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My eyes and mascara don’t play nice. One swipe of the wrong kind leaves me inflamed, teary, and bloodshot—not a good look.

Turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this (itchy burny) pain. “Many women have dermatitis or allergies to eye makeup, particularly to mascara because it gets closest to the eyeballs,” says Jessica Lattman, MD, an ophthalmologist in New York. Dry eyes often factor in, she explains, because the condition prevents your eyes from flushing out offending substances.

Those of us who wear contacts and are allergy-prone are even more likely to react (thanks, Universe). But we can still get lush-ish lashes, if we’re willing to tweak our ways. Here, Dr. Lattman’s advice for how to wear mascara without putting your eyes through bloody hell.


Do a DIY patch test

Before you place that wand near your eyes, advises Dr. Lattman, try the product out on your inner forearm (with a Q-tip swipe a little excess product from the base of the wand, then dab on skin). Cover with a piece of tape or adhesive bandage and check again at the end of the day. If you don’t notice any redness, you’re good to go.

Shop old-school

Extension fibers? Proprietary mega-thickening formulas? Not for you. “The simpler the better,” says Dr. Lattman. “Less bells and whistles means less ingredients to irritate you.”


Go basic black

The dyes used in colored formulas are more likely to bother sensitive types. Besides, you are way too sophisticated to look like a 1980s prom queen.

Avoid waterproof

Budge-proof sounds good, until you have to scrub yourself raw trying to get it (somewhat) off. “Waterproof formulas are harder to remove,” which means your sensitive eyes and skin don’t get a break, Dr. Lattman notes. Yes you may get the occasional smudge, but isn’t that better than itchy, irritated eyes? Or your contacts popping right out on you?


Ignore the beauty insiders

So the latest makeup vlogger commands you to wriggle that wand in super close to the lash line. Eye doctors beg you not to. “Avoid the base of the lashes and the lower lash line,” Dr. Lattman instructs. And P.S., when wearing eyeliner, skip the waterline (that flat inner rim of the eye inside the lash line) to avoid getting a bacterialeye infection.

Take. It. All. Off.

You know this. I know this. But we still sometimes crash without removing our eye makeup. (At least I do. You’re probably more disciplined.) Nothing good comes of this habit; it contributes to blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelid that leads to a gritty sensation and tearing. Dr. Lattman is a fan of gently scrubbing lashes and lids with Almay Oil-Free Gentle Eye Makeup Remover Pads ($8; “It’s like giving a shampoo to your lashes.”


Know when to say ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’

Relationships change and that beloved mascara you’ve been loyal to since college may suddenly bug the hell out of you. “I have women who have used a product for years and say, ‘All of a sudden I have redness, irriation and a scaly appearance—that’s an allergy to the product.’” It’s time to part ways.

Oh and one other key tip from the doctor: “Throw mascara away every three months because bacteria can definitely build up and cause an infection.”

Start with these picks

The following mascaras fit the bill for finicky eyes. Keep in mind, though, that everyone has different sensitivities, so start with a patch test.



BareMinerals Flawless Definition Mascara ($18,