A 50-year-old woman in Australia developed a serious eye problem after wearing mascara for 25 years without removing it properly before going to sleep at night.
The mascara had formed tiny hard deposits that were embedded in the skin under her eyelids — some were coming out and scratching her eyeballs.
The underside of the woman's eyelids had multiple "darkly pigmented concretions," which means the mascara had accumulated into hard masses, like tiny rocks. "The concretions got embedded in the conjunctiva and it went deeper into the subconjunctiva layer, but you could still see it, sort of like a tattoo," said Dr. Rebecca Taylor, clinical spokesperson for the AAO and an ophthalmologist in Nashville. (Taylor didn't treat the patient.)
The conjunctiva is the mucous membrane that covers the eye and the inside of the eyelids; it helps keep the eye moist and protects against infections, Taylor told BuzzFeed News.
"She basically had these rough things stuck on the underside of her upper eyelid so every time she closed her eyes it would scratch her eyeball, particularly the cornea," Taylor said. The cornea is the thin, transparent layer of tissue on the surface of the eye that can cause a lot of pain and discomfort if scratched.
The woman also had follicular conjunctivitis, or a reaction in the conjunctiva to the insult caused by the hardened mascara, Taylor said. If left untreated, the woman's corneal abrasions could have led to serious infection or vision problems.
Not removing makeup properly can cause a number of health problems in and around the eye.
Fortunately, this case was rare. But there are a number of common makeup mistakes that can cause pimples or rashes around the eye, viral infections, and sties — which are small bumps caused by infected follicles or glands on the eyelids.
All of your makeup should come off before you go to sleep, especially anything sticking to your eyelashes. "Your eyelashes need to be clean because they are protecting the eyes ... they are nourished by oil glands and if those glands or the follicles are clogged, that can be a problem," Taylor said.
When you apply your eye makeup, always use clean hands or applicators to avoid getting germs in your eyes. Also, try to avoid overcoating your lashes with mascara or caking concealer and powder over your tear ducts, which can cause irritation or dryness, said Taylor. In general, you shouldn't get any makeup in your actual eyes, especially if you wear contacts.
Another big mistake is sharing eye makeup with friends or using samples at the cosmetic counters. It's an easy way to transmit pink eye and other bacterial and viral infections, said Taylor. You should also throw away eye makeup after three months because infection-causing bacteria can contaminate the products over time. Trust us, we tested makeup for bacteria and it was horrifying.
It's important to remove all of your eye makeup every night before you go to sleep using a gentle cleansing method.
There is no one ophthalmologist-approved eye makeup remover, but Taylor recommends anything that's hydrating, hypoallergenic, and free of fragrances and dyes. Try to avoid anything that's alcohol-based, because it can dry the eyes.
You can purchase eye makeup removers or wipes, but there are also simple and cheap solutions. Taylor suggests using a cotton ball or pad with a petroleum- or oil-based product (Vaseline, Albolene, coconut oil) to get most of the makeup off. Then, rinse the remaining makeup and oil off with baby soap or a gentle cleanser.
It's important to be gentle when removing makeup and to avoid harshly scrubbing the eyelids or skin around the eyes, which is very delicate. "The eyes are a gentle organ, so you have to use a very gentle touch," said Taylor.
Sleeping in your mascara once or twice probably won't harm you, but don't make it a habit.
If you occasionally fall asleep in a full face of glam, don't panic, but don't let it happen regularly either, especially if you wear a lot of mascara and eyeliner. If you do find yourself forgetting to remove your makeup often, keep cleansing face wipes next to your bed.
Unlike the rest of your face, the eyes are particularly vulnerable — and the stakes are higher. Injuries and infections to the eyes can result in vision problems or in rare cases, a loss of sight.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Taylor said.
This post has been updated to clarify the definition of follicular conjunctivitis.