Why Do My Eyes Burn After Wearing Mascara?

woman touching her eye, her eyes are burning after wearing mascara

Growing up, many of us are told: “Beauty is pain.” But, is pain necessary to feel beautiful? When is the pain associated with a beauty product a cause for concern?

If your eyes tear up every time you try to give yourself a thicker, fuller set of lashes, you might be wondering, “Why do my eyes burn after wearing mascara?”

Believe it or not, this isn’t entirely uncommon. Have hope. Achieving eyes that pop isn’t out of the question for you forever. Let’s talk about why your eyes may be burning after wearing mascara, and what you can do to fix this uncomfortable feeling. 

Can Mascara Irritate Your Eyes? 

We can spend hours on our beauty routine, only to have that small tube of black liquid betray us. Mascara can do much more than make your lashes longer, it can cause you major irritation. Yes, mascara can irritate your eyes if the product contains any chemical you’re allergic to, or if it flakes off and lands in your eye. 

This situation can quickly escalate if contacts are involved, as flakey mascara can even get stuck between the eye and the contact lens. Be extra cautious when applying mascara, as a scratched cornea is reportedly far too common among eye doctor patients.

Why Do My Eyes Hurt After Wearing Mascara?

There can be multiple reasons why your eyes are sore after wearing mascara. Don’t ditch your mascara too quickly, as understanding why your eyes are hurting is the first step to making changes to fix it. 

According to a variety of both beauty magazines and eye doctors alike, the most common reasons your eyes may be hurting after wearing mascara are:

Contact Dermatitis

If you’ve been using the same type of mascara day in and day out, only to find that one day you’re suddenly having a reaction, it’s most likely contact dermatitis.

When the skin comes into contact with any allergen (typically fragrances, dyes, or other harsh chemicals) found in mascara, redness, burning, swelling, or itching can occur. This is often after prolonged use. 


Apply mascara gently, even if you want your lashes to be seen from a mile away. Applying any eye product too vigorously can cause the sensitive skin on, and around your eyes to become irritated. 


As with any kind of product that sits on a shelf, there’s likely to be preservatives and other toxic ingredients that can easily cause red and puffy eyes. Three of the most common ingredients known to cause eye irritation are:

  • Formalin: A preservative and disinfectant that 10% of makeup users are allergic to. In animal tests, it caused bigger problems such as blindness, and vision impairment. 
  • Diazolidinyl Urea: A formaldehyde preservative attributing to 5% of eye irritation cases. 
  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene: A preservative known for a third of all contact dermatitis cases. 

Harsh Tools

Any eye makeup tool that is rough such as an old eye pencil, or in this case, a dried-out mascara wand, is likely to cause eye irritation. The eyelid is a delicate area of the skin and needs to be treated as such. 

Sharing Makeup

Bacteria can easily grow if you share makeup with others. The skin around the eye is incredibly sensitive and prone to infections. Pink eye is commonly associated with the sharing of mascara. 

Why Do My Eyes Get Red When I Wear Mascara? 

If your eyes get red when you wear mascara, it’s likely that you’re allergic to one of the ingredients in the mascara. Mascara is made up of a few different ingredients, including preservatives and dyes.

If you’re allergic to one of these ingredients, you may experience red eyes, as the tiny blood vessels found under the surface of your eye become inflamed. In addition to redness, you may also experience burning, itching, or watering eyes.

When your eyes turn red after application, this is your body’s way of telling you immediately that an unknown substance is not suited for your skin type. This can happen with any beauty product, however, eye makeup is the easiest to spot as it occurs in the most sensitive spot on our face. 

Why Do My Eyes Water When I Wear Mascara?

There are a few reasons why your eyes might water when you wear mascara. Some people’s eyes water when they wear mascara because they are allergic to the ingredients in the mascara. Others’ eyes water because the mascara is irritating their eyes.

Think of your eyes as having miniature plumbing systems. Our eyes water as our body responds to foreign objects. When our eyes come in contact with foreign matter, the tear ducts begin to make an attempt at flushing these substances out. 

Tears are your body’s natural way of fighting off infection and relieving pain. If your eyes water when you wear a certain brand of mascara, try a different kind or take a look at the ingredient label. If your eyes water regularly, it is important to see a doctor to find out the cause.

What Ingredients In Mascara Cause Allergic Reactions?

As we’ve discussed, ingredients such as diazolidinyl urea and formalin are known contributors to a variety of symptoms such as inflamed eyelids, irritated eyes, dry or itchy eyes, and surrounding skin rashes. 

When it comes to beauty product manufacturers, they aim to find products that are mostly safe, yet are still effective. Many of these ingredients do not cause reactions in the majority of the population, however, a small percentage of people may experience less than pleasant side effects.

These ingredients found in mascara have reportedly caused allergic reactions among consumers:

  • Quaternium-22: A skin irritant used to preserve the shelf life of some makeup products.
  • Shellac: Used to bind mascara and add shine to nail polishes and hair spray. Can cause a chemical reaction to those with sensitive skin.
  • Colophony: A rosin made from trees, used to boost many of a mascara’s properties.
  • P-phenylenediamine: A chemical dye used for tinted mascaras.
  • Yellow Carnauba Wax: Used to hold mascara fibers together and bond them for longer.
  • Coathylene: Gives mascara an ‘anti-slip’ effect, preventing mascara from running.
  • Black and Yellow Iron Oxides: Used in waterproof mascara. 
  • Nickel: Metals have long bothered the skin of many consumers with sensitive eyes. 

How Do You Know If You Are Allergic To Mascara?

Since our eyes are so incredibly vulnerable, it can be easy to spot and feel an allergic reaction coming on. However, in some cases physical symptoms may appear in other areas of the body, making it a bit more complicated. 

Other areas that may exhibit signs of a mascara allergy include the hands, fingers, neck, and face. So, how do you know if you’re allergic to your mascara?

If you exhibit any of these symptoms after applying mascara, you may be experiencing an allergy:

  • Inflamed skin 
  • Hives 
  • Redness 
  • Rash
  • Itchiness 
  • Small blisters

If you develop these symptoms, stop using the product immediately. Since cosmetics, like mascara, contain a formula packed full of perfumes, emulsifiers, metals, sunscreen, preservatives, and botanicals, it’s no surprise that allergic reactions can occur.

In fact, according to an article in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, “solvent-based mascaras can induce contact dermatitis due to its content of irritating substances.” A 2002 dermatology study also linked shellac and quaternium-22 in mascara to allergic contact dermatitis of the eyelids.

Many people are surprised to find out that they have allergic reactions to makeup products because they’ve used them for years without any problems, but sometimes allergies show up later in life. Allergic reactions occur when the immune system reacts to a foreign substance it perceives as harmful.

How Do You Stop Your Eyes From Burning From Mascara?

There are a few tips and tricks to avoiding the dreadful burn that comes from your beauty routine. In the event your eye irritation isn’t caused by an allergy, try these strategies to prevent your freshly coated lashes from making you look like you have a bad case of pink eye.

Cotton Swab

While this may seem obvious, it has to be said—mascara can make your eyes burn if you accidentally get product in your eye. This can happen if you apply too close to your lash line, or if you apply too aggressively. Even if you’re running late, never apply mascara harshly and carelessly—your eyes are fragile! 

After application, run a cotton swab under your lashes. This can remove any excess mascara that may find its way into your eye. Running a cotton swab along the corner of your eye is beneficial as well, as it removes any unwanted mascara, bronzer, eye shadow, or other makeup product that isn’t in the proper place.

Wash Your Face Beforehand 

Another uncomfortable reason you may have burning eyes after applying mascara is soap residue. Wash your face beforehand with warm water to rid the lashes of any leftover soap from your face wash. This will ensure you avoid pushing excess soap farther into your eye. Ouch!

Use A Primer

Since our eyes are particularly sensitive, they may react quite differently to cosmetic products than the rest of our body. Using a makeup primer on a freshly washed face is a highly effective way to add a ‘protective barrier’ to your eyes. 

Don’t apply primer onto your lashes, but instead apply a thin layer on your eyelid and around your eyes. Primer not only protects your eyes from irritants, but it also works to soothe skin and keeps your makeup in place all day.

Wash Your Face Before Bed

Never, ever, ever, sleep with makeup on. Not only are you preventing the skin from breathing, but you can also develop deposits in and around the eye area that can cause chronic irritation. In addition, the mascara dries out as the day goes on.

These flakes of product can find their way into your eye as you sleep and cause even more damage. Before bed, always use an eye makeup remover and face wash to ensure all products have been taken off completely. 

Final Thoughts: Why Do My Eyes Burn After Wearing Mascara?

If you’re anything like me, then your makeup routine simply isn’t complete until your lashes are coated in that sweet, sweet, black substance. Mascara can truly transform both your look and your self-confidence.

Don’t allow yourself to suffer from burning, watery or itchy eyes any longer. You don’t have to give up the tube just because you’re uncomfortable. Thankfully, hypoallergenic solutions exist.

Just remember, even if you buy a hypoallergenic mascara, be sure to follow the basic rules of eye care: apply gently, wash your makeup off before bed, and replace your mascara every 3 months. Healthy lashes will make for a happier you. 


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Categorized as Makeup

By Cierra Tolentino

Cierra Tolentino is a beauty writer at Kintegra Research. She loves keeping people up-to-date with the latest beauty trends in skincare, hair care, and makeup. Finding answers to tough questions is her thing. When she has free time you can find her chasing down a clumsy toddler and obsessively drinking tea.