Top 10 Eye Makeup Nasties

Our Top 10 ingredients to be avoided in cosmetics for use on and around the eyes


Research shows that there is a dark side to cosmetics. Over 12,000 chemicals are used in cosmetics formulations – ingredients are predominantly synthetic & industrial chemicals, of which less than 20% have been shown to be safe. A multitude of ingredients in cosmetics may act as allergens, disruptors, immunosuppressants, irritants, toxins, and/or tumor promoters, and may also damage eye health. In fact, multiple adverse reactions to eye cosmetics may occur, including making your eyes more sensitive and even more dry.

Many of the cosmetics on the market claiming to be safe for sensitive eyes are not. The ingredients in these products can cause or exacerbate dry eye, increasing your eyes’ sensitivity — Making them more dry, more red, more watery, more puffy, and more irritated! Remember: Beauty shouldn’t hurt your eyes!

Dry eye affects over 40 million people in the United States alone, and is one of the leading causes of patient visits to eye care professionals. Moderate-to-severe dry eye can have serious impact on an individual's quality of life, often causing pain, limitations in daily activities, reduced joie-de-vivre, overall decline in health, and even depression. Although, there is currently no cure for dry eye disease, managing its signs and symptoms can be possible, and lifestyle adjustments can greatly help, including modifications to your beauty routine.

We have compiled a list of the Top 10 ingredients to be avoided in cosmetics for use on and around the eyes.

Together, let’s rewrite beauty through the lens of eye health.

Top 10 Eye Makeup Nasties*

  1. Argireline (Acetylhexapeptide-3 or Acetylhexapeptide-8)1
  2. Benzalkonium chloride (BAK)2
  3. Formaldehyde releasing compounds2
  4. Fragrance3
  5. Isopropyl cloprostenate (analog of prostaglandins such as bimatoprost)3-7
  6. Parabens4
  7. Phenoxyethanol4
  8. Retinols8
  9. Salicylic acid3
  10. Tea tree oil (Terpinen-4-ol)9

* Cosmetics include anything that you apply, rub, pour, sprinkle, smear, or spray onto your face and around/on your eyes, inclusive of colors and skincare products.

* *This is not an exhaustive list of ocular-surface-offending ingredients. Please speak with your eye doctor if you have questions about how use of cosmetics may impact your eye health.



  1. Ozgur O, Murariu D, Parsa AA, Parsa FD. Dry eye syndrome due to botulinum toxin type-A injection: guideline for prevention. Hawaii J Med Pub Health 2012;71(5):120-1237.
  2. Chen X, Liu Y, Kam WR, Sullivan AG, Sullivan DA. Toxicity of cosmetic preservatives on human ocular surface and adnexal cells. Exp Eye Res 2018;59:193-205.
  3. Sullivan DA, da Costa AX, Del Duca E, Doll T, Grupcheva CN, Lazreg S, Liu SH, McGee SR, Murthy R, Narang P, Ng A, Nistico S, O’Dell L, Roos J, Shen J, Markoulli M. TFOS Lifestyle: Impact of cosmetics on the ocular surface. Ocul Surf. 2023 Apr 13;29:77-130.
  4. Wang J, Liu Y, Kam WR, Li Y, Sullivan DA. Toxicity of the cosmetic preservatives parabens, phenoxyethanol and chlorphenesin on human meibomian gland epithelial cells. Exp Eye Res 2020; 196:108057.
  6. N O, Letul. V, Ruzicka T, Herzinger T, Goldscheider I, von Braunmuül T. Periocular discoloration after using a prostaglandin analog for eyelash enhancement: evaluation with refl ectance confocal microscopy. J Cosmet Dermatol 2017;16(1):18-20.
  7. Kam WR, Liu Y, Ding J, Sullivan DA. Do cyclosporine A, an IL-1 receptor antagonist, uridine triphosphate, rebamipide or bimatoprost regulate human meibomian gland epithelial cells? Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2016;57:4287-4294.
  8. Ding J, Kam WR, Dieckow J, Sullivan DA. The infl uence of 13-cis retinoic acid on human meibomian gland epithelial cells. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2013;54:4341-4350.
  9. Chen D, Wang J, Sullivan DA, Kam WR, Liu Y. Eects of terpinen-4-ol on meibomian gland epithelial cells in vitro. Cornea 2020;39:1541-1546.