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If the mascara leaves you with watery eyes, swollen or irritated eyelids, or itchy and burning skin, you might suspect you have a mascara allergy.
It’s possible to have an allergic reaction after applying mascara, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allergic to the mascara itself. On the contrary, you could have a sensitivity or an allergy to one (or more) of the ingredients of your mascara.
Allergic contact dermatitis is a common reaction to some cosmetic products, and some ingredients are more likely to cause a reaction than others.
Read on to learn the signs and symptoms of a mascara ingredient allergy, the ingredients most likely to trigger this reaction, and what to do about it.
If you have an allergy or sensitivity to ingredients in your mascara, you’ll primarily notice signs and symptoms in the area that comes in contact with the allergen: your eyelid and lash line. If your mascara is flaking on your lashes and in your eyes, you could also have eye symptoms.
You will most likely begin to develop symptoms soon after applying a new mascara for the first time. That said, it is also possible to develop allergic contact dermatitis after repeated use of a product over a long period of time.
An allergy or sensitivity to mascara can cause:
Although these symptoms can seem very uncomfortable and annoying, they usually don’t become too severe unless you are extremely allergic to an ingredient in the mascara.
Keep in mind, however, that irritation doesn’t always indicate an allergy. Many skincare and beauty products can cause mild irritation or other side effects, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Although you cannot, strictly speaking, be allergic, it is never a bad thing to avoid products that cause irritation or discomfort.
An allergy or sensitivity to mascara is usually linked to a hypersensitivity to preservatives, dyes and fragrances. If you have sensitive skin and have reacted to certain ingredients in the past, you are more likely to have a reaction to those ingredients in mascara.
Preservatives are a common culprit because water-based makeup, like most mascaras, often contains them in particularly high amounts. It should be emphasized, however, that conservatives are not inherently evil. In fact, they play a vital role in preventing the growth of harmful microorganisms that could cause irritation and infection.
Some common preservatives in mascara that can cause irritation include:
- sodium benzoate
- quaternium-15 (formaldehyde releaser)
Allergic to nickel or other metals? The black iron oxide sometimes used to color mascara can also cause an allergic reaction, due to nickel contamination.
Fragrance, another common component of mascara, can also cause irritation.
“Fragrance” serves as an umbrella term for the various ingredients that give cosmetics a pleasant scent – or help mask the less-than-pleasant scents of other ingredients. Perfume may contain alcohol, essential oils and other potential irritants and allergens.
About 1% of adults have fragrance allergies. In fact, when it comes to allergic contact dermatitis triggers, perfume allergy ranks second, while nickel allergy ranks first.
Removing the allergen should stop your symptoms.
To remove the allergen, you will need to completely remove all traces of mascara from your lashes and surrounding skin. Applying a cool compress can help relieve irritation.
It is best to stop using the product you are linking to the reaction. Once the irritation has passed, you can try another brand instead.
If your symptoms do not improve after a day or two, or if they get worse, a good next step is to contact a medical professional for further advice and treatment.
Avoid picking or scratching the irritated area. Excessive rubbing and scratching could introduce bacteria into your eyes or tiny openings in your skin.
Therefore, eyelid dermatitis can sometimes lead to complications such as skin infections and eye infections.
You will want to see a doctor if you notice:
- worsening pain
- severe inflammation or swelling
Checking a mascara’s ingredients before using it is usually the best way to prevent an adverse reaction.
If you think you have an allergy or sensitivity to any of the common skincare ingredients, avoid mascara containing those ingredients.
Another helpful step? Try to test the product before applying it to your eyes.
To do a test patch:
- Apply a small amount of product to a less visible spot on your face, such as just under your jawline or behind your ear.
- Leave the area undisturbed for at least 24 hours.
- Check for any adverse reactions, such as tingling, swelling, or peeling.
- If you want to be absolutely certain, repeat these steps for a few days. You won’t always notice a reaction the first time you use a product.
- No reaction? Go ahead and use mascara.
Remember that a patch test doesn’t offer a guarantee, especially when it comes to products you use around your eyes. Eyelid skin is very delicate and may react to a product that does not affect skin elsewhere on your body.
If you have sensitive skin, opt for a labeled mascara:
Some popular options for people concerned about a possible mascara allergy:
Check out our top picks for natural makeup products.
Your peepers are important!
Keep these tips in mind to use mascara safely and minimize your risk of irritation and injury:
- Stop using mascara or any other eye product immediately if it causes irritation.
- Discard mascara after 3 months.
- Don’t try to revive dried out mascara by adding water, saliva, or anything else, as this may introduce bacteria into your mascara.
- Do not share mascara or other eye makeup.
- Avoid using mascara if you have an eye infection.
- If the brush end of your mascara wand touches the floor or any other dirty surface, wash it before using it or putting it back in the tube.
Having sensitive skin or an allergy to common mascara ingredients doesn’t automatically mean you’re destined for a life of puny lashes.
Just be sure to always read your labels and pay attention to what’s in a mascara before you buy it.
If multiple mascara products are triggering a similar reaction, it may be time to contact a dermatologist. They can help you identify the ingredient(s) causing your symptoms and offer more advice on skin-safe makeup products.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and writer who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for over a decade. When she’s not cooped up in her writing shed looking for an article or interviewing medical professionals, she can be found frolicking around her seaside town with her husband and his dogs or wading on the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.