Make Up for Sensitive Eyes

By Kristine
AP Contributor

Hello all!

A reader who wished to be kept anonymous recently emailed us with a beauty question:

Just wondering if you or your contributors have any advice on wearing eye makeup for those of us who have “dry eyes” and apply eyedrops throughout the day. I used to always wear mascara and now don’t because the eyedrops smear and run the mascara after application and give me “raccoon eyes.” I’m not sure I want to try waterproof mascara since it seems rather harsh and removing it might get problematic since my eyes are sensitive. I should tell you the eyedrops I use are over the counter and not prescription on the advice of my optometrist. 

What an interesting question. I don’t have dry eyes myself, but I do have terrible allergies in the spring and summer so I am familiar with the eye drop situation. Not only are my eyes watery, but they swell up and get really red.

After experimenting with many different mascara formulations, I threw in the towel and decided to start eyelash tinting. My brows and lashes are naturally blonde and if I leave them bare I look like I have none at all. Honestly, I do this at home with Henna. I’m not going to explain to you how to do that, because you shouldn’t be doing it. I shouldn’t even be doing it but I’m broke and…my safety just isn’t that important to me I guess? But you, being the responsible person I’m sure you are, can get this service done at a salon. There is no FDA approved eyelash or eyebrow dye currently, so it’s important to know what your salon uses before undergoing the service. Benefit is a good choice because they use a vegetable based tint so there is no danger of blindness. The service take around 20 mins and prices vary, but are usually in the $20-40 range. If you have sensitive eyes, this may be uncomfortable, but the results last 4 to 6 weeks and it might be worth it. I’ve never had a problem with it myself, and it’s wonderful not worrying about putting in eye make up everyday.

dyed eyelashes

If you want to stick to mascara, there are several options to consider. I even asked a few knowledgeable friends to weigh in with their advice. If you don’t want to try a waterproof mascara, I would suggest carrying a make up remover pen like the one from e.l.f. and just clean up any excess after applying your eye drops. You can also blot your mascara brush before applying, a thinner layer of mascara won’t smudge as easily.

If you would like to try a waterproof variety, just make sure you are using a very gentle make up remover. Some of the safest include Lush Ultrabland, Bioderma, and Make Up For Ever Sensitive Eyes. Using a thicker eye cream like Kiehl’s Rosa Artica Eye Cream will greatly reduce irritation as well.

I hope one of these solutions was helpful and I would love for you guys to let me know via email or in the comments. Any of your own tips would be a great addition as well.

Email me with any beauty questions.

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Kristine Rose is a make-up artist, esthetician, and writer. She strongly believes in each individual’s right to express themselves through style, make up, and body modification (or lack thereof). Beauty writing is her one true passion and she intends to revel in it until her untimely death, crushed under the weight of her own jewelry.

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9 Responses to “Make Up for Sensitive Eyes”

  1. prestley313

    Tubing mascara! It stays put, doesn’t smudge and is easily removable with warm water. The one I use is from Kanebo Sensai, but there are many brands that make them.

  2. calico

    I have stupidly sensitive eyes and the only eye makeup remover I’ve found that doesn’t make my eyes burn is coconut oil. Rub a little bit on gently until you feel/see the mascara dissolve, then wipe off with a tissue (Kleenex? I’m in the UK, we call them tissues). No stinging, and even waterproof mascara is gone.

    Magic stuff, coconut oil.

  3. Amy

    I have sensitive eyes so I just curl my lashes and wear light shadow which works for everyday.

  4. Tori Kennedy

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m a fourth year optometry student and the subject of cosmetics and eyes is an important one. Dry eye is very common and can really interfere with quality of life. My first recommendation for this person would be to consider consulting a dry eye specialist. Eye drops for dry eye are more of a “band-aid” approach than a permanent solution for this discomfort. If you can get to the bottom of the problem and address that (with nutrition, lid scrubs, compresses, specialty contact lenses, etc), you may not need to use the drops as frequently. Beyond that and to the question, the most important thing to do is make sure that the makeup you are wearing doesn’t worsen your dry eye symptoms. There are a number of guides available regarding cosmetics and contact lens wear. When it comes down to it, anything that aggravates your eyes (whether we’re talking contact lenses wearers or dry eye suffers), can make your symptoms worse. I’ll include a link to one guide, but the key points are the following:
    Pick products which have been studied and approved for use around the eyes, avoid applying products to the waterline of the eye (it can interfere with important tear producing glands), and replace your brushes and cosmetics regularly. If you ever get an eye infection, throw out your brushes and cosmetics immediately as they’re contaminated and will only make the problem worse.

  5. Jennifer

    This may not work for everyone, but I’ve found that if I don’t touch my bottom lashes or lashline with product, I can blink, shed tears, or even gently rub my eyes and my eyeliner/mascara will stay put. I put all the mascara and eye shadow (and no, not waterproof) on my top lashes/lid and if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll run a line of eyeliner across the top lashline. I think this makes my eyes look bigger anyway to not have product on the bottom. I often have to apply allergy drops or my eyes water due to allergies.

  6. snowmentality

    I recommend using either cold cream or oil — coconut oil, castor oil, olive oil — to remove makeup, especially waterproof eye makeup. Massage it over your face, including gently applying it to your eyelids and eyelashes, then wipe it off with a warm, wet cloth. Gentler on the skin than solvent-based makeup removers — and much more effective, in my experience.

    There’s a basic principle of chemistry that “like dissolves like” — water dissolves water-based substances, alcohol dissolves alcohol-based substances, and oil dissolves oil-based substances. Most makeup is oil-based. So oil actually dissolves makeup and lifts it off your skin more effectively than water or alcohol does.

    (And it doesn’t leave your skin greasy; the warm washcloth wipes away all the excess oil. I have oily, acne-prone skin and can confirm using oil as makeup remover doesn’t make my skin worse. I actually think it helps my skin, because it removes the makeup more completely.)

  7. Cassie

    There are water resistant mascaras that aren’t waterproof — Benefit’s new one, Roller Lash, is the one that springs to mind immediately. Generally they survive tears but are easier than waterproof mascaras to get off, though I’m not sure what eye drops would do. That might be worth a shot!

    (I work at a makeup store but am not employed by Benefit, for the record.)

  8. wonkyone15

    Hard Candy Lash Ink is basically a thin formula mascara that acts more like a stain/tint, so it doesn’t get goopy or clumpy, and lasts for a couple of days. I have found that it doesn’t smear, and just kind of wears off.

  9. Jae

    I also find myself easily irritated by eye makeup, but luckily I have very dark lashes and can get away mascara free 90% of the time. I tend to only use mascara when I’m doing a full proper face, and even found a way around that – get a lash lift/perm! It curls your lashes upward and lasts 3-6 weeks. I got a good 6-8 weeks because I didn’t use any product on them in that period – they already looked twice as long and had a nice volume. Of course I’d recommend finding a reputable salon with good reviews, and let them know you have sensitive eyes before going ahead.