The ingredients in conventional eye creams may be the cause of your red, irritated, itchy, or dry eyes. Preservatives are the worse offenders. Formaldehyde—even in very small concentrations—can cause redness and itching. Parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben) can clog the oil glands that line the eyelid.
“Parabens, which have a weak estrogenic effect, can weaken the function of the meibomian oil glands,” explains John Olkowski, MD, a corneal, cataract, and refractive surgeon and founder of EyeSight Hawaii in Honolulu. “There are 25 small meibomian glands along each eyelid margin, which produce oil that protects tears from evaporating. If not properly cleaned and cared for, these oil glands can be blocked and the oil thickened so it is not available to protect tears from evaporating, leading to dry eye symptoms, including red, burning eyes; blurry vision; and occasionally tearing. Over five million people in the U.S. are being treated for dry eye disease, and there are as many as 30 million additional people with dry eye symptoms.”
In addition to eye creams, Olkowski says sodium lauryl sulfates, found in many face washes, remove these essential oils from the eyelids. Waxes in many eyeliners can also block the openings of the meibomian oil glands.
“Phenoxyethanol, which is an alcohol, is commonly found in mascara and is very toxic and irritating to the cornea, the front surface of eye,” adds Olkowski. “Benzalkonium chloride (BAK), which is commonly used as a preservative, damages the goblet cells that produce mucus for the tears, causing the tear film to be less stable.”
So what can you do to protect these important glands? “Cleaning the eyelids regularly can significantly decrease the blockage of the meibomian oil glands and the likelihood of dry eye disease,” says Olkowski. “Warm compresses on the eyelids can help loosen debris for easier cleaning.”
There are several gentle eyelid cleansers available, but read labels carefully, as some contain parabens as preservatives. A gentle, organic baby shampoo will also do the trick.
After cleaning, use a natural eye cream to moisturize the thin, delicate skin around your eyes. When choosing an eye cream, look for one that will hydrate, enhance elasticity, and boost collagen without irritating. Eye creams, just like face moisturizers and sunscreens, are essential to both young and older eyes. Treat your eye area with special care and attention, or you could get bags, crow’s feet, fine lines, puffiness, and dark circles before you know it.
Did You Know?
“Cleaning the eyelids regularly can significantly decrease blockage of the meibomian oil glands and the likelihood of dry eye disease,” says corneal, cataract, and refractive surgeon John Olkowski, MD.
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