Whether you’re applying makeup every day, for a special occasion, or for a performance, it’s important to be especially careful around your eyes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates all cosmetics marketed in the U.S., including mascaras, eye shadows, eye liners, concealers, and eyebrow pencils.
Most eye-area cosmetics generally have not raised safety concerns when used properly. To help you avoid the risk of infection, injury from an applicator, or use of an unapproved color additive, here are tips from the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN).
Eye Cosmetic Safety Tips
- Keep everything clean. Dangerous bacteria or fungi can grow in some cosmetic products, as well as their containers. Cleanliness can help prevent eye infections.
- Always wash your hands before applying eye-area cosmetics and be sure that any instrument you place near your eyes is clean. Be especially careful not to contaminate cosmetics by introducing microorganisms. For example, don’t lay an eyelash wand on a countertop where it can pick up bacteria or fungi. Keep containers clean, since these may also be a source of contamination.
- Don’t moisten cosmetic products. Don’t add saliva or water to moisten eye cosmetics. Doing so can introduce microbes and overpower a product’s preservative capacity.
- Don’t share or swap. People can be harmed by others’ germs when they share eye makeup. Keep this in mind when you come across “testers” at retail stores. If you do sample cosmetics at a store, be sure to use single-use applicators, such as clean cotton swabs.
- Avoid using eye cosmetics if you have an eye infection. Discard any eye-area cosmetics you were using when you got the infection. Also, don’t use eye-area cosmetics if the skin around the eye is inflamed.
- Use only cosmetics intended for the eye area on the eyes. Don’t use a lip liner as an eye liner, for example. You may expose eyes either to contamination from your mouth or to color additives that are not approved for use in the eye area.
Preventing Injuries, Allergic Reactions, and Irritations
- Don’t apply or remove eye makeup in a moving vehicle. Any bump or sudden stop can cause injury to your eye with a mascara wand or other applicator.
- Use care with false eyelashes or extensions. False eyelashes and extensions, as well as their adhesives, must meet applicable safety and labeling requirements for cosmetics. Since the eyelids are delicate, an allergic reaction, irritation, or injury in the eye area can occur. Check the ingredients to make sure you are not allergic to the adhesives.
- Stop using a product immediately if irritation occurs. See a doctor if irritation persists.
Avoiding Unapproved Color Additives or Unapproved Uses of Color Additives
- Check ingredients. Cosmetic products sold on a retail basis to consumers, including eye-area cosmetics, are required to have an ingredient declaration on the label. If they don’t, they are considered misbranded.
- In the U.S., the use of color additives is strictly regulated. Some color additives approved for cosmetic use in general are not approved for use in the areas near the eyes. For products sold on a retail basis, you can check to see whether the color additives declared on the label are in FDA’s List of Color Additives Permitted for Use in Cosmetics.
- Say “no” to kohl! Also known as al-kahl, kajal, or surma, kohl is used in some parts of the world for enhancing the appearance of the eyes. Kohl contains salts of heavy metals such as antimony and lead. Reports have linked the use of kohl to lead poisoning in children. Kohl is not an approved color additive for cosmetic use in the U.S. Check the ingredient statement to make sure that kohl is not present. Some eye-area cosmetics may be labeled with the word "kohl" only to indicate the shade, not because they contain true kohl.
- Never dye your eyebrows or eyelashes at home. This can hurt your eyes and cause permanent skin discoloration. You might even go blind.
- The FDA has provided for the safe use of silver nitrate as a color additive, in professional-use only cosmetics, to color eyebrows and eyelashes. Use is restricted to not more than 4 percent silver nitrate (by weight) in a viscous product. These silver nitrate containing cosmetic products are not for use on persons under the age of 16 or for application for longer than 1 minute. Furthermore, these products are intended for professional-use only, not for retail sale to consumers. Misuse of these products can hurt your eyes and cause permanent skin discoloration.
Storing and Discarding Eye Cosmetics
- Don’t use old eye cosmetics. Manufacturers usually recommend discarding mascara two to four months after purchase. Discard dried-up mascara.
- Don’t store cosmetics at temperatures above 85° F. Preservatives that keep bacteria or fungi from growing can lose their effectiveness, for example, in cosmetics kept for long periods in hot cars.