If you’ve found yourself wearing more eye makeup in the past 12 months, you’re not alone. According to Fortune magazine, interest in and sales of eye makeup products have surged since March 2020. So-called “above-the-mask” beauty has become a buzzword and beauty mandate for people worldwide.

But though you may like how your eyes look when you apply makeup to accentuate them, your eyes don’t always react well to wearing makeup.

To help you wear eye makeup safely, here are some tips and best practices to incorporate:

  1. Beware of eye irritants

That sparkly new eye shadow may be all the rage, but if it contains glitter, metals, crushed gems, minerals or mica, it could leave microscopic deposits on the surface of your eye. Your eye perceives those ingredients as foreign bodies and will react with redness, inflammation and irritation in the whites of your eye – turning it red. Red, irritated eyes are not the ideal result from applying the newest eye makeup. Proceed with caution: If a mascara or eyeliner causes irritation, stop using it immediately.

  1. Never share

Though it’s nice to share some things, eye makeup (and really, any cosmetic), applicators and brushes are not things you should ever share. Not even with your mother, sister, aunt or grandmother! Cosmetics can become a fertile breeding ground for bacteria. When you share them, you’re risking cross-contamination. Eye infections, including “pink eye” (conjunctivitis), spread very easily. Don’t share your makeup or tools.

  1. Read ingredient labels

Before using a new cosmetic around your eyes, lashes or eyelids, read the ingredient label. Disclosing the full list of ingredients is a requirement of the US Food and Drug Administration, and makeup manufacturers must comply. While cosmetics aren’t FDA-approved in the US, the industry is regulated, and there is a list of banned ingredients. Beware of cosmetics—often originating in foreign countries–that may be sold on the internet without proper labelling.

  1. Allergy alert

When you read the labels on your makeup, look for ingredients that you may be allergic to. Not sure if you’re allergic? Then add a new product into your beauty routine slowly and with care. Test the makeup on your forearm or inner wrist, and only introduce one new product every few days so you can quickly pinpoint the source of any allergic reaction. Some of the typical allergens found in eye makeup may include fragrance, dyes, latex, preservatives and nickel.

  1. Organic isn’t necessarily safer

While products labelled as organic or all-natural sound safe, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safer for your eye health. Many makeup ingredients, whether organically or conventionally grown, contain allergens and eye irritants. One label to look for and trust: hypoallergenic!

  1. Keep makeup outside of the eye

That inner rim of your lower eyelid is a tempting spot to place eyeliner, but avoid that temptation. Putting makeup so close to the surface of the eye increases the likelihood of an eye infection. Also, that delicate part of the eyelid is where your meibomian glands are located. These glands play a significant role in keeping eyes lubricated. If your meibomian glands get clogged, it’s bad news for your eyes. Inflammation, infection and eventually even dry eye symptoms can occur. Keep makeup application to the eye’s external structures (eyelashes, upper and lower lids) only.

  1. Out with the old

To keep your risk of eye infection low, it’s a smart strategy to throw out and replace eyeliner, mascara, other cosmetic products and makeup brushes or applicators regularly. When should you toss out old makeup, applicators and brushes?

  • After 3 months of use.
  • If you have an eye infection.
  • If cosmetics become discolored or develop a different odor
  1. For eyes only

If you’re going to use makeup around your eyes, use only makeup and products made for use around the eyes. Don’t use lipstick, blush or powders made for the face close to your eyes, as they may have ingredients that aren’t safe for eye-area use. And do the same with brushes: Designate brushes for eye makeup only and don’t use them on lips, or you may cross-contaminate either your eyes or lips with bacteria and cause an infection.

  1. Keep it clean

If the year of Covid taught us anything, it’s the importance of keeping things clean. Before you apply makeup to your eyes and face, wash your hands, wash your face, and use a clean brush or applicator.

  1. Take it off

Make it a non-negotiable rule: Before you go to sleep each night, thoroughly remove your makeup. Sleeping in makeup—especially eye makeup—increases the odds that you’ll get an infection and can result in red, irritated eyes or even dry eye symptoms. Use a product specifically made to remove eye makeup gently and be careful not to get any of the remover in your eye. Those who neglect to keep lashes and eyelids clean risk developing blepharitis, a bacterial inflammation of the eyelids causing them to become itchy, red and shed scaly, dandruff-esque flakes into your eyelashes.

If you’re experiencing irritation after using eye makeup, discontinue use. If you suspect you may have an eye infection, call your eye doctor.