Your eyes are delicate organs. The tender tissues that your eyes are made of are vulnerable to infection and irritation from all sorts of natural aggravators - wind, sun, dust, dirt - as well as from things you put on or near your eyes. This includes cosmetic products, from makeup like eye shadow and mascara to products meant to remove makeup and cleanse the skin to adhesives, dyes, and tints used to change the appearance of the eyebrows and eyelashes.

When something gets into the eye, it can trigger inflammation, irritation, and infection. Some serious types of infection can lead to vision loss or blindness.

What's the safest way to apply eye makeup?
First and foremost, it is safest to put on eye makeup in a well-lit room - not in the car on your way to work! Applying makeup in the car is unsafe in general, but if you slip or miss the target with your eyeliner or mascara, your eyes could bear the injury or irritation.

Before you apply eye makeup, wash your hands and nails well. Apply product away from the eyes to avoid blocking the oil glands that are on the eyelids. Never use saliva to moisten dry or caked makeup. Be sure to remove makeup before sleeping. Use cotton swabs to gently remove any traces of makeup from along the base of your lids and lashes.

What products are safe to use on or near your eyes?
Any cosmetic product sold in Canada must meet standards of safety and clean manufacturing, and contaminated products are recalled and/or discontinued until the problem has been fixed. So you can usually rest assured that the makeups, cleansers, and moisturizers you buy are safe for use.

However, once you have purchased a product, it is up to you to use it safely! Read and follow all instructions on product labels.

What products are unsafe to use on or near my eyes?
Of course, any product not intended for use on or near the eyes should be avoided. This warning bears repeating, though, as some people do things like use hair dye to change the colour of their eyebrows.

That said, even those items deemed safe for use on or near the eyes should be used within 3 months of purchase and then thrown out. If you keep eye shadow or other products around too long, preservatives may no longer protect your eyes from bacteria.

Also, eye makeup that contains glitter or that becomes flaky could pose an irritant risk to the eyes and should be used with great care. And be cautious about buying and using kohl eye makeup, traditional in Middle Eastern, North African, and Asian cultures. Some types of kohl-based products contain lead. Not to be confused with modern eyeliner, kohl is usually found in ethnic stores or markets, sold in a powder form that is put onto an applicator stick for use. Health Canada has removed all known lead-containing kohl from the market and has taken measures to prevent further importation into Canada. However, products that kohl-based products containing lead may still be found.

Is there any time that I should not use eye cosmetics?
Do not use eye makeup - including eye shadow, mascara, and eye liner - that you purchased more than 3 months ago. Toss out any eye cosmetics that irritate or infect your eyes.

If you develop an eye infection or irritation, stop using eye makeup until your eyes have cleared. For those with allergies or sensitive skin, try out any new eye makeup on one eye first, and then wait to see if any irritation occurs before applying it to the other eye.

You should also never share eye makeup, due to infection risk. This warning extends to use of in-store eye-makeup "samplers." If you must sample a "tester" product, use a fresh applicator.

Do not use eye makeup if you have eye surgery. Wait until your doctor gives you the okay to do so. When you get the go-ahead, use only fresh, new makeup.

What about makeup or eye cosmetics that are applied in a salon setting?
Dyes used to apply "permanent makeup," like tattoo ink, are considered cosmetics products in Canada and thus must meet certain standards for safety under Health Canada's Cosmetic Regulations. Likewise, salons that offer false eyelash application or eyelash "extensions" must also follow strict guidelines for training aestheticians and other people to safely use and apply the required adhesive products.

Amy Toffelmire