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Woman applying eyeliner

Is eyeliner damaging your eyes?

Eyeliner is commonly used to add definition to the contours of the eyes. The popular cosmetic dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt, when it was heavily used by both sexes.

Today, eyeliner is often applied as part of a daily make up routine. There are five commonly-used types of eyeliner:

  • Kohl Eyeliner – Very dark, soft powder. Available in loose powder, pressed powder or pencil form. This type of eyeliner is the most similar to that used by ancient civilisations.
  • Liquid Eyeliner – Dark, opaque liquid. Applied with felt or a brush, forming a sharp line that usually isn’t smudged.
  • Gel Eyeliner – Dark gel. Applied using a brush, to give an appearance that is much softer than other types of eyeliner.
  • Powder Pencil – Eyeliner in pencil form. The eyeliner is drawn directly onto the skin, with no need for a separate applicator.
  • Wax Pencil – Softer eyeliner in pencil form. Drawn directly on the skin, and often available in vivid colours. Wax eyeliner may also come in the form of a compact. 

Eyeliner on the waterline

Eyeliner soreA common eyeliner technique is to apply it directly to the eye’s waterlines. This is the area found above the lashes on the lower eyelid, and below the lashes on the upper eyelid. 

The waterline method can result in the eye appearing more boldly defined than other techniques. However, applying eyeliner to the waterline has been shown to pose a risk to the eye itself.

“We noticed that the makeup migration happened quicker and was greater when eyeliner was put on the inner lid margin.”

Dr Alison Ng, of the Centre for Contact Lens Research at the University of Waterloo, conducted a study that looked into the risks posed by eyeliner wear. In the study, Dr Ng recorded how many eyeliner particles entered the eye’s tear film after various application techniques.

Dr Ng found that eyeliner particles in the tear film were appearing at a far greater frequency after application to the waterline. “We noticed that the makeup migration happened quicker and was greater when eyeliner was put on the inner lid margin,” claims Dr Ng.

The study concluded that 15 to 30 percent more eyeliner particles enter the tear film when applied to the waterline. It also occurs at an accelerated rate compared to other methods. 

Woman applying eyeliner

Contact lens users are particularly at risk when applying eyeliner to the waterline. ”People who wear contact lenses are most likely to notice some problems,” says Dr Ng. “If they have eyeliner stuck to their lenses, increasing deposits might cause vision disruption as the lens becomes cloudier.”

Other researchers have had similar findings when studying the side effects of eyeliner application on the waterline. 

“Wearing eyeliner inside or outside the lash line is a personal choice,” says Glenn Carp of the London Vision Clinic. “However, applying your eyeliner outside of the lash line can minimise your risk of scratching the eye, or getting an infection.”

There is also the risk of the eyeliner pencil coming into contact with the surface of the eye during application. If this is a regular occurrence, it can lead to irritation, swellings, or an infection.