Health Encyclopedia

Old Makeup Can Cause Serious Eye Infections

That mascara wand can do more than just make your lashes longer--it can also give you an eye infection.

Every year, many women end up with eye infections from cosmetics. In rare cases, women have been temporarily or permanently blinded by an eye cosmetic, according to the FDA.

Eyelashes naturally have bacteria on them. As soon as you use a makeup brush on the eyelash or eyelid, the brush is contaminated, according to experts.

Over time, the contaminated brush leads to a buildup of bacteria in the cosmetics container, increasing the chance for an eye infection or an allergic reaction with each use of the product.

Beware of scratches

Particles of makeup can land in the eyes and cause redness and irritation. More serious, potentially sight-threatening infections can result if the surface of the eye is scratched with a contaminated brush or makeup pencil.

Most cosmetics have long shelf lives, but since they can be contaminated with bacteria after only one use, it is a good idea to keep track of how long you have been using products such as mascara and eyeliners. Although there are no guidelines for cosmetics use, risk of infection can be reduced if you change them every three to four months, experts suggest.

Also, avoid sharing cosmetics. Cross contamination occurs when two or more people use the same brushes or eyeliners. The primary danger with sharing makeup is passing on an infection, such as viral conjunctivitis or pink eye. Exposure to even a small amount of virus can lead to a very uncomfortable infection.

If you experience symptoms of a viral infection, including discharge, swelling of the eyelids, or inflammation of the white of the eye, make an appointment with your eye doctor.

Safety tips

The FDA offers the following tips for the proper use of eye cosmetics:

  • Immediately stop using eye products that causes irritation. If irritation persists, see a doctor.

  • Wash your hands before applying eye cosmetics. If you don't, the bacteria on your hands could cause an infection.

  • Make sure that any cosmetic tool you place near the eye is clean.

  • Don't allow cosmetics to become covered with dust or contaminated with dirt or soil. Wipe off the container with a damp cloth if visible dust or dirt is present.

  • Don't use old containers of eye cosmetics. If you haven't used the product for several months, it's better to discard it and buy a new one.

  • Don't spit into eye cosmetics. The bacteria in your mouth may grow in the cosmetic and subsequent application to the eye may cause infection.

  • Don't share your cosmetics. Another person's bacteria in your cosmetic can be hazardous to you.

  • Don't store cosmetics at temperatures above 85 degrees Fahreinheit (29 degrees Celsius). Cosmetics held for long periods in hot cars, for example, are more susceptible to deterioration of the preservative.

  • Avoid using eye cosmetics if you have an eye infection or the skin around the eye is inflamed. Wait until the area is healed.

  • Take particular care in using eye cosmetics if you have any allergies.

  • When applying or removing eye cosmetics, be careful not to scratch the eyeball or some other sensitive area of the eye.



Medical Reviewers:

  • Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
  • Bogus, William J., OD, FAAO