Eye-Whitening Drops: Are They Safe?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on November 08, 2022

If your eyes are often red, you might wonder if whitening drops can help. They’re available over-the-counter and easy to get, but are they safe?

What’s in Eye-Whitening Drops?

For years, the leading eye-whitening product was tetrahydrozoline, which you know by its over-the-counter name, Visine. It works by opening arteries in your eyes.

In 2017, the FDA OKd a low-dose version of brimonidine tartrate, which was first prescribed to treat glaucoma. The lower dose, over-the-counter version is called Lumify.

The drug tightens blood vessels in your eyes and limits the amount of blood and oxygen that can get to them. This makes your eyes clearer for a while.

How Do You Use Eye-Whitening Drops?

Talk to your eye doctor first to make sure it’s OK. Check the package for the drops you’re using, but in general:

  • Wash your hands well
  • Pull down your lower eyelid
  • Put 1 drop in each eye
  • Don’t use more than 4 times a day (every 6-8 hours)

Are Eye-Whitening Drops Safe?

Eye-whitening drops are generally considered safe. Doctors say using them too much might hide a condition that needs treatment, like pinkeye or a corneal ulcer. Yellow in the whites of your eyes could be a sign of liver disease.

Everyday use could also cause a “rebound effect.” Your eyes may be even redder after the drug wears off. This is especially common in tetrahydrozoline drops. Benzalkonium chloride, the preservative, might irritate your eyes.

Do Eye-Whitening Drops Have Side Effects?

Some people have side effects while others don’t. More common side effects can include:

  • A burning feeling in your eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Dry or itchy eyes
  • Discharge or excessive tearing
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Halos around lights
  • Headaches
  • Lights appearing brighter than usual
  • Night blindness
  • Redness on the eye or the inner lining of the eyelid
  • Seeing colors differently
  • Seeing double
  • Tunnel vision

What Should I Do if Eye-Whitening Drops Cause Problems?

Some side effects, like burning or stinging, may go away once your eyes get used to the medicine. If they don’t, stop using the drops and talk to your doctor about next steps.

Show Sources


American Academy of Ophthalmology: “New Over-the-Counter Eye-Whitening Drop Hits Store Shelves.”

FDA: “Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Application Number: 208144Orig1s000, Labeling,” “Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Approval Package For: Application Number: 208144Orig1s000,” “Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Approval Package For: Application Number: 208144Orig1s000: Summary Review.”

Mayo Clinic: “Brimonidine (Ophthalmic Route).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Tetrahydrozoline ophthalmic drops.”

Current Eye Research: “Evaluation of Efficacy and Safety of Brimonidine Tartrate Ophthalmic Solution, 0.025% for Treatment of Ocular Redness.”

American Academy of Optometry: “Safety of Brimonidine Tartrate Ophthalmic Solution 0.025% in Pediatric, Adult, and Geriatric Patients: Integrated Results from Four Clinical Trials.”

Optometry and Vision Science: “Brimonidine Ophthalmic Solution 0.025% for Reduction of Ocular Redness: A Randomized Clinical Trial.”

University of Utah Health: “Should You Use Eye Drops to Whiten Your Eyes?” “The Truth About Eye Whitening.”

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