Dry Eyes? Avoid These 4 Makeup Ingredients

various makeup products and cosmetics isolated on pink background

Ever look at a list of ingredients on a new beauty product and wonder if it’s really safe to put on your face or near your eyes? Did you know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the chemicals used in beauty and cosmetic products? The only thing the FDA monitors is the mislabeling of ingredients. They can’t control whether something is labeled hypoallergenic or organic and they can’t even force a company to remove or recall dangerous chemicals, they only send warning letters!

A lot of beauty products can seriously increase your dry eye symptoms, so it’s important to know what to look for and what to avoid. In this post we are going to talk about the top 4 ingredients to avoid and why. That’s why it’s not just important to READ YOUR LABELS, but essential!

Avoid These Common Chemicals

BAK (Benzalkonium chloride)

This preservative is commonly found in many eye drops, eyeliners, mascaras, makeup removers, and face washes. But it’s toxic to the ocular surface because it destabilizes the lipid layer of our tear film (the part that keeps our tears from evaporating too quickly) and damages the epithelial and goblet cells of the eye even with low levels (0.5mg/ml) in as little as one day! However, 1mg/ml is the concentration approved for consumer use and what you’ll find in many of the products listed.

Formaldehyde (quaternium-15)

We all remember formaldehyde from our school days -- you know that nasty liquid our frogs were immersed in for science class? Yep, that’s the one. Formaldehyde is a preservative often used in beauty and skincare products but is known to kill meibomian gland and epithelial cells which promotes meibomian gland dysfunction, a leading cause of dry eyes. There is even a high risk of contact dermatitis and other allergic reactions to this chemical, so avoid using it on your or around your eyes at all costs.


These are often found in cosmetics, lotions, and deodorants, and have been associated with abnormal hormone function and breast cancer. Many women who are experience hormonal abnormalities during menopause will experience symptoms of dry eyes, but parabens also affect the eyes similarly to BAK and is toxic to the ocular surface.


Even just a 1% concentration of this chemical can cause urticaria (skin rash), eczema, and other allergic reactions on the skin. It can also cause ocular irritation -- stinging and burning of the eyes. This is a common ingredient of mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, concealers and foundations, moisturizers, sunscreens, soaps and makeup removers. The tricky thing about this one is that it is often found in products claiming to be hypoallergenic, so people with already sensitive skin may be exposing themselves to a whole host of problems.

It’s obvious we want makeup and skincare products that help to enhance our beauty, but not reading your labels can sometimes make your eyes so mad that it is counterproductive. I often have patients ask me what products I recommend and honestly, there are so many out there I could never keep up.

The key takeaway here is to avoid the common ingredients and PLEASE READ YOUR LABELS! There are some great sites to visit if you need further help on which products to use and which ingredients to avoid.

In the meantime, avoid the ones above and don’t suffer with the symptoms of dry eyes. Call or text us today at (208) 322-8439 to see one of our doctors if you are experiencing any itchy, watery, burning, gritty/sandy, red or irritated eyes or the skin around your eyes.