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Does Makeup Cause Dry Eye?

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Woman touching her irritated eye due to dry eye caused by makeup.

Dry eye is one of the most common eye conditions and it can arise for a variety of different reasons. Typically, dry eye is caused by issues involving the tear ducts and oil ducts can manifest through symptoms such as redness, irritation, and blurry vision. Makeup can affect your eyes ability to produce tears and can contribute to the cause of dry eye. If you think you are experiencing dry eye, contact your optometrist and book an appointment to get your eyes evaluated.

What is Dry Eye?

Dry eye stems from the inability to produce quality tears that lubricate the surface of your eye. This can be due to an imbalance in the ratio of meibum (oil), water, and mucin contained in your tears. As well, dry eyes can arise from the inability to produce enough volume of  tears or from tears evaporating too quickly to get the intended and needed result of lubrication. 


  • Inadequate Tear Volume: If you do not produce enough tears regularly, then you will most likely be afflicted by dry eyes. Tears are produced by several different glands, which are located in and around your eyelids. Age, Certain medical conditions, and medications can also affect your ability to produce enough tears. Dry climate or wind can also cause your tears to evaporate too quickly, even if you produce enough tears.
  • Poor Tear Quality: If the ratio of mucin, water, meibum in your tears are imbalanced, then they will not properly lubricate your eyes surface and will lead to dry eye. Meibum forms a thin, protective coating over the tears surface that keeps your tears from evaporating too quickly. Water helps keep your eyes hydrated and comfortable. Mucin ensures that your tears form an even coating across the cornea.
  • Obstruction of Tear Ducts: If your tear ducts are blocked by a foreign substance, it will affect the ability to produce the proper volume of tears needed to lubricate your eye, and will potentially harm the quality of your tears.


Some symptoms of dry eye include:

  • Red eyes
  • Tired eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Grittiness
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Sensitivity to light
  • A stringy discharge
  • Watery eyes
  • Increased glare, particularly while driving at night
  • Stinging/burning

Risk Factors

These factors will increase the likelihood of you developing dry eyes.


If you currently have dry eyes, these are some of the effects it can have on your life.

  • Eye infections. Without an adequate volume or quality of tears, you may have an increased risk of eye infection.
  • Damage to the surface of your eyes. Dry eye may lead to eye inflammation, abrasion of the corneal surface, and corneal ulcers.
  • Decreased quality of life. Dry eyes can make it difficult to perform a variety of everyday activities and can be a hindrance in almost every situation. It can be very bothersome, uncomfortable, even painful for some individuals
Woman with green eyes uses makeup removal wipes to wipe her eyes

How Makeup Can Affect Your Eyes

Eye makeup can contaminate your eyes and block your oil ducts from producing enough meibum volume for high enough quality tears to properly lubricate your eye. Not all makeup is made safe or equal.  Because the skin around your eyes is very delicate, we want to ensure we are choosing the right makeup products that have clean, eye safe ingredients.  

Proper Application and Preparation to Avoid Dry Eye

Proper Removal Process to Avoid Dry Eye

  • Remove makeup every night before bed. If you sleep with eye makeup on, it can lead to the clogging of oil-producing glands on your eyelids and eye infections.
  • Avoid mineral oil, sodium lauryl sulfate, Diazolidinyl urea. aluminum powder, parabens, and propylene glycol.
  • Use makeup remover wipes that are not irritable, or use baby shampoo and a soft cloth to remove makeup.
  • If you have eyelash extensions, they must be cared for and cleaned otherwise build of bacteria and debris can lead to a risk for eye infections and inflammation
  • Replace your mascara at least every 3 months, as this can be a breeding ground for bacteria

What Types of Eye Makeup Should You Avoid?

  • Grainy and powdery makeup should be avoided if you do not want dry eyes. Any makeup that has tiny particles, or dries up and crumbles, is more likely to obstruct your tear ducts.
  • Use thickening mascara instead of lash-lengthening or waterproof, as it is less likely to dry up and crumble in your eyes.

Alternatives to Using Eye Makeup

Plastic Eyelash Curlers

These will reduce the amount of mascara you need to use and will cause less irritation overall compared to metal eyelash curlers.

Highlight Other Areas of Your Face

If you cannot wear eye makeup at all due to severe dry eye, you can always try to focus on highlighting other areas of your face to produce a similar effect compared to using eye makeup. This will allow you to avoid causing damage to your eyes and still make your eyes stand out. 

To help you highlight your eyes without the use of eyeshadow/eyeliner/mascara, you could try techniques such as facial rolling, hydrating gel eye masks (we recommend Alumier brand), and highlighting eye cream (also available through Alumier) to draw attention to your eyes.

Written by Dr. Asim Prasad

Dr. Asim Prasad is a native Calgarian who earned his Bachelorís of Science degree in Vision Science and Doctor of Optometry degree from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 2008. Before becoming an optometrist, Dr. Prasad earned a bachelorís degree in Environmental Science from the University of Alberta. After working in the environmental science industry for a short time, Dr. Prasad decided to pursue his true passion: optometry.
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