What Eye Doctors Need You To Know About Your Favorite Beauty Products

Take a closer look.

Justin Case/Photodisc/Getty Images
close up of a freckled woman's face brushing her eye lashes

When it comes to peer-to-peer social media apps, often the concern isn’t so much outright lies and falsehoods as it is misinformation. A collective obsession with virality and assorted life-improving hacks mean potentially dangerous application techniques, ingredients, and trends as a whole can blow up to massive proportions — which makes it crucial to vet everything you come across, particularly when they involve the delicate, critically important orbital area. Beauty product eye safety is more all-encompassing than remembering to remove waterproof mascara or take your contacts out. Many of the internet’s most mainstream trends and even best-selling makeup and skin care ingredients can end up harming one of your most sensitive organ systems. But with a bit of baseline knowledge and some smart caveats to keep in mind, it’s easy to parse out the Reels and TikTok crazes for what they really are.

Ahead, TZR speaks to two top doctors specializing in optical health and safety for an inside look (pun very much intended) at what makeup and lash trends and hacks they think are fine to try out at home, and which should be avoided at all costs — plus the eye care routine everyone should be performing each night before bed.

Peter Cade/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Viral Trends To Avoid

It might seem obvious, but every viral video you come across needs a skeptical approach first, even if it’s already been seemingly co-signed by thousands of likes and bookmarks — who could forget that ill-advised “teeth-filing” trend that had teens playing DIY dentist in their bathrooms? “There are so many viral videos that I get tagged in that I think people intrinsically know probably aren’t good for their eyes,” says Dr. Ashley Brissette, a leading New York ophthalmologist. “Everything comes with risk, but when it comes to your eyes, some risks are just not worth it.” While everyday favorites like glittery cream shadows can be harmful with improper use, she’s also concerned about TikTok trends like using a hot blowdryer to curl eyelashes, tattoo eyeliner in general, and those popular at-home lash lift and tint kits available on Amazon for a couple dollars. Though professional services are more expensive, Dr. Brissette emphasizes how important it is to go through them instead of just doing it yourself. “...Ask your ophthalmologist first, go somewhere reputable, and be really careful with any chemicals around the eye area — the eyeballs and eyelid skin are so sensitive and really prone to damage.”

miljko/E+/Getty Images

Dr. Inna Lazar, a leading optometrist based in Greenwich, Connecticut, says she too has noticed an uptick in unsafe trends relating to the eyes on social media, even some that involve the eyeball directly, like non-prescription contact use and contact sharing among friends. She also warns laypeople against unregulated lash extensions and growth serums, which she notes have been linked to everything from eye dryness and irritation to orbital fat atrophy.

On a more day-to-day level, Dr. Lazar has some bad news for anyone (raising a hand here) who loves that smoldering, Y2K-style waterline makeup popularized by celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski, Zendaya, and Salma Hayek. “Applying eyeliner or eyeshadow along the waterline may temporarily enhance the appearance of the eyes,” she warns, but “it can also cause irritation and inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the white of the eye and the inner eyelids,” which can lead to dryness, redness, and even a full-blown infection. Dr. Lazar calls skipping waterline makeup as a whole an “essential” — which unfortunately means no pops of white in the waterline or that super smoky “siren eyes” trend so beloved on the red carpet.

Products & Ingredients To Look For

So you’re not sticking internet-ordered, sulfurous chemicals into your eye, fabulous — but what about the everyday products you likely wear regularly? The tricky part of this entire situation is just because something is mainstream or even proliferate over several decades doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a best practice or safe overall. When it comes to mascara, Dr. Lazar explains that different eyes will react in different ways, but there are a few rather universally applicable tips to follow. “Waterproof mascara, for example, can be more difficult to remove and may require more rubbing and tugging, which can irritate the eyes and lead to eyelash loss,” she says. “Additionally, some waterproof mascaras contain harsh chemicals that can dry out the eyelashes and cause them to become brittle and prone to breakage.” Even more troubling is a scientific report Dr. Lazar references, which warns waterproof mascara users about the possibly carcinogenic risks of the products thanks to their PFAS (also known as “forever chemicals”) content.

Rather than a waterproof formula — which Dr. Brissette also advises against, going as far as to say, “no matter what you use, just make sure it’s not waterproof” — a tubing mascara can be a safer alternative. Because that type of makeup is designed to form a temporary tube of product around individual lashes, they’re more easily soluble with warm water and a gentle cleanser.

Whitening eye drops are also having a real moment, thanks to how well they make iris color and even makeup pop against the skin, but that’s another area in which to proceed with a healthy amount of caution. Both doctors agree that the viral Lumify brand is much safer than other iterations, as the formula simply constricts the veins on the surface of the eye. In contrast, other redness-reducing drops like Visine clamp down on those veins and arteries, which Dr. Brissette explains is practically the product’s business model — “these lead to a phenomenon known as rebound dilation which makes your eyes more red, causing you to use the drops again, which leads to a cycle of overuse (that's how they get you to keep using it!)” The risks are less with Lumify, which Dr. Lazar calls the only drops she’d recommend. Still, it’s important to use it as infrequently as possible, keeping it for special occasions only. And, if you find yourself with frequent redness, Dr. Brissette says it’s time to speak with your own doctor to figure out and treat the underlying cause.

Keeping Your Eyes Clean & Safe

Just as you maintain clear, moisturized skin with a properly balanced regimen, a daily eye care routine is key as well. Along with UV filtering through sunglasses and regularly taking a break from eye makeup in general, there are several ways you can optimize your optical health and minimize the risks of beauty product-induced issues.

A thorough yet gentle cleansing of both the lids and lashes is an every day non-negotiable, Dr. Brissette says, likening its importance and daily frequency to brushing your teeth. “Our eyelids and lashes trap all the dust, pollution, bacteria and debris from our environments and they sit there wreaking havoc on the eyes. Then people complain that their eyes feel dry, tired, strained, red, droopy — or even worse, they get styes and infections.” She actually developed her own in-house cleanser, Eye Revive, for that exact purpose. After removing eye makeup, she instructs to carefully cleanse over closed lips and lashes, and under eye cream for extra moisture if necessary. “If you have dryness or irritation, you can add in an artificial tear drop to help lubricate the eyeball, as well as a warm compress with an eye mask over the closed eyelids for a few minutes to help soothe the eyes,” she adds.

The risks of not fully removing eye makeup and debris buildup — and even worse, sleeping in it, can be extremely dangerous. “The most immediate risk is eye irritation, which can occur when makeup particles enter the eyes and cause redness, itchiness, or discomfort,” Dr. Lazar tells TZR. “Over time, not removing eye makeup can also lead to the buildup of bacteria and other harmful micro-organisms, which can cause eye infections such as bacterial conjunctivitis, styes, or even corneal ulcers, especially in contact lens wearers.” And if you need some aesthetic scare tactics, it can also directly lead to eyelash breakage and loss overall.

Taking precautions and making informed choices are always important, but especially when it comes to the eyes. A TikTok trend that seems like a shortcut has the potential for serious lasting damage — keep an eye out for them.