There’s little point of zealously mastering the art of tight-lining from endless YouTube tutorials if your watery, burning eyes make you reach for a makeup wipe almost immediately after. While we’ve all heard about the basics of appropriate eye makeup care, the problem extends well beyond the unhygienic build-up on the tip of your kohl pencil—the sensitive skin around your eyes isn’t quite as forgiving as the rest of your face and can be easily damaged with abrasive scrubs, makeup removers and even certain skincare ingredients like retinol. To help you navigate the minefield of potential infections and inflammations, we got celebrity dermatologist, Dr Harshna Bijlani, and Mumbai-based ophthalmologist, Dr Zain Khatib, to draw up a handy cheatsheet to identifying the hazards lying in your everyday beauty kit.
The skincare and makeup ingredients that may cause eye issues
According to Dr Khatib, the chemicals used in modern makeup can pose as a problem primarily due to the area of their application. “A classic example would be carbon black commonly found in mascara and eyeliners, which is fine if used outside the lash line. However, if applied inside, it can block the oil glands of the eyes that are present in the inner lash line. Obstructing these glands can alter the course of normal tears, resulting in a medical condition known as dry eye that manifests in the form of irritation, burning and even pain,” he explains. “Some of the ingredients you should avoid using around your eyes are abrasive scrubs that contains beads, products containing alcohol, medicated creams containing steroids and makeup products containing heavy metals, like nickel or chrome,” Dr Bijlani says.
“It is also advisable to watch out for products that contain parabens and BAK (benzalkonium chloride), preservatives that are generally used to increase the shelf life of a product. While BAK is toxic to the corneal epithelial cells, parabens can block the oil glands,” adds Dr Khatib. “Likewise, makeup containing glitter particles has to be applied very cautiously. Take extreme care to ensure that it does not go inside the eyes as this can adversely affect the corneal epithelial cells, leading to eye infections and inflammation.”
And while retinol has remained the subject of much speculation in the skincare industry, Dr Bijlani lays the debate to rest once and for all. “You can use retinol around the eyes, but care should be exercised when first using it because the skin around your eyes is thinner and more delicate than the rest of the face. If retinol is used in excess, it can potentially cause redness and irritation. A good way to begin using retinol would be to first mix a tiny amount with a moisturiser or eye cream and apply it just for a few hours, post which it should be wiped off. Repeat this method every alternate day for a couple of days to see how your skin is accepting it. Once you’re comfortable with it, you can leave it on for the entire night and gradually increase the quantity, duration or frequency, as recommended by your skincare expert. It is advisable to only use most retinols at night and not during the day, as they tend to make your skin more sensitive to the sun. If you’re planning a beach holiday, avoid using retinol for a few days leading up to the vacation and while you’re on holiday to ensure that you do not increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun,” she advises.
The formaldehyde found in eyelash glues serves as another bone of contention. “A bad quality eyelash glue could over-stick to your lashes and rip them out in the process of taking out your falsies. Wear the right amount of glue, more on the sides and less in the centre, and spread it evenly to make sure your lashes stay on without damaging the skin around your lashes. If you feel any burning or itching sensation when getting your eyelashes done, you could likely be allergic to the ingredients and should consult a doctor immediately. Magnetic eyelashes are currently gaining popularity, and the absence of damaging glue makes them preferable to the stick-on options,” she adds.
The everyday beauty habits you must avoid
Apart from reading the label closely when making your skincare purchases, Dr Khatib also advises taking a finer look at your daily beauty habits to weed out any future possibilities of eye infections. “Before throwing away the packaging of your makeup products, make a note of the expiry dates to ensure you aren’t using them indefinitely. If used after shelf life, makeup products can serve as a thriving source of bacteria and organisms that can cause eye infections. It is advisable to avoid sharing kohl pencils and eyeliners to negate the contamination of ocular flora and corresponding infections. Also, do not apply eye makeup in a moving vehicle, as unforeseen bumps and potholes can accidentally damage the cornea. Use sharpened pencils when possible, because blunt tips can spread the product inside the lash line and cause blockage of the oil glands,” he says. Dr Bijlani seconds the notion. “If you feel that your makeup look is incomplete without applying eyeliner on the waterline, you can reduce the chances of infection by sharpening your pencil before each use to get rid of the build-up at the end. For twist-up eyeliner, you can choose to cut some off the end before each use to create a fresh tip,” she says.
If you’ve been confused with the advent of makeup removers for specific parts of the face, most notably the eyes, the Dr Bijlani helps decode the difference. “Apart from minor changes in the formulation for the sensitive skin around the eyes, the most common difference between eye makeup removers and the ones for the face is texture and type. Most eye makeup removers are oil-, gel- or cream-based to make it taking off stubborn waterproof makeup easier. People generally tend to use an oil-free makeup remover for their face, which is ideal to avoid blocked pores due to excessive oil. However, it is recommended that you use oil-based or creamier makeup removers for eyes and lips. This is because water-based, non-oily makeup removers like micellar water may need you to scrub your eyes or lips multiple times to take off the stubborn makeup, resulting in damage to the delicate skin around the eyes.”