18 Ways Your Makeup Might Be Making You Sick

Updated: Apr. 08, 2021

Makeup might make you feel pretty, but if you're not careful, the products you use and way you use them could take a toll on your health.


You don’t pay attention when applying mascara

If you don’t give your mascara application your undivided attention, you could wind up with something a lot worse than excess black around your eyelids. “Some of my patients get scratches on their cornea from mishandling the mascara wand. It’s something that gets so close to the actual eye that you can scratch yourself if you don’t have a good technique,” says Michelle Rhee, MD, an ophthalmologist with the Mount Sinai Health System.


 You’re a fan of shimmery eyeshadow

If you like to make your eyes pop with flashy eyeshadow, it’s a good idea to spend a little more to ensure your eye safety. “Some of the cheaper brands may have a ton of shimmer or glitter that can separate from the shadow; then it can get in the eye and irritate it if you’re not careful,” says Dr. Rhee. If that happens, flush out the eye immediately and consider switching brands. (These makeup tips will really make your eyes pop.)


Your makeup is made overseas

Beware of makeup products manufactured abroad and imported to the America. These products can become contaminated with harmful bacteria known to cause infections in various parts of the body, such as the digestive and urinary tracts; poor packaging and shipping or storage conditions may be to blame, according to the FDA. U.S.-made makeup can become contaminated too, due to factors like the materials or ingredients used and poor manufacturing conditions. It’s a good idea to pay attention to recalls and safety alerts specific to makeup, just like you would with food.


All your products are discount brands

There’s a time and place for cheaper makeup brands, and any product that you apply directly to your skin (like foundation and concealer) isn’t one of them. “Cheaper products can inflame the skin because they’re often not as cosmetically elegant,” says Mona Gohara, MD, of Advanced Dermcare in Danbury, Conneticut. Look for products that say “non-comedogenic,” which means they’re specially formulated not to clog pores. These are sneaky reasons you’re having an acne breakout.


You don’t cater to your skin

If you have sensitive skin, there are certain products you should avoid. “Any cream-based products like BB and CC creams tend to be heavy and more likely to irritate or clog pores than powder-based ones, which aren’t good if you have sensitive skin,” says Dr. Gohara. If you’re acne-prone, some products even contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, two acne-fighting ingredients.


You share makeup

If you and your friends are getting ready for a night out as a group, everyone should bring their own makeup bags. “Sharing makeup can be dangerous, especially eye makeup. You can get eye infections by passing germs back and forth, like conjunctivitis (inflammation of the mucus membranes of the eye), inflammation of the eyelid, and possibly even of the cornea,” says Dr. Rhee. And never use the testers at makeup counters if someone else has touched it before you; if you must sample before you buy, be sure to use a single-use applicator. Pay attention to these pink eye symptoms.


You love eyelash curlers

If your mascara wand just doesn’t give you the eyelash curl that you want, be extra careful when wielding an eyelash curler. If not used properly, you could scratch your eyeball, says Dr. Rhee.


You don’t read the ingredients

Read the makeup label just as you would a food nutrition label at the grocery store. Color additives are strictly regulated and several that are approved for cosmetic use in general aren’t approved or safe for use around the eye area. Check out the FDA’s color additives page for more information.


You don’t clean your brushes

“Theoretically, you should clean your makeup brushes as often as you clean your face, but obviously that can’t always happen,” says Dr. Gohara. Clean your brushes once a week with a mild non-soap cleanser and let them dry overnight. Dead skin cells and other germs can get caught in the bristles and get into your skin as you swirl makeup on your face. Here’s what can happen if you don’t clean your brushes regularly.


You scrub off your makeup

The skin around your eyes is especially delicate, and scrubbing too hard can lead to popped blood vessels and dark circles. Use a mild cleanser to remove makeup and avoid rubbing too roughly.


You live in eyelash extensions

If you can’t live without eyelash extensions, do your research before heading out to get them applied. “Go to a reputable place where the aestheticians are experienced. They’re working with sharp instruments around the globe of your eye and you can get an injury as benign as a corneal abrasion and as severe as a puncture,” says Dr. Rhee. If you’re applying yourself, be extra careful with the eyelash glue. “It’s unusual but I’ve had patients who accidentally got glue in their eye and I’m not sure it’s worth the risk for fun and beauty,” she says. Not only will it hurt (a lot!), it can also affect your vision.


You sleep with your makeup on

Just how bad is it to sleep in your makeup? “Skin naturally regenerates itself at night, that’s why it’s called beauty sleep. If you leave your makeup on it’s less likely to regenerate in a healthy capacity, can clog pores, and builds up more residue as it gets caked in there,” says Dr. Gohara. Gently wash your face every night before bed, no matter how tired you are.


You keep products forever

Makeup has an expiration date, too, and using products past their prime could lead to irritation or even infection. Up to six months is a good shelf life for all products; when mascara or liquid eyeliner starts to clump, that’s a good sign it’s time to replace. And always throw out lipstick or gloss if you’ve had a cold sore.


You don’t wash your hands

If you’re using your fingers to smudge eye makeup or blend creams into your facial skin, always wash your hands first. If you don’t, any dirt, germs, and bacteria that may be on your fingers or under your nails can be transferred right to your face. Here are ways you didn’t know you’re washing your hands wrong.


You never clean your makeup bag

Your makeup bag needs a bath every once in awhile to remove dust, particles, dirt, and even bacteria. Depending on the material, wipe down the inside with hot soapy water and let dry, throw them in the dishwasher or washing machine.


You’re considering makeup “tattoos”

Getting your eyeliner or eyebrows tattooed on seems like the perfect way to cut down on your makeup routine each morning, but you could be putting yourself at risk if it’s not properly done. “Tattooing eyeliner on is not trivial. They’re working so close to your eyeball that there’s a risk they could penetrate the globe itself,” says Dr. Rhee. There are currently no color additives approved by the FDA for permanent dying or tinting of eyebrows and lashes. Here’s more on how safe permanent makeup is for you.


You have colored contacts

If you want to switch up your eye color with colored contact lenses, go to an optometrist and never, ever buy them on your own. “Supervised use of cosmetic lenses are the only safe way to use these,” says Dr. Rhee. “If you buy them from some company online, you don’t know what they’re made of. They can look like a reputable brand but just like handbags they can be counterfeited; materials can rub off and if you’re not taught how to use them by a doctor, it can be dangerous.” Here’s how to wear makeup with glasses.


You don’t use the right makeup brushes

“The softer the bristle the better,” says Dr. Gohara. Soft bristles are gentler on the skin and less likely to cause irritation that could lead to an acne breakout or rosacea flare up.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest