Eye infections happen when microorganisms in the form of bacteria, fungi, and viruses invade the eyeball or delicate surrounding areas of the eye like the cornea, membranes, and inner eyelids. The culprits can include contact lenses and mascara – yes, mascara!
Dry crusts, brittle bristles, flakes falling off the brush and other nasties… If you keep your mascara too long, bacteria may just find a breeding ground. According to ophthalmologists, bacteria that are naturally present in the eyes can be transferred into mascara via the wand. Mascara contains preservatives that prevent bacteria from breeding, so it is typically considered to be safe for about three months, which is about the amount of time the preservatives are designed to last.
“Cosmetics, especially mascara and eyeliner, can be conveyors of pathogens that can cause serious eye infections,” warns Terrence P. O’Brien, MD, the director of ocular microbiology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, FL. “Cosmetics can support the growth of other pathogens. You are bringing a dangerous enemy on to the scene. It’s like inviting a group of felons to your home for an open house.”
So now you know why it is always a bad idea to share eye makeup with anyone or use testers in department stores and beauty counters on your eyes! An additional warning for those of us who keep our mascara in our purses; heat can quickly degrade the preservatives, allowing bacteria to proliferate faster. It is recommend that you always store mascara in a cool place.
How long have you held onto that precious Dior Show silver wand? Well, as a matter of safety, you should toss your mascara after three months and replace it. If it has a bad smell or unusual color, it could be a sign that the product is contaminated.
“If you keep it long term, the preservative may not be active,” explains Jacqueline Carrasco, MD, an oculoplastic surgeon at Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia.
Overzealous mascara applications are also a no-no. When applying mascara, stop at two coats. Multiple layers can plug the oil glands along the edge of eyelids, causing sties, Carrasco says. “I have seen what mascara on the eyelashes looks like under the microscope, and it is not pretty!”
Keeping lashes clean and fresh requires maintenance. Make sure you get all traces of impurities and residue during your nightly ritual of taking your makeup off. “Scrub the eyelashes with baby shampoo or make up remover,” she says.
We love Talika Lash Conditioning Cleanser (ARV $27), a gentle formula specially designed to wipe away all traces of mascara and leaves your eyes feeling clean and fresh. Talika is formulated without oil so it won’t clog up your lash follicles, and it also strengthens lashes and keeps them from falling out.
And please don’t ever apply mascara in a moving vehicle whether you are driving or the passenger. You might be surprised to learn how many women show up in the offices of ophthalmologists with scratched corneas and eye infections from poking themselves in the eye, O’Brien says. “It can cause an abrasion on the cornea and can even be vision-threatening,” he says.
Allergies are another risk. Some women may develop allergies to something in the mascara—whether the formaldehyde used as a preservative or something else. It could be completely innocuous to your BFF, but cause your eyelids to itch and chafe, he says.
Think false eyelashes are a better bet? Think again. “The glue can irritate the eyelid and these and lashes become a breeding grounds for bacteria,” Carrasco says. Formaldehyde-based eyelash adhesives may also cause allergies and infections, the American Academy of Ophthalmology warns.
NOTE: Stop using your eye makeup and contact your eye doctor if you notice any signs of eye infection, allergy or trauma.