Eyes on Better Beauty: The Scoop on Sensitive Eyes Makeup

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sensitive eyes makeup

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? You’ve just finished applying your makeup look for the day. Your shadow blend looks amazing, your mascara is on point, and you’re just getting ready to show off your perfect eyeliner wing. Everything is going swimmingly, when alas, you start to experience the dreaded allergic reaction. 

You know the reaction. It’s the one where your eyes start to sting. Or itch. Or burn. Or turn bright red. Or water incessantly. Or all of the above. 

But why does this happen and what does it mean for your makeup routine? In a nutshell, it means you probably struggle with sensitive eyes. What it doesn’t mean is that you have to give up on makeup products altogether. You just need to do a little troubleshooting, and start using the right makeup products for you. Keep reading for everything you need to know.

The Struggle is Real: Answers to some common questions about makeup and sensitive eyes

Why are my eyes so sensitive to makeup?

If you commonly experience reactivity to cosmetics and eye makeup, there’s a good reason for that. If you think about it, your eye area is very delicate. The skin there tends to be thinner and it produces very little in the way of natural moisture. This, in turn, means that any beauty products applied topically will be absorbed more quickly than they would other parts of the body or face.

Knowing this, it only makes sense that when a product is formulated with the wrong ingredients, your eyes will treat it like an unwanted invasion and react accordingly.

What you are experiencing is essentially an allergic response that can occur (and worsen!) even after years of wearing makeup as the body’s sensitivity levels can increase with frequent exposure.

makeup ingredients that irritate eyes

What are some ingredients that cause this reaction?

Unfortunately, some of the biggest offenders are also in many of today’s most popular eye makeup formulas. Some examples of certain ingredients are common irritants that can cause a reaction on the eyelids include preservatives, parabens, plasticizers, aluminum, colorants, fragrances, nickel, lead, sulfates, beryllium, cadmium, talc, selenium, poorly filtered micas, synthetic fragrances and glitter.

I know? synthetic fragrance in eye shadow? Yes, some manufacturers to place a fragrance so that when you open the eye shadow palette, the smell is pleasant and not offensive.

Additionally, you may also need to avoid common cosmetic base ingredients like waxes, talc, lanolin, some types of oil, and other fillers. 

What should you do if you experience sensitive eyes after using makeup?

First things first. If you suffer any eye irritation from eye shadow, your best bet is to eliminate that brands eye shadow product, if you want to protect your eyes and stop these types of allergic responses before they have a chance to start. 

In general, if this happens often you should speak with an eye doctor when you can. The reaction itself might happen in different regions, such as on the upper eyelids, the lower eye lid, the lash line, or the eyelashes themselves feel itchy

sensitive eyes makeup see an ophthalmologist

The bad news is that this might mean ditching some of your old favorites. But don’t fret yet. The good news is that there are some amazing alternatives you can use instead. Enter: hypoallergenic eye makeup.

And for you contact lens wearers, take extra caution to keep powder from getting under contact lens. The particles are the perfect size for eye ball scratching AND it’s been noted that cosmetics are prone to binding with contact lenses.

What is hypoallergenic eye makeup? (And will it actually help?)

As you might have guessed, hypoallergenic makeup is a blanket term used to refer to cosmetics that contain minimally allergenic ingredients. It’s made with intention to be “sensitive eyes makeup”.

What’s important to note however, is that this term is loosely-regulated and not all brands labeled “clean” or “hypoallergenic” are going to be completely free of those problematic ingredients. 

sensitive eyes makeup hypoallergenic makeup

You’re still going to want to do your homework and read up on the formula ingredients before investing in another product that’s only going to end in tears–possibly literally.

Generally, hypoallergenic eye products will also be made for very easy removal. Micellar water, warm water, and possibly olive oil or coconut oil should do the trick, and this is another notch at keeping skin from being irritated.

What is the best eye makeup for sensitive skin and sensitive eyes?

To put in the simplest terms, the best makeup for sensitive eyes are the ones designed specifically for sensitive eyes and skin. Hypoallergenic products are great, but you’ll do even better to look for brands that are looking out for you. 

Red Apple Lipstick is a great example of this because they have been innovating the mineral makeup game for over ten years, with formulas for women with sensitivities and even allergies from auto-immune issues.

They take clean beauty super seriously, creating products that are not only non-toxic, but also free of all allergens–including gluten, talc, mineral oil, petroleum, fragrance, phthalates, wheat, paraben, dairy, dimethicone, fragrance free and more.

What’s even more exciting is that they have a proven track record, with thousands of happy client reviews singing the praises of Red Apple. 

Fans of the brand say that these products are the only ones that work for their sensitive eyes and the skin around their eyes, allowing them to finally enjoy wearing makeup again.

Plus with an expansive variety of options–from eyeliner, to mascara, shadows, primers, and more–you’ll have no problem finding a replacement for all of your favorite products. And their beauty products are formulated specifically to not cause irritation.

Hypoallergenic mascaras will also generally contain ingredients designed to target lash follicle health, this is a great win win.

Can long term use of eye shadow cause problem?

According to Tamara Petrosyan, OD, of New York New York Dry eyes are becoming far more frequent than it was. In her article written for Women In Optometry, she reports …


“we spend around $10 billion a year on cosmetics, beauty supplies, and perfume in America… While busy trying to look our best, we sometimes forget that some of these products can lead to harm

..noticed a rise of contact dermatitis, discomfort, eye pain, feeling of something in the eye, eye fatigue, red eyes, itchy eyes, excessive tearing, light sensitivity, swollen eyes and a change in their vision”.

Eye cosmetics can migrate on the ocular surface and into the tear film…

— Tamara Petrosyan, OD, of New York, New York

6 Makeup Tips for Sensitive Eyes

Tip #1: Use the right tools (and keep them clean!)

When applying your products, experts recommend forgoing the use of your fingertips and instead using soft-bristled makeup brushes. For application and blending eyeshadow, use cleann brushes.

This will help you to better control product placement while also avoiding exposing your eyes to any irritants that could be transferred to the eye area via your hands. 

Just be sure to always clean your brushes after use to prevent bacteria and environmental irritants, like dust, from accumulating on the bristles. 

Tip #2: Never share or swap your products

Another mistake that can lead to serious issues is cross-contamination from sharing your makeup with another person. Although it may seem like a nice thing to do, it is not a sanitary or safe practice. Makeup sharing can actually lead to an eye infection should a shared brush or product come into contact with harmful bacteria from another person’s skin or eye area. 

Tip #3: Remove makeup with care every time you wear, and do it nightly.

Of course, even the best products can irritate your eyes if left on too long or overnight. So for this reason, you will want to practice good makeup removal habits as well.

For sensitive eyes, continue to steer clear of any of the irritating ingredients already discussed and opt for gentle formulas only.

Also remember to never scrub or tug on the skin – only gently wipe – around the eye area aggressively, and always rinse with cool water for best results.

sensitive eye makeup removal

Tip #4: Try your best not to touch your eye ball with makeup.

It sounds silly to say, but take care when nearing the eye ball. I direct hit can foul contact lenses, scratch corneas, cause an eye infection like Conjunctivitis..and it would be best to just avoid these issues. If you feel that you have scratched your eye, please do have your eye ophthalmologist tested. Or you could also have your skin Dermatologist tested.

Tip #5: Try not to use eye liner on the inner lid.

Ophthalmologist tested this at The University of Waterloo and they found 15-30% more particles moved into the eye’s tear film compared to eye liner only outside of the lash line, especially the lower lash line.

Tip#6: Don’t try to make your eye makeup last for years, replace it often.

Bacteria builds on eye shadow, makeup products, and cosmetic tools very easily. It’s unavoidable. Moisture, sebum, dead skin cells, Demodex mites accumulate on wands, brushes, and all applicators over time. Microbes such as P. aeruginosa can be damaging to your eye, and your cornea.

Personal care products, especially those that are paraben free, such as mascara should be replaced every 3 months.. 6 tops. Hypoallergenic eye shadows can last longer, but generally not more than 12 months. A spritz of rubbing alcohol won’t hurt the eye shadows but can for sure help kill bacteria.

Bonus Tip #7: Buy the best makeup products you can.

And if you wear contacts this is even more important. If you eye lids become itchy, red or rashy it’s time to find makeup brands that understand how to formulate without low cost ingredients that cause so many allergic reactions. Understand that “natural” doesn’t mean allergen free. Beauty Brands like Red Apple have scientists on board that understand skin allergies and formulate directly for them.

Bonus Tip #8: Consider getting Allergy Tested. 

Patch tests are simple, inexpensive, and can be very revealing.

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