Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Eyeliner Bad For You?



Short answer

In some circumstances, eyeliner can be bad for you. However, if you avoid harmful ingredients, apply it properly and throw the product when it expires, you should be able to enjoy it safely.



Long answer

Eyeliner was first used by the Egyptians back in 10,000 B.C. It’s no surprise—Cleopatra has been famously portrayed wearing sultry, black winged eyeliner for centuries now. However, the product served more than aesthetic purposes for Ancient Egyptians. It helped shield their eyes from harsh desert sunlight, and some research also indicates that eyeliner was used to protect the wearer from evil spirits.

Today, eyeliner is commonly used as part of daily makeup routines. There are many different styles of eyeliner and ways to wear it. For instance, you can use a liquid liner to create sharper lines with longer wear-time, gel liner for an easy, precise application or kohl liner to smudge out for a smokey look.

Different types of eyeliner also mean that each is made with different ingredients. And some may be more harmful than others. In particular, kohl eyeliners can sometimes contain lead which is toxic at high concentrations. Other eyeliner ingredients to avoid include talc, butylated hydroxyanisole or BCA, sulfates, and parabens. These chemical additives help stabilize the product and prevent mold growth, but some are known skin irritants while others have been linked to cancer.

In addition to distinct ingredients, there are also some unique methods to applying eyeliner which, though fairly popular, are not necessarily safe. “Tightlining” or “waterlining” refers to the practice of lining the inner rims of the eyes, most often with a kohl or gel liner. While this look is trendy, it’s actually not recommended by most health professionals. Tightlining can place dangerous bacteria right into your eye, increasing the risk of infection. It also blocks some of the oil glands that help protect the cornea—one study suggested that tightlining may even tear the cornea.

Paying attention to ingredients and playing it safe when it comes to eyeliner application techniques are important. But neither of these things matter if you are working with a product that’s well past its prime. All cosmetics have a limited shelf life, and those that come in close proximity to your eye (including liner) are especially short. The older a liner is, the more likely bacterial or fungal contamination is present. When you bring that product directly into contact with your eye, it can result in a serious infection and potentially even long-term damage.

So how long ‘til it’s time to toss your eyeliners? You can hang onto pencil liners for about two years. However, gels and liquids should be thrown out after three months: these versions often contain lids, which makes it much easier for bacteria to thrive and multiply.

Possible short-term side effects

  • eye irritation
  • infection

Possible long-term side effects

  • cornea tears
  • cancer

Ingredients to be aware of


  • defines lashline
  • enhances the shape and size of eyes

Thank you for your feedback!

View Sources | Written by Rachel Adams
Published on: 11-14-2023
Last updated: 11-28-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

View Sources
Written by Rachel Adams
Published on: 11-14-2023
Last updated: 11-28-2023

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