Swollen, itchy eyes are uncomfortable, to say the least. To clean debris, makeup, and bacteria that can accumulate at the lash line and in the creases of your eyelids, you might consider using an eyelid scrub. But, your eyes are highly sensitive, and the skin around the eyes is much thinner than the rest of the skin on your face. So, the question becomes, can you preserve the integrity of the delicate eye area when giving your eyelids a deep clean? Are eyelid scrubs bad for you?
Ahead, two celebrity cosmetic dermatologists tell you everything you need to know about using an eyelid scrub, plus share their honest take on whether or not they're safe.
Meet the Expert
- Dendy Engelman, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at The Shafer Clinic in New York City.
- Marina I. Peredo, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skinfluence NYC.
What Are Eyelid Scrubs?
How do you give your lash line, eyelids, and surrounding eye areas a deep clean? One method is to apply an eyelid scrub—a sanitizing cleaning solution—designed specifically for the eye area. "Although they are called 'scrubs,' they are non-abrasive formulas designed to wash away dead skin, bacteria, and other debris at the lash line," says Engelman, explaining that eyelid scrubs don't contain any grit.
Eyelid scrubs can be beneficial in treating some eye conditions, like blepharitis and eyelash mites.
"Eyelid scrubs are cleansers that sanitize the eyelids and soothe irritation," notes Engelman, pointing out that eyelid scrubs are best suited for times when your eyelids are actually inflamed. Engelman also notes eyelid scrubs can be useful in alleviating the symptoms associated with eyelash mites and blepharitis, a common eye condition that's not contagious.
"Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelid resulting in itchiness, redness, swelling, and the formation of crust and dandruff-like scales or flakes near the eyelashes," explains Engelman. "It is caused when oil glands at the base of the eyelashes become clogged and inflamed, and can be triggered by a variety of factors including bacterial infections, predisposition to dandruff, malfunctioning oil glands, and as a side effect of some medications."
Peredo adds that blepharitis can "occur on both the upper and lower eyelids, but is typically on the edge of the eyelid around the lash line." She notes that "if you have a problem, [with blepharitis] you should see an ophthalmologist."
When using an eyelid scrub, be mindful of its ingredients. "It is important to know the ingredients in the scrub in case you are allergic and your eye becomes irritated further," says Peredo. In addition, Engelman notes, "Depending on the formula used, some people may find that eyelid scrubs irritate sensitive skin." Therefore, determining the safety of an eyelid scrub has a lot to do with your skin type and any known sensitivities.
Are Eyelid Scrubs Safe?
Our experts point out that the eye area is susceptible and advise using caution when cleansing the eyelids, eyelashes, and surrounding eye area. Engelman is a bit more enthusiastic about the use of eyelid scrubs than Peredo. "Gentle eye scrubs can be effective at removing the causes and symptoms of blepharitis and some other eye irritants and uncomfortable conditions," notes Engelman. She adds that you should "be careful when using eyelid scrubs as they can cause skin irritation and over-drying around the eyes in individuals with sensitive skin. Look for products that contain mostly skin-soothing ingredients,"
Engelman also advises that before you apply an eyelid scrub to your eye area, you perform a patch test on "another part of your skin to ensure you are not allergic." Her top pick is "OCuSOFT Eyelid Scrubs to safely relieve irritation."
When using an eyelid scrub, Engelman cautions to "carefully follow directions and immediately stop use if you have a negative reaction."
Never, ever actually scrub your eyelids; when they're extremely itchy, this can be tempting. "The skin around the eyes is 40 percent thinner than the rest of the skin on the face," says Engelman, "so it is important to take extra care with this area when cleansing or applying products. When cleansing or touching the eyes, be sure to use only very light pressure, and avoid rubbing or tugging at the delicate eye area."
Engelman also recommends using only gentle, fragrance-free products, and that includes eyelid scrubs.
Peredo isn't a fan of eyelid scrubs. "I don’t recommend eyelid scrubs because the eyelid is the thinnest part of skin on your body," and she doesn't see payoff from the risk. "The eyelid is so sensitive that using a scrub can cause dermatitis." Instead of using an eyelid scrub, Peredo recommends using baby wash to clean the eye area if you notice signs of oil build-up, including eyelid inflammation. Engelman also notes that studies have shown that baby shampoo can also be effective at relieving the symptoms of blepharitis and eye irritability. "However, if the blepharitis does not get better, you should see an ophthalmologist," Peredo notes.
You can also give your eyelid and lash line a deep clean if you, as Engelman suggests, perform double cleansing, "which involves first washing away makeup and other impurities with a nourishing oil cleanser" followed by a gentle face wash. "Limit pressure applied on eyelids," advises Engelman. Peredo also says that when removing eye makeup, you should "wipe in soft, circular motions not to traumatize the skin."
How to Prevent Eye Irritation
Ideally, you won't develop any eye conditions that might necessitate using an eyelid scrub. Engelman advises you to do what you can to prevent eye area irritation. One of the easiest ways is to do a clean edit of your eye makeup; as she notes, "Any eye makeup has the potential to cause irritation or inflammation in those with sensitive skin or an allergy to the product."
Even people without sensitive skin should steer clear of eye makeup and products where fragrance is listed as an ingredient. "I recommend avoiding cosmetics and skincare products that list 'fragrance' as an ingredient," explains Engelman, "as these are usually comprised of harmful chemicals like parabens, benzene derivatives, and more. Also, avoid formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers (which can appear on ingredient labels under a variety of names, including methenamine, methanediol, methylene glycol, paraformaldehyde, quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, dimethyloldimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, and bronopol) as these can cause irritation and exposure to formaldehyde, a known carcinogen."
Peredo seconds this advice, adding, "For people who have an allergic tendency, I also recommend using eyeshadows that do not contain metal, like glitter eye shadow." She recommends using "mineral type makeup products, as most are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. My favorite brand is Trinny London."
Another way to prevent eye irritation is to change eye makeup, which is frequently at high risk for bacteria breeding. "I recommend refreshing these products every three months," says Engelman. "Using them for longer may put you at risk of developing an eye infection."
Ditto for under-eye concealers could contain ingredients that might lead to swelling around the eye and eye creams. Again, the key is to seek out fragrance- and chemical-free formulas, advises Engelman. "Make sure the formula you choose is packed with good-for-you ingredients and free of fragrances, parabens, and formaldehyde releasers. For example, I personally use and love Elizabeth Arden’s Hyaluronic Acid Ceramide Capsules Hydra-Plumping Serum, which is packaged in airless, biodegradable single-use capsules, to keep the formula potent and preservative-free."
Keeping eyelids and the lash line clean from oil build-up can help you develop eye conditions like blepharitis. A fragrance-free eyelid scrub might be a solution if this condition occurs as long as you perform a patch test first and use caution on the delicate eye area. An important note: if the blepharitis doesn't resolve, you should see a physician.