. This can lead to a decrease in function of the meibomian gland cells. Parabens have also been shown to be toxic and irritating to the surface of the eye. These factors can all lead to chronic dry eye and complicate diagnosis.2,4

False eyelashes

False eyelashes can affect the normal protective abilities of your eyelashes. In particular, false eyelashes can impair the wind-deflecting capacity of your eyelashes. Windy conditions can dry out the surface of your eye. Additionally, if false eyelashes are not properly cleaned, bacteria and debris can build up and cause further eye irritation.2,3

Contact lenses and makeup

Contact lens use alone can lead to chronic dry eye. Contact lenses interfere with the tear film, and dry eye symptoms often get worse the longer a person wears contacts. Extended-wear contacts and sleeping in contacts may worsen dry eyes more so than daily contacts.5,6

When combined with eye makeup, your risk of dry eye symptoms increase. If you choose to wear contacts and makeup, your eye doctor may recommend that you insert your lenses before applying makeup. This may help prevent makeup from being trapped under the lenses and products from coating the contact lenses.2

A word about preservatives

Benzalkonium chloride (BAK) is the most commonly used preservative in over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops. BAK has been shown to cause further inflammation and irritation to the surface of the eye. Some experiments have shown that BAK can be toxic to the meibomian glands as well. Makeup removers have high concentrations of this preservative, putting the surface of the eye at risk of dry eye, night after night.2,5,7

Application habits

Makeup application habits can also add to your dry eye symptoms. Applying eyeliner too close to the surface of the eye may block the meibomian glands of your eye.2,3

Is hypoallergenic safe for dry eyes?

Not always. Because of the FDA regulations for makeup, some ingredients that could cause an allergic reaction may not be listed on the product you are using. It is always best to talk to your doctor about products you want to use in or around your eyes.3

Do I need to stop wearing makeup?

Having dry eye or being at risk for dry eye does not mean you cannot wear makeup. Online surveys conducted by Ophthalmology Management showed that nearly 90 percent of people do not talk to their eye doctor about the makeup they use.3

Begin by talking about your beauty routine with your eye doctor. Bring in your daily products for your doctor to see. Your doctor can let you know if these could be contributing to your dry eye symptoms.3

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