Makeup Tips for Dry Eye

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on July 08, 2020

When you have dry eyes, your eyes may sting, itch, or water. It makes it hard to wear makeup. But if you use the right makeup and put it on the right way, you can feel -- and look -- your best.

What Is Dry Eye?

It’s a condition triggered by problems with your tears. It happens when:

You don’t make enough tears. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is the scientific name for it. Several things can affect your body’s ability to make tears:

Your tears don’t have enough oil, water, or mucus. These three things make up your tears. If the balance isn’t right, it can lead to dry eye.

Your tears evaporate, or go away, too fast. Wind, smoke, or dry air can cause this. It can also happen when you don’t blink as often. Looking at a computer screen or reading for a long time can slow down your blinking. Problems with your eyelids can trigger it, too. One of your eyelids may turn out (ectropion) or turn in (entropion). It’s usually your lower lid. You can treat these conditions with artificial tear solutions or ointment to moisten the lid. But sometimes, you’ll need to have surgery.

Symptoms of Dry Eye

Signs you might have dry eye include:

  • Your eyes sting, burn, or feel scratchy
  • Blurred vision or tired eyes
  • A hard time wearing contact lenses
  • Difficulty with nighttime driving
  • Eye redness
  • Feeling like there’s something in your eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
  • Watery eyes

Makeup and Dry Eye

Eyeliner, mascara, and other products can lead to or worsen your dry eye. They can clog the meibomian glands in your eyelids, which make the oil for your tears. This is especially likely if you use eye makeup that contains glitter, of if you apply eyeliner to the inside of your lash line. Makeup particles and remover can also coat your conjunctiva (the surface of your eye) and affect the way your tear film works.

What Products to Use When You Have Dry Eye

Some products are better for dry eye than others. When you shop for makeup, choose:

Cream eyeshadow and foundation. The particles in powder foundation can irritate your eyes.

Hypoallergenic makeup. It’s less likely to have irritants like arsenic, nickel, and lead.

Makeup with low water content. Most liquid makeup has a preservative that can irritate your eyes.

Regular mascara. Two-step mascara with a base and topcoat tends to flake and fall into your eyes.

If you still have problems, give your eyes a rest. Highlight your eyebrows, cheeks, and lips instead.

How to Remove Makeup

It’s important to clean your face every night. Sleeping in makeup can clog glands and tear ducts, leading to irritation. You should:

  • Use a makeup remover that’s oil- and paraben-free.
  • Stay away from products with mineral oil, sodium lauryl sulfate, and diazolidinyl urea.
  • Use a lid scrub, or make your own with baby shampoo.
  • Rinse well with water.

Permanent Makeup, Fake Eyelashes, and Growth Serums

Permanent makeup, also called micropigmentation, is when dye is put under your upper layer of skin with a needle. It’s generally safe when a skilled professional does it. But like any procedure, there are risks. You could get an infection or have an allergic reaction to the dye. This can lead to dry eye or make it worse.

Magnetic or glued fake lashes can irritate the skin around your eyes. They can also scratch your eye. Save your fake lashes for special occasions to limit the chance of this happening.

Latisse is currently the only FDA-approved lash growth serum. Your doctor has to prescribe it. Talk to your doctor before you use anything else that claims to grow lashes.

Show Sources


Mayo Clinic: “Dry eyes.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Is Eyeliner Bad for Your Eyes? Keep Makeup From Harming Your Health.”

American Optometric Association: “Cosmetics and the Eye: How Your Beauty Products Could Be Harming Your Eyes.” “Impact of Makeup on Dry Eye Disease.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “How To Use Cosmetics Safely Around Your Eyes.”

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