Being a makeup lover with sensitive eyes is one of the great dilemmas of the beauty world. You want to create a flawless cat eye, but liquid liner leaves your eyelids stinging and your on-point smoky-eye skills don’t really show when the rest of your eye has turned red and puffy. What’s a beauty enthusiast to do when your eyes just don’t love a fresh makeup look as much as you do? We asked Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, how to clear things up.
“The skin around the eyes is among the thinnest and most sensitive in the body,” Zeichner explains, noting that just because the rest of your face isn’t sensitive doesn’t mean your eye area can’t be. “It is often regularly exposed to allergens and irritants not affecting other body parts, simply because of contamination from dirty fingers rubbing your eyes.” Yep, just like your mom always told you, you should keep your hands away from your face.
In fact, when it comes to bad skin reactions around the eye, you can point the finger directly at, well, your fingers. “Topicals that cause irritation on the face may be doubly irritating on the eyelids—things like acne medications or retinol,” says Zeichner. “If you inadvertently touch your eyes with fingers that have just applied these products to your face, beware.” And if you thought the fingertip transference ended with skin care, get ready to be surprised. “Nail polish is a common cause of eyelid dermatitis as a result of eye rubbing from polished nails,” says Zeichner. If red spots, rashes, or irritated patches around your eyes are a common problem for you, Zeichner recommends skipping out on your mani habit for a few weeks to see if the problem improves. You can also try different brands of nail polish—many companies have dedicated themselves to using healthier, greener formulas in the last few years, ditching chemicals like camphor, a common irritant. (We’re fans of Julep Nail Color which is five-free and vegan.)
If a nail-color sabbatical doesn’t help, it may be time to switch up your product regimen. Look for products that call out their hypoallergenic status on their packaging, like VMV Hypoallergenics, and try using a silicone-based primer or a thin layer of petroleum jelly before you apply your eye makeup to create a barrier between your skin and any potentially problem-causing ingredients.
Still dealing with itch and irritation? “Get patch testing,” recommends Zeichner. “These are allergy tests in which patches are applied to the skin, each representing a different potential skin allergen. The testing may identify a pigment, fragrance or preservative that you cannot tolerate.”