How to avoid damaging your eyes with make up


How to avoid damaging your eyes with make up

As a leading Ophthalmologist and founder of OKKIYO, Dr Jacqueline Beltz sees many patients with sensitive eyes.  They are often embarrassed to ask her about wearing eye make up, but many really want to know the best mascara for sensitive eyes, or the best hypoallergenic mascara.  Some just want to know how to avoid damaging their eyes with make up.  For some reason, people are shy to ask because there’s a perception that make up is not important.  Make up is about feeling strong, powerful and in control.  It’s not just about looking beautiful.  It is important.  Having a sensitivity or a health condition shouldn’t be a barrier – sometimes it’s even more important to feel powerful after a surgery or when you have allergies, or when you’re not feeling so great.

For most people with sensitive eyes, it is ok to wear eye make up.  It’s critical to use clean products that are not flakey or pro-inflammatory and that the products do not contain unnecessary irritants or allergens such as fragrance or some preservatives.  It’s also important to be careful when applying and remove products thoroughly but delicately.

If you have dry eye or sensitive eyes, or if you just want to look after your eyes really well, you might like to read on to find out how Jacqui recommends we avoid damaging our eyes with make up

  • Choose products that have purposefully been produced to be safe for your eyes

Always look after your eyes.  Even if a product is labelled hypoallergenic, or ophthalmologist tested, it’s important to dive more deeply.

The term hypoallergenic is not regulated within the cosmetics industry.  What that means is that there is no actual testing required to be able to make that claim.  In general, we think that having this term on the label is a good sign.  The term indicates at least intent from the company that their product should be suitable for people with sensitive eyes, but it’s important to be able to find out what sort of testing has taken place.  At the very least, a product should be free of common allergens or irritants.  Ideally, the product should have undergone rigorous testing with the study details and results available for the public.

Remember that even if a product has been properly allergy tested, and even if it does not contain common allergens or irritants, it’s still possible to have a reaction to any product.  If that occurs, discontinue use, remove all traces of the product, apply a cool compress and let things settle.  If necessary, seek medical advice or have your eyes checked by your eye health professional.

Oh, and if you have sensitive eyes, it’s a good idea to test out anything new when you’re at home and not in a rush or about to go out.  In that way you can wear the new prodcut for a while and then remove it if irritation occurs.

The term “ophthalmologist tested” is also not always regulated.  There are no consistent guidelines or specific tests that need to be done to make that claim.  OKKIYO is the Worlds first cosmetics brand actually created by an ophthalmologist specifically for people with sensitive eyes, so you can be sure we will do everything possible to make sure our products are suitable.

Not only have all OKKIYO products been created especially for people with sensitive eyes, but they are currently undergoing vigorous allergy and independent ophthalmologist testing.

  • Turnover your products every 3 months and never share mascara

It’s really important that your eye make up products, brushes and applicators remain clean.  Common mistakes include misusing products, sharing products, or storing them incorrectly.  The eye area is delicate and sensitive.  Infections can be blinding and should never be ignored.  We do not want to let dangerous bacteria or fungi grow in our eye make up products!  Our sight is absolutely too precious to let that happen.

Although shelf life might be 6 months, if you have sensitive eyes we recommend turning over your products every 3 months.  This is especially important for mascara.  It’s a great idea to make a note of your opening date, or to sign up for a subscription so you get sent a new one as a reminder every 3 months.

Along the same lines of cleanliness, it’s really important not to share or swap eye make up products with anybody else.  Ever.  We recommend particular caution with testers or with in store make up applications, although usually single use applicators would be used in these settings.

Woman carefully applying mascara, whilst smiling

  • Avoid Eyeliner on your waterline

Eyeliner can go either under or over the lashes.  When it’s inside the lashes, right on the edge near the eyeball, that’s called tight-lining or water-lining.  It gives the eyes a really dramatic appearance, but should be reserved for special occasions.

The eyelid margins house the openings of our meibomian glands.  There’s about 20 of these glands in each of the upper and lower eyelids.  The Meibomian Glands produce the lipid or oily component of our tear film which is really important for keeping our tears healthy and inside our eyes.

Many people have skin types or conditions that make them prone to inflammation of the lid margins or meibomian glands.  This can lead to the glands not functioning properly – Meibomian Gland Dysfunction – or to generalised inflammation of the skin in that area – blepharitis.  Damage to the Meibomian Glands can be permanent.

It’s really easy for the openings of the Meibomian Glands to become blocked up with the oil that they produce, with little bits of skin or bacteria, but also by make up.  The oil that they produce then becomes stagnant, goes rancid, and causes inflammation that can become long standing and damaging to this delicate area.

It’s best to keep eye liner away from the water line.  This allows the delicate balance of the surface of the eye to be maintained and for your eyelids to remain healthy.  Perhaps just tight-line for special occasions, and be sure to remove all traces thoroughly at the end of the day or night.

Image showing eyeliner applied above the eyelashes of the upper eyelid.

  • Never ever sleep in your eye make up

Every trace of eye make up should be removed at the end of the day.  Sleeping in make up is never a good idea.  You’ll regret it in the morning and your eyes will look and feel terrible.  Always take the time to thoroughly remove eye make up with a dedicated product.  OKKIYO cleansing balm and OKKIYO cleansing cloths have been specifically developed for this purpose.

It’s important to avoid rubbing your eyes when removing eye make up.  The cornea, which is the clear window at the front of the eye, can be permanently damaged from repeated eye rubbing, leading to loss of vision over time.  Also, it’s bad for your delicate eyelid skin to rub it – rubbing the eyes can cause wrinkles and loss of vision!

For further information on how to remove make up and cleanse your eyelids and lashes, click here.

  • Avoid glittery eyeshadows

Remember that rule about not wearing glitter after 40?  It’s rubbish!  We love glitter and don’t believe in rules when it comes to something as temporary as make up.  You should be able to do what you like.  BUT … you don’t want to get glitter in your eyes, especially if your eyes are already sensitive.

If you do have sensitive eyes, cream eyeshadows are amazing, especially if they are water-based.  These should be nice and gentle on your eyes.

One thing that can help a lot is eyelid primer.  This helps to avoid slippage or fall out from eye shadow.  Place it early in your routine.  If you don’t have any eyelid primer, dab a little bit of concealer across your eyelids.  It will have a similar effect.

If you do get glitter in your eyes, it will float around in your tear film, potentially causing grittiness and irritation.  Wait until your mascara is dry and then flush the glitter out with artificial tear drops.  Any tear drops will be fine as long as they are your own and in date. It’s a good idea to have some in your cosmetics cupboard.  Place a few drops and blink lightly – avoid those hard, scrunchy blinks as that’s a sure way to wreck the work you’ve already done on your look!

Woman applying neutral looking eyeshadow to the top eyelid with care.

  • Apply eye make up with a steady hand

It might seem obvious, but you need to concentrate when you’re applying your eye make up.  You don’t need to have surgeon-steady hands, but you do need to pay attention, keep breathing and hold as steady as you can.  If you struggle, support your elbow on the mirror to avoid your arm dangling in mid-air.  Sit down if that’s better for you.  Support your wrist too if you’re still struggling.

Eye make up application is not a good time to multi-task.  Any seconds saved by applying mascara in the car or on the tram will be eaten up by pain, wateriness, needing to fix smudges or worse if you accidentally poke your eye.  If you do poke yourself in the eye, stop for a few moments, have a few blinks and self-assess.  A scratch on the front of the eye can be very painful.  An ice pack very lightly placed over the closed eye does help, but you will need to see your eye health professional if it doesn’t settle down within a few minutes. 


Remember to always look after your eyes.  Eye make up is amazing and can really change the way that you look and feel. It can also be safe and healthy for your eyes, especially if you:

  • Thoughtfully choose products that have been produced with eye health in mind
  • Turnover your mascara every 3 months and never share
  • Place eyeliner away from your waterline
  • Remove all traces of eye make up before going to bed
  • Choose cream based, non-glittery eyeshadows
  • Concentrate and steady your hands

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Dr Jacqueline Beltz sitting at a table, smiling wearing a bright orange suit.

Dr Jacqueline Beltz, BMedSci (Hons), MBBS, FRANZCO, MSurgEd(Hons) is one of Australia’s leading cataract, cornea and laser eye surgeons.  She has almost 20 years of experience in eye health, is Chair of the Australian and New Zealand Cornea Society and was recently elected as Co-President of the Australasian Society for Cataract and Refractive Surgeons.  Jacqueline works at Eye Surgery Associates, Melbourne and Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.  She recently completed 6 years as Director of Training for the Victorian Branch of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists and 10 years as Associate Medical Director of the Lions Eye Donation Service, Victoria.  Jacqueline loves ophthalmology, sees many patients every week and is always striving to improve, both personally and professionally.

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