Is there a mascara secret that I'm just not in on?
June 3, 2014 1:43 PM   Subscribe

I made it through most of my 37 years without wearing make-up. I also made it through most of my 37 years without ever getting a stye.

About a year ago, I decided it would be fun to experiment with enhancing my god-given qualities, and explore the realm of wearing make-up. I started wearing a little (eyeshadow, mascara, occasionally eyeliner) to go out on Saturday nights, maybe 2-3x/month. All products were drugstore brand - L'Oreal, Revlon. I always washed it off before bed, although sometimes I noted a little residual the next morning.

Since I started doing this (again, 1 year ago), I have endured FOUR styes (thankfully sequential, not concurrent). One of them needed surgical removal after turning into a chalazion. They have hit me in both eyes, one on the upper lid, the others on the lower.

I have narrowed the problem down to the use of mascara. I have used three different mascaras in this 1-year period - thinking bacteria build-up could be a culprit - and have gotten styes after use of each, sometimes after only 2 or 3 uses of the bottle. After the second stye, I started using special eye-makeup removal pads instead of just washing with soap, hoping that a gentler cleansing routine would make the difference. The styes continued. I also tried applying the mascara to just the top lashes. The styes continued.

I like to think that I am of average to above-average personal hygiene (then again, don't we all). However, it appears that I must be doing SOMETHING wrong here - YouTube beauty videos are filled with women whose daily routine includes wearing what appears to be 3 inches of mascara +/- false eyelashes and THEY are not getting repulsive styes every few months!!

I have pitched all my mascaras at this point, because the ROI is just not worth it. But I am plagued with the sense that I am somehow missing some secret knowledge that women everywhere, except me, are privy to.

Are there others out there with a similar problem? Is it an issue with technique? Product? God forbid, hygiene? Are my eyelid glands just THAT sensitive? Should I just give up the dream?
posted by tentacle to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Your eyes definitely may be just that sensitive. My mom can use an extremely limited list of products (any products) because she just has reactions to many things.

Two thoughts:

Have you tried a tubing mascara? These at least shouldn't flake if that may be causing irritation.

If you just can't stand wearing mascara, you can get your eyelashes dyed at fancy salons. I've had it recommended to me because I have very fair eyelashes and brows.
posted by rawralphadawg at 1:49 PM on June 3, 2014

I think you must just be that sensitive.

I've had maybe 3 styes in my life, and I am probably the least responsible mascara user on the planet. And I *do* get staph infections in other places.

I was also considering suggesting tubing mascara, which is sort of a polymer that stabilizes a few seconds after application and comes off (more or less intact) with warm water. I use Loreal Beauty Tubes, it's maroon on one end and white on the other.

But, if you were willing to try a new product, I would say wait 3 stye-free months before any attempts.

There is also dyeing, which I've thought about getting done. And places that dye generally also do extensions. So at least if it gave you a stye, you wouldn't need it redone very often.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:52 PM on June 3, 2014

Yes, tubing mascara might work well for you. Trish McEvoy makes a good (though a little expensive) one.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:52 PM on June 3, 2014

I get painful, awful styes constantly if I wear contact lenses, to the point that I've worn only glasses for over a decade. There's thousands and thousands of people out there who wear contact lenses every single day. Everybody's different, and some people's eyes don't take kindly to being poked with foreign matter every day.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:53 PM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I wonder if, after years of not wearing makeup, you're in a habit of unconsciously touching your face and eyes a lot--and if, now that your face and eyes have stuff on them, you're introducing a more-than-usual amount of foreign substances and chemicals to sensitive eyes.

Another thought: are you in the habit of moisturizing after eye makeup removal? Maybe the skin around your eyes is reacting to being "stripped" after eye makeup removal and that leaves you more vulnerable to infections.

IME a moisturizing routine of gently patting petroleum jelly or coconut oil around the eyes, and a couple of eye drops in each, helps with irritation that might lead to styes.
posted by magdalemon at 1:55 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you must be that sensitive. I wear super old mascara and never take my make up off at night (I know I know I know) and I've never had a problem.
posted by anthropomorphic at 1:57 PM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, you might just have especially sensitive lash follicles.

It's interesting, though, that (if I read you correctly) you kept getting styes on your lower lids even when applying mascara to your upper lids only? That, to my mind, would implicate something with the cleaning regimen, or with flakes of mascara collecting on your lower lash line. I wonder whether applying a sensitive-skin-friendly primer on both lash lines before the mascara might help protect your follicles from contact with whatever's irritating them.
posted by Bardolph at 1:58 PM on June 3, 2014

As a data point: I have seen new-right-from-the-store mascara produce styes.
Did you by any chance get the 3 different mascaras from the same store? There are so many people who go to the drugstore, open/test products and then put them back on the shelf. Maybe try another (department) store with more sales clerks? Or order online? I think those two settings would minimize the risk of somebody else having opened it before.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:04 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would go a week without makeup. Throw away any old eye makeup (not just mascara.) then I would try just (new) foundation and blush for a while with no eye makeup. Be sure your brushes are clean too. Then if that works out, try adding some eye shadow to the mix, if that's not the problem, then add eye liner. I'd honestly not advise you to use mascara if you're having this much trouble. Eyeliner can be plenty of definition.

(Source: I couldn't wear mascara for a loooonnng time due to allergies. I now am able to wear a small amount of physicians formula organic mascara that doesn't irritate my eyes. But I didn't miss it that much when I didn't wear it. )
posted by Crystalinne at 2:05 PM on June 3, 2014

Seconding the eyelash tinting. It's awesome. Be sure they use the hypo-allergenic, vegetable based color. Lasts 4-6 weeks and I've found it to be extremely gentle.
posted by pearlybob at 2:06 PM on June 3, 2014

This is probably the least eco-friendly suggestion possible, but disposable wands might help. That way, you won't be using the same wand over and over.

Again, the waste is ugh, but if you're only wearing mascara on, say, weekends, then maybe this could be an avenue to pursue.
posted by functionequalsform at 2:07 PM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I also think you need to be sure to remove all eye makeup at night. Mascara can be difficult to remove with just soap. i would try make-up remover. I use Neutrogena brand.

Also- I am really sensitive and have had bad reactions to a lot of products. Clinique has never given me a problem- and I use it for mascara exclusively.
posted by sulaine at 2:28 PM on June 3, 2014

Almay mascaras are supposed to be among the best (drugstore brands, anyway) for sensitive eyes. But I agree with the others that you might just be that sensitive. I've been wearing mascara every day since I was about 14 and remove it badly, and I've never had a stye like I see on Google Images. I get those little tiny bumps on my waterline occasionally, but they're always gone in a few days.
posted by jabes at 2:30 PM on June 3, 2014

Well, it's not just you. I tend to get small styes from using mascara too. Very annoying - while mine weren't as serious, it felt like I had something in my eyes constantly. I do feel that I've had better luck with mascara in the past, so it might have been the particular brands.
posted by peacheater at 2:54 PM on June 3, 2014

I got a couple styes when I first wore makeup as a teenager because my application process was terrible and I was buying cheap drugstore makeup and am a bit sensitive to that stuff. Do you have a Sephora near you? The sales clerks will also help you try on anything, and if you show them how you have been applying makeup probably have some tips for you - like it may actually be the eyeliner clogging sensitive pores if you're applying eyeliner on the eye-side of your lashes. I also find that the better quality makeup that I buy at Sephora is much gentler on my skin in general so doesn't cause breakouts. You can try on anything in the store so you will know you like the product before buying (unlike a drugstore blind purchase, which ends up wasting money on colors that don't look the same on you as in the package etc).
posted by DoubleLune at 3:04 PM on June 3, 2014

I have the world's most sensitive skin and eyes and I have never had this problem. So unfortunately you might just be super sensitive.

If you decide to try it again, I wonder if waterproof mascara is the way to go. That way it won't be rubbing off and clogging your skin. Also nthing to use a good makeup remover. I like Clinique for everything. Their waterproof mascara is good (and lasts through crying!) and Take the Day Off is good eye makeup remover.
posted by radioamy at 4:14 PM on June 3, 2014

If you notice residue on your eyelids in the morning, after removing mascara the night before, you might not be cleaning your lids quite thoroughly enough. Are you using an oil-based makeup remover? Those dissolve all makeup very efficiently. I like straight-up coconut oil for this, followed by my regular face cleanser.
posted by third word on a random page at 4:28 PM on June 3, 2014

I have had countless styes in the past but have not had any in years. I developed them mainly from wearing contacts - and cheap makeup - no matter how hygienic I was (and I am obsessive about cleanliness). This is why I rarely wear contacts anymore (maybe twice a year) and shun low quality makeup. I do find most eye makeup products extremely irritating (eyes water, become sore and puffy, hurts to open fully for days) because I am sensitive by nature, but have developed some solutions that may be helpful to you. I love makeup and do not have eye problems anymore in spite of caking myself in layers of "paint". I got styes constantly when I was learning about makeup and experimenting a lot 10-15 years ago. Together with frequent contact lens wear it was a recipe for disaster.

1- Avoid scented products - a lot of mascaras are heavily scented (you can tell when you open the tube and sniff it). Many mascara lovers recommend "diorshow" but I find the perfume in it is extremely irritating. On the other hand, a lot of products developed for sensitive eyes (like the Almay line) don't do much for lengthening or volume (even if marketed as such) - they just color the lashes. I discovered of all the brands I tried that Maybelline was quite good and even the lengthening ones where you put the white primer on first did not annoy my poor eyes (does not mean it will necessarily be okay for you though). Strangely, the most expensive mascaras tend to have the heaviest scents

2 - Always wash your face and your hands properly before applying eyemakeup. Practice good hygiene by never laying the wand on the counter, or sticking it back in the mascara formula after if falls on the ground, counter, sink, dog etc. No, don't be tempted to clean it off with makeup remover towels. Throw it all out. And don't rub your eyes. I cannot believe how many people rub their eyes without thinking (I mainly wear glasses so it never enters my mind to rub my eyes). If you get an eyelash in your eye go wash your hands before jamming your fingers in there

3 - When you take off your makeup use towelettes designed for sensitive skin (Almay "hypoallergenic" is good but I have used cheaper "hypoallergenic" brands that are just as nice) AND after that you still need to wash your face properly. Use a soap for sensitive skin that is unscented. Also (very important) use a fresh towel. Some people can get away with using the same face towel a few days in a row, or using their bath towel (which they use several times before washing). Don't do this if you have frequent eye problems

4 - This should go without saying but don't share makeup and don't use the testers in stores (like Sephora). If you must try something new go to Sephora and by a tester pack of various "fancy label" mascaras, or budget to try some new things at the drugstore. Be prepared to throw out what doesn't work

5 - The issue may actually be something other than eyemakeup - even if you think it is, through elimination. It could be a perfume you wear, rubbing your eyes with dirty hands, or animal fur for example. Sometimes it takes a few years to become allergic to something (this happened to me with eggplant). It could also be something new a friend is wearing. Anecdote: I have a terrible eye reaction to a certain specific perfume - if I am in a club and someone walks past me with this scent (that smells "clean" like flowers and fresh linen) my eyes water terribly, swell, become horribly painful and turn bright red - the reaction does not go away for a good 45 minutes, does not affect any other part of my body, and many of my friends can attest to this particular perfume on strangers being the culprit (funny as I can wear strong things like Coco, Opium and Shalimar easily)... My point is eyes are so incredibly sensitive that if a random person walking by smelling like a nice soap can do this to me who knows what might be causing the reaction on you (if you rub your allergy-ridden eyes that adds to the likelihood of yucky styes)

6 - never wear cheap makeup! And by cheap I mean low quality which has little to do with what price you may pay. Avoid drugstore foundations, eyeshadows, perfume and lipsticks - they are horrible (give poor coloration and coverage) and can be the most irritating! Drugstore eyeliners, blush, nail polish and mascaras are good if you avoid the ones with poor formulations

7- throw out your makeup when it gets old if you find you have reactions to it. Mascara never seems to last well beyond 6-12 months even if you are using it regularly and have good hygiene. I found old stuff hurts my eyes. You know it is too far gone when it starts to get a smell like permanent markers and seems to dry out. That is like wondering if you should eat it when your leftover rice and beans starts to smell like blue cheese! Just throw it out instead of experimenting. I have found my blush, eyeshadow and facepowder will last for years but definitely not my liquid products like mascara, eyeliner, or liquid foundation. Lipstick in tubes (not pots, and not lip gloss) can also last a long time if you practice good hygiene

8- (if applicable) cut down on contact lens use and if you do wear them be impeccable in your hygiene and use daily disposables. Never re-use dailies, never wear monthlies past their expiry, and if you must clean them always do it correctly
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 4:40 PM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Get your eye lashes dyed. Saves all the hassle and worry and isn't that expensive. Of course if your eyes are super sensitive it might not work, but if you get a good person doing it none of the colouring should get in your eyes to irritate them.
posted by wwax at 6:00 PM on June 3, 2014

Mascara actually makes my lashes fall out, which sort of defeats the purpose. Try getting the lashes dyed, and then do eyeliner--with a makeup brush that you wash on a daily basis (I use Dr. Bronner's tea tree oil soap). I don't go anywhere near my waterline with it, btw.
posted by blue suede stockings at 7:42 PM on June 3, 2014

Based on your description I'm not loving your makeup removal technique. Getting that stuff off of your face is so important. I use LancĂ´me's eye makeup remover with disposable cotton pads. I get a pad saturated, lightly press it to my eye, count to twenty and then swipe it out. No pulling, no tugging, no scrubbing. I let the product break down the makeup. I used to think when I'd find mascara residue that I needed to scrub harder but all I was doing was pushing mascara into my eye. Even if you never go back to mascara check your makeup removal technique because it's so important.
posted by GilvearSt at 10:08 PM on June 3, 2014

I think you should be using an oil based cleanser e.g. Shu Uemura Cleansing Oil to ensure that you're really getting EVERYTHING off of your eyelashes without using harsh chemicals.
posted by hellomiss at 10:45 PM on June 3, 2014

I went through a series of (likely) mascara-related styes. I think part of the problem was I wear a bit too much moisturizer around my eyes, so this encouraged smudge. For sure, though, another part was not removing it well enough. The best advice I ever heard for getting off eyeliner/mascara around the rim of the eye was dousing a Q-tip in make-up remover (which is a must, like it or not; soap just doesn't begin to do it; nor does cleanser), and then very gently rubbing the edge of the eyelid till there's simply nothing more to remove.

Having said that, I also realized if I close my eyes for long during the day, I always end up with mascara if not in, then under, my eyes. So I finally switched it out, more or less permanently, with gel eye liner, which I put on with a tiny brush. This stays all day, never gets in my eyes, and gives me the drama of thick lashes.

The Q-tip trick, the preference for gel eyeliner, and on the rare occasion I do use something else around my eyes all comes from recommendations made by Paula Begoun.

For what it's worth, she is strongly *against* eyelash dyes. She explains some of the many causes for eye irritation (and styes) here. And she recommends mascaras, and explains her criteria for the recs here. She has also spent years railing against false distinctions between drugstore and department store make-up. Her take is that there's good and bad in both, but that the final verdict is ingredient-dependent, not brand- or vendor-dependent.

If you're new to make-up and maybe in a mode to play with skincare products (where she really excels), her site and "Beautypedia" reviews are worth a good long look. (And, no, I don't work for her, though I realize it sounds like it; I'm just a big fan!)
posted by Violet Blue at 12:18 AM on June 4, 2014

Be sure your brushes are clean too.

Seconded. Opinions vary on this, but I use a drop of dish soap instead of fancy brush cleaner.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:09 AM on June 4, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the input everyone. I should have specified that once I started using the eyemakeup remover pads (Almay brand), I stopped seeing the residual the next morning but still got styes twice.

I do wonder if I get too close to the lashes when I do my twice-daily moisturizing as suggested by Violet Blue. Maybe it's not an issue when there is not an irritant such as mascara in the region (since I have not changed that ritual for years), but moisturizer + mascara leads to glandular overload.

I have never heard of tubing mascara, so if/when I feel up to the risk, that will be my next step.

Thanks everyone for your insights!
posted by tentacle at 11:19 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you using eyeliners on your waterline that aren't safe for your waterline?

Wayne Goss has a trick about applying mascara using an eyelash comb instead of a normal mascara wand. Maybe something like that which could be thoroughly cleaned between uses would be better for you?

Have you checked with a doctor about this? I do know a few people who have suddenly started getting styes (sties?) without ever wearing makeup--there could be another factor here.
posted by inertia at 11:28 AM on June 5, 2014

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