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. They can’t even force a company to remove or recall dangerous chemicals, they only send warning letters. That’s why it’s essential to read labels, understand ingredients, and know what to avoid.
Avoid These Common Chemicals
A lot of beauty products can seriously increase your dry eye symptoms, so if you suffer from dry eye, there are some common chemicals you should definitely stay away from as they will exacerbate your symptoms. Let's look at the top 4 ingredients to avoid and why.
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.
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 experiencing hormonal abnormalities during menopause will experience symptoms of dry eyes, but parabens also affect the eyes similarly to BAK and are 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.