Behind the Beauty: Why Your Eyes Burn After Wearing Mascara

Mascara is a staple in many makeup routines, used to add length, volume, and drama to lashes. However, some people experience an unpleasant burning sensation in their eyes after applying mascara. What causes this irritation, and how can it be avoided?

The ingredients within the mascara formula itself are often to blame for this reaction. Common culprits include fragrance, preservatives like parabens, as well as dyes and other chemicals. These components can trigger irritation, redness, and swelling in those with sensitivities. The reaction may happen immediately or develop over time with repeated use. Coal tar dyes, formaldehyde releasing preservatives, and ingredients like propylene glycol are known to provoke allergic responses in some users.

Even with a gentle formula, mascara can irritate eyes through contact with the delicate mucous membranes of the eyelids and lashes. With every blink, mascara transfers to the tear film, the layer of fluid on the eye’s surface. For those prone to irritation, inflammation occurs. To avoid discomfort, look for hypoallergenic mascaras designed for sensitive eyes. If burning, stinging, or other symptoms develop, discontinue use and consult a doctor to determine the cause. By being aware of problematic ingredients and using care during application, mascara can be worn comfortably even by those with easily irritated eyes.

Irritating Ingredients in Mascara

The ingredients formulated into mascara can provoke adverse reactions in those with sensitivities. Chemical compounds that most commonly cause eye irritation include:


Fragrances give mascara a pleasant scent but can irritate eyes. Symptoms may include:

  • Red, swollen eyelids
  • Dry, itchy eyes
  • Skin rashes around eye area

Even products labeled “fragrance-free” may contain masking chemicals with no odor. Stick to mascaras with no added perfumes or fragrances for best tolerance.


Preservatives like parabens and formaldehyde-releasing agents keep mascara microbe-free. But some users experience:

  • Eye irritation, burning, and stinging
  • Eyelid rashes and contact dermatitis

Opt for preservative-free or preservative alternatives like potassium sorbate.

Dyes and Pigments

Intense black pigments like coal tar dyes help mascara define lashes. But these strong tints also provoke reactions like:

  • Eye redness and swelling
  • Itchy, painful eyelids
  • Watery eyes

Mineral pigments like iron oxides have better tolerance for many sensitive eyes.

Other Chemical Irritants

Components like propylene glycol, BHA, BHT, retinyl acetate, and bimatoprost may inflame eyes. Symptoms include:

  • Dryness
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Stinging/burning
  • Blurry vision

Carefully read ingredient lists and avoid mascaras with these additives.

Application Technique Matters

How you apply mascara also influences irritation. Certain habits can deposit more mascara into the eyes, provoking inflammation.

Pumping the Wand

Pumping the wand pushes air into the tube, causing mascara to dry out faster. The dried flakes can fall into eyes, leading to:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Pain

Instead, swirl the brush inside the tube to coat it.

Overloading the Brush

Heaping on too much mascara causes clumping and flaking near the lash line. These bits can scratch the eye surface, causing:

  • Stinging
  • Excess tears
  • Light sensitivity

Wipe excess off the brush before applying. Thin coats work better than heavy layers.

Getting Too Close

Applying mascara too close to the lash line allows product to transfer to the mucous membranes. This provokes:

  • Burning
  • Irritation
  • Swelling

Keep the brush 1/3 of the way up the lashes, away from the eyelid rim.

Using Old Brushes and Wands

Neglected brushes and wands harbor bacteria. Applying mascara with contaminated tools could lead to infections like:

  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Blepharitis

Replace mascara every 3 months and clean tools regularly.

Mascara Sensitivity

Even when using high quality mascara and flawless technique, some eyes react to any mascara contact. With every blink, mascara transfers to the tear film and migrates to the mucous membranes of the eyelids and lashes. Those prone to ocular sensitivity experience irritation and inflammation from this contact. Symptoms may include:

  • Burning
  • Stinging
  • Redness
  • Excess tears
  • Itching
  • Swelling

Avoiding mascara entirely may be necessary for those severely affected. For others, minimizing contact through proper removal may help.

Finding the Best Mascara for Sensitive Eyes

If mascara bothers your eyes, don’t give up your favorite beauty tool just yet. Here are tips for finding a formula you can use comfortably:

Look for Hypoallergenic Formulas

Hypoallergenic mascaras are less likely to cause adverse reactions. They exclude common irritants like:

  • Fragrance
  • Preservatives
  • Coal tar dyes
  • Other potential allergens

Still patch test first, as “hypoallergenic” doesn’t guarantee tolerance for all.

Choose Gentle, Soothing Ingredients

Seeking out beneficial ingredients like chamomile, aloe, and vitamin E provide soothing properties to counteract irritation. Steer clear of alcohols, which can dry and provoke inflammation.

Seek Out Natural Formulas

Natural mascaras use plant-based waxes, mineral pigments, herbal extracts, and fewer synthetic chemicals. This reduces the chances of sensitivity reactions. But check that any “natural” label adheres to proper standards.

Look for “Ophthalmologist-Tested”

Products claiming ophthalmologist-testing underwent evaluation by eye doctors for safety and tolerance. This rigorous testing flags any potential irritants.

Try Tubing Mascara

Tubing mascaras form tubes around each lash that slide off easily with warm water. The tubes eliminate rubbing and tugging to remove mascara, minimizing irritation.

Read Reviews

Checking reviews can reveal how a mascara performs for those with sensitivities. Look for first-hand experiences from contact lens wearers and others with easily irritated eyes.

Trust Recommendations

Ask friends with finicky eyes for suggestions on gentler mascara options. Doctors like optometrists, dermatologists, and allergists may also provide guidance.

With some care and consideration in choosing formulas, those prone to mascara misery can enhance lashes without red, burning eyes.

Dealing With Mascara Allergy Symptoms

If your eyes react badly to mascara, you may be dealing with a mascara allergy or contact dermatitis. Symptoms typically develop within a day of use and may include:

  • Red, swollen, itchy eyelids
  • Bumps, blisters, or rash near lash line
  • Burning or stinging sensation
  • Excess tears
  • Light sensitivity
  • Grittiness or feeling of something in eye

In severe cases, vision may become impaired. Take these steps to find relief:

Stop Using the Mascara

Discontinue use of any mascara causing an adverse reaction. Leaving it on will only worsen symptoms. Resist the urge to “tough it out” – it’s not worth pain or damage.

Gently Remove Mascara

Use a mild, fragrance-free eye makeup remover to carefully take off every trace of mascara without pulling at lashes. Follow up by splashing eyes with cool water. Harsh scrubbing can aggravate irritated skin.

Apply Cool Compresses

Placing cool, damp washcloths or cotton pads over closed eyes helps soothe burning and reduces swelling. Chilled cucumber slices may also calm irritation.

Use Allergy Eye Drops

Over-the-counter antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer eye drops relieve itching and redness caused by allergic reactions. Follow package directions for use.

See a Doctor for Severe Reactions

If symptoms don’t improve within a day or two after stopping mascara use, consult an eye doctor. They can properly diagnose the cause and prescribe stronger prescription eye drops or other treatments if needed.

Consider Immunotherapy

For those with recurrent mascara allergy issues, allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy could provide long-term relief by desensitizing the immune system to triggers. Discuss options with an allergist.

Avoid Further Contact

After reactions subside, avoid using the problematic mascara again. Check ingredients lists and avoid mascaras containing any suspect components.

With prompt treatment and mascara avoidance, allergy flare ups can be cleared up quickly. But always seek medical care for any sudden or severe changes in vision.

Mascara Irritation vs. Infection – What’s the Difference?

Red, irritated eyes after using mascara could indicate an innocent sensitivity. But sometimes, it flags a more serious issue like an eye infection. Distinguishing between the two is important to get proper treatment.

Signs Pointing to Irritation

If the eyes are merely irritated and inflamed from mascara use, symptoms generally include:

  • Mild burning, stinging, gritty feeling
  • Slight eyelid swelling or redness
  • Watery eyes or extra tears
  • Itching or mild pain
  • Issues start within hours of mascara application

Discomfort is usually worst immediately after application and improves with removal. Vision remains unaffected.

Signs of Possible Infection

If bacteria or viruses infiltrate the eye area, more worrisome symptoms arise:

  • Intense pain, light sensitivity
  • Severe swelling of eyelid or conjunctiva
  • Excessive tearing or discharge
  • Redness in whites of eyes
  • Vision problems like blurred sight
  • Symptoms arise 24+ hours after mascara applied

Damage can occur if infections aren’t promptly treated. Seek medical attention.

Common Mascara-Related Eye Infections

Using unclean mascara tools or contaminated makeup doubles infection risk. Common culprits include:

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

This common “pink eye” causes severely reddened eyes with thick discharge. Usually cleared up easily with antibiotic drops.


Inflammation of the eyelids from bacteria. Leads to crusting, burning, and irritated lash follicles. Treated with eyelid hygiene and antibiotics.


Tender, red bumps on the eyelid caused by infected oil glands. Warm compresses help, but may require lancing to drain.

With care to avoid contamination and follow hygienic practices, mascara users can avoid serious eye infections. Discontinue use and seek medical help at the first signs of anything more serious than run-of-the-mill irritation.

Preventing Mascara Discomfort

While some sensitive eyes may always react to mascara, taking a few precautions can help many minimize irritation:

Follow Good Eye Makeup Removal Habits

Gently yet thoroughly remove all traces of eye makeup at the end of each day. Avoid rubbing and tugging at the delicate eye area. Use mild removers and thoroughly rinse away residue.

Replace Mascara Every 3 Months

The older mascara gets, the more likely bacteria will multiply. This contamination provokes inflammation. Throw out tubes after 3 months.

Clean Mascara Applicators Regularly

Disinfect brushes and wands by wiping with rubbing alcohol weekly. Let them fully dry before using again to avoid irritation.

Practice General Eye Hygiene

Follow tips like washing hands before applying mascara, avoiding contact lenses while wearing makeup, and not sharing makeup to uphold eye health.

Consider Your Overall Eye Health

Manage any underlying conditions like ocular rosacea, blepharitis, allergies, or dry eye to improve tolerance and minimize irritation risks.

See an Eye Doctor Annually

Regular eye exams ensure eyes remain healthy. Discuss any mascara comfort issues. Optometrists can pinpoint possible causes and recommend alternative products.

While stubborn cases may require completely avoiding mascara, most can find ways to wear it without suffering red, irritated eyes. With care in choosing formulas and applying mascara, achieve dazzling lashes without discomfort.

Comparison of Mascara with Alternative Products

Product Pros Cons
Mascara – Defines and thickens lashes
– Available in wide range of formulas and colors
– Convenient applicator
– Can cause eye irritation in some
– Smudging and flaking
– Regular reapplication needed
False Lashes – Provides dramatic length and volume
– Customizable look
– Can be tricky to apply
– Can feel heavy on lids
– Not waterproof
– Single use only
Lash Tinting – Lasts 4-6 weeks
– Waterproof
– Low maintenance
– Chemical dyes may irritate eyes
– Can’t customize daily look
– Only darkens lashes
Lash Lift – Lasts 6-8 weeks
– Allows mascara use for more volume
– Chemicals risk eye irritation
– Results require maintenance
Lash Growth Serums – Stimulates longer natural lashes
– No need for daily mascara
– Takes weeks to see results
– Not effective for everyone

Dealing with Irritation from Mascara

If you have sensitive skin or eyes are particularly sensitive, you may find that certain makeup products irritate your eyes. Mascara especially can provoke irritation and allergic reactions.

  • When trying a new mascara, do a patch test on your arm first to check for any allergic reaction after applying it.
  • Be cautious with mascara formulations like high impact mascara as the intense pigments and formulas can irritate sensitive eyes.
  • Watch out for common ingredients in the mascara like fragrances, preservatives, and dyes that can cause an allergic reaction.
  • Some mascara irritate your eyes if the formula or wand applicator is too harsh. Your eyes may water or turn red.
  • With repeated use, you may develop an allergy to one of the ingredients in your mascara. This could cause eye symptoms like stinging, swelling, and eyes are sore.
  • Old or contaminated mascara breeds bacteria, which can lead to irritation and infection like conjunctivitis.
  • If you’re allergic or sensitive, try a hypoallergenic mascara. Or find a mascara with gentler ingredients great for sensitive eyes.
  • Replace your mascara every three months to avoid buildup of irritants and prevent infection.
  • Be gentle when you apply makeup and remove your makeup. Avoid rubbing around the delicate eyelash and eyeliner areas.
  • See an eye doctor if you continue to experience an allergic reaction. They may prescribe medication to help your eyes or offer other solutions for sensitive eyes and skin.

With some care, those with finicky eyes can still make your lashes look great without discomfort!


Are there any home remedies I can use to soothe eye irritation from mascara?

Yes, some home remedies to help soothe irritated eyes after mascara use include cool cucumber slices placed over closed eyes, cool compresses made from chilled green tea bags, and gentle saline eye rinses to flush out any mascara residue. Always make sure to completely remove makeup first.

Is it possible to develop a mascara allergy even after years of using a product with no issues?

Yes, it’s possible to suddenly develop an allergy or sensitivity to a mascara you’ve used without problems for years. Even if you haven’t changed the formula, sensitivities can develop over time with repeated use. Discontinue use of any mascara that begins causing discomfort.

Can usingexpired mascara cause eye infections?

Yes, using mascara beyond its recommended 3 month expiration could increase infection risk. Older mascara contains more bacteria which can lead to conditions like conjunctivitis if contaminated mascara enters the eyes. Always throw out mascara after 3 months.

Are waterproof mascaras more likely to irritate eyes?

Waterproof mascaras are no more likely to cause irritation than regular mascaras. However, some find removing waterproof formulas requires more scrubbing, which could lead to irritation. Use a gentle makeup remover suitable for waterproof eye makeup.

Can men suffer from mascara allergies?

Yes, while less common, men who use mascara for theatrical or cosmetic purposes can develop mascara allergies from ingredients, contaminated tools, or other triggers. Discontinue use and substitute gentler products if this occurs.

Is it okay to wear eye makeup again after a pink eye infection?

After a pink eye infection has fully cleared up, it is generally safe to resume wearing mascara. However, replace all old makeup to avoid re-infection from contaminated products. Also take extra care to keep mascara applicators clean.

Can I wear mascara with lash extensions?

Yes, you can wear mascara with lash extensions but take care to avoid clumping and smudging which could adhere the extensions together. Gently remove all mascara before bed to avoid irritation or damage to extensions. Use a formula designed for use with extensions.


For mascara devotees, few things seem more unfair than suffering stinging, burning eyes after applying their favorite lash enhancer. But sensitivities to certain ingredients, application methods, and contact with the delicate eye area could provoke this unpleasant reaction in some. Understanding the common irritants allows the selection of gentler, hypoallergenic formulas less likely to cause issues. Careful application techniques further reduce risk. For those with recurrent allergic reactions or infections, avoiding mascara altogether for a period may be warranted to allow eyes to heal. With some adjustments to formulas and habits, mascara can again become a tolerable, comfortable part of any eye makeup routine, even for those prone to red, irritated eyes. Lush lashes need not come at the cost of comfort.

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