Courtesy Tom Munro PhotographyIf Jennifer Aniston looks perfectly cheery and bright-eyed in every movie, TV show, or advertisement she’s ever appeared in, you can chalk that up to her being a really good actress, because it turns out she has been suffering from chronic dry eye for literally decades, claiming her true best friend was the little bottle of eye drops she kept with her at all times until her diagnosis.
When we blink, our eyes produce tears that keep our peepers healthy and lubricated. But those with dry eye don’t produce enough tears—or tears of good enough quality—to wash particles out and prevent infection, according to the American Optometric Association. Instead, they’re left with itchy, burning, painful eyes and the feeling that there’s something in their eyes that won’t come out. In rare cases, it can even lead to vision problems.
“I never knew it was a real problem, just that it was really a problem for me,” the actress told Reader’s Digest exclusively. “It was the biggest problem I had on set, I’d sometimes have to stop for ten minutes or more just to lay a cloth on my eyes, or I’d be stopping just to put drops in my eyes over and over again. You can’t even imagine what it’s like to film really emotional scenes when your eyes are already a problem.”
Aniston isn’t alone either. A 2017 study estimates 16 million adults have been diagnosed with dry eye disease. The condition is more common with age and with women, and about 19 percent of older adults have a diagnosis—and even more are undiagnosed. As part of a new campaign to raise awareness about chronic dry eye, Aniston partnered with eyelove to tackle some pretty tough, and formerly embarrassing aspects of the condition, like stinging, irritation, grittiness, occasional blurry vision, and burning, itchy eyes. The condition took serious tolls on the A-lister’s life, too, because she found herself shying away from both work and life activities on account of either having to treat her dry eye symptoms or explain them.
“I just remember not knowing this was a real condition,” Aniston said of her eye drop obsession. “I didn’t even know eye health was a thing. You think about so many other types of health, but you just assume your eyes are folded into the rest. You don’t even consider that eye health is an issue all on its own. I’d be with makeup artists using my little bottle of tears, and telling them I could only use certain makeup products or that I’d have to stay away from certain looks because I was afraid of using eyeliner or mascara. It was crazy.”
Eventually Aniston found herself getting tested at her doctor’s office for dry eye, which she recommends others do as well if these symptoms sound familiar. Unsurprisingly, she tested positive for the condition, which can actually be triggered by screen use (hello, cellphone addiction), aging, wearing contacts, medications, and even just living in a dry climate, like California. As part of her new TV campaign to spread dry eye awareness, she even talks about how she prefers talking on the phone to texting now.
“I’m just so much more aware that having a real conversation is so much better in so many ways, including cutting down on screen time. I obviously use my phone and look at screens, I just don’t want to have my eyes glued to them all day.”
It wasn’t just screen time affecting her dry eye symptoms, though. It was all the normal, day-to-day activities most of us take for granted.
“It was every aspect of my life that was being affected by my dry eye. I couldn’t go for a normal run without needing my tears or having to stop for several minutes at a time. I couldn’t work out outside because I was afraid I’d have an eye reaction to sunscreen.” she explained. “I used to just think that because I have blue eyes I was just more sensitive. Everyone always told me blue eyes are naturally more sensitive, but now I know that’s not the real reason at all.”