Ask an Optometrist: How to Wear Makeup With Contact Lenses

Young black woman with her hair pulled back putting contact lenses in
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Contact lenses are an advancement everyone can get behind—not everyone wants to wear glasses day-to-day, but not everyone wants to undergo expensive eye surgery, either. However, when makeup and contact lenses meet, they do present some problems as makeup has a funny habit of getting in your eyes sometimes. Luckily, advancements in contact lens technology have made it a lot easier for makeup wearers to use lenses safely. If you have allergies or wear eye makeup, you can avoid infections through one-time use, disposable contact lenses. They minimize your risk of infection or product buildup. Still, eye makeup can present problems if the makeup gets on, around, or (the worst) under the lens. However, there are steps that can be taken to prevent these problems. Scroll down for the best, expert-approved makeup tips for contact lens wearers.

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Susan Resnick is an optometrist at Farkas, Kassalow, Resnick & Associates P.C. in New York City. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Optometry and a member of the American Optometric Association.
  • Nydia Figueroa is a beauty expert and professional makeup artist in the New York/New Jersey area, and the owner of Faces By Nydia Makeup Studio. 
  • Lauren D'amelio is a cosmetologist specializing in bridal makeup artistry, educator, and owner of D'amelio Cosmetics.
  • Cara Lovello is a bridal and celebrity makeup artist based in New York and New Jersey.

Wash Your Hands

The first, and seemingly most obvious tip is to wash your hands thoroughly before putting your contacts in. Avoid using products that are oily, contain fragrance, dyes, hand lotions, or anything that will adhere to lenses prior to putting them in. Some people suggest putting contacts in after applying makeup to avoid damaging or scratching the lenses, but there's more of a chance of getting makeup onto your fingers and on the contacts, which could cause discomfort and possible infection. Opt instead to put them in before. D'amelio also suggests putting contacts in before applying any kind of skincare to keep the lenses as clean and product-free as possible.

Use Hypoallergenic Makeup

Clinique High Impact Mascara
Clinique High Impact Mascara $20
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You should also look for makeup products that are hypoallergenic, ophthalmologist-tested for contact lenses or are safe for contact lens wearers and sensitive eyes. Sometimes, you can't find that information readily available, and in that case, looking up ingredients is always key. Clinique's High Impact Mascara is not only ophthalmologist-tested, but it's also allergy-tested, safe for sensitive eyes and contact wearers, and free from mineral oil and fragrance.

"You want to make sure to take your time when doing your makeup," advises Figueroa. "And remember to blink in between those coats of mascara to prevent your eyes and contacts from drying out."

Be Careful With the Waterline

Jane Iredale Eye Pencil
Jane Iredale Eye Pencil $17
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Also, beware of eyeliner. "Contact lens wearers should avoid applying liner to the inside of the lash line (the flat part of the lid),” says Dr. Resnick. “This blocks and can cause infection of the important oil-producing tear glands, which can lead to dry eyes, filmy lenses, and even styes.” So when you're applying eyeliner and eyeshadow, be careful that you don’t jostle the lenses. Lovello agrees that contact lens wearers would be wise to stay away from tight lining the eye, "Besides worrying about damaging the contacts, you also want to make sure you aren’t trapping any makeup between the contact and your eye."

If you can't avoid the waterline altogether, Figueroa suggests using a soft eyeliner on this area to prevent harsh tugging. "I love using the Jane Iredale Eye Pencil because it has natural pigments that won't irritate the eye and is super long lasting," she explains.

Use Oil-Free Makeup Remover

La Roche-Posay Micellar Cleansing Water and Makeup Remover for Sensitive Skin
La Roche-Posay Micellar Cleansing Water Ultra and Makeup Remover $16
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Similarly, Resnick has a no-go stance on oil. “It's best to avoid oil-based products around the eyes and to use mascara that is easily removed with non-oily makeup removers,” she advises. Micellar water makes a great makeup remover as it contains micelles that naturally lift dirt, oil, and makeup without aggressive rubbing. La Roche-Posay's formula includes a mild cleanser called poloxamer, which is actually also used in contact solutions.

D'Amelio advises contact-wearers to look for silicone-free products in addition to the aforementioned oil-free picks, "This will avoid the risk of the oil or silicone attaching to your contact and fogging it up or even damage to the lenses."

Avoid Fallout with Cream Shadows and Primer

Eyeshadow Primer Potion - Original 0.33 oz/ 10 mL
Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion $24
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Though any kind of eyeshadow can get into the eyes when being applied, it is easiest to control the dust from cream shadows. Particularly wonderful low-fallout cream-type shadows are Bodyography's Glitter Pigments, ($23,) which are gorgeous even just worn one at a time. Also, you should never go without an eyeshadow primer, as it will always help the shadow adhere to the lids.

Be Mindful of Mascara

Mascara is particularly tricky, so instead of applying mascara from the base of the lashes, which can move the mascara and mascara wand too close to the eyes, start from the middle of the lashes and sweep through to the tips. Avoid mascaras that contain fibers that will flake into the eyes (like lash-building ones). “Mascara with fibers are best avoided to prevent particles from becoming trapped under the lenses and causing discomfort,” says Dr. Resnick, who also recommends “water-resistant (smudge-proof) rather than waterproof mascara.” You want to use products that are long-wear and won’t get into the eyes, particularly if you have eyes that tend to water due to allergies.

Never wear false eyelashes when you're wearing contacts—you don't want to get glue on them.

Avoid Irritating Face Makeup

Make Up For Ever Ultra HD powder
Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Microfinishing Pressed Powder $37
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But your makeup from outside the eye area can sometimes get into your eyes too, which is something you don't want. Cream makeup can be irritating if it gets into the eyes, so instead use a water-based, hypoallergenic liquid foundation. Similarly, use pressed powder instead of loose powder, and avoid the eye area. When you're using powders, just try to keep your eyes closed during application. Avoid using cheap makeup brushes, because they're less well put together. Bristles might get into the eyes, or cause the powder to get into the eyes.

Take Your Contacts Out Before Taking Your Makeup Off

Even if you use a gentle makeup remover on the eyes and carefully wipe off makeup from the lids, there is a chance of contaminating the lenses or damaging them, so take your contacts out before you take your makeup off, suggests Lovello. Figueroa also advises putting contacts in before applying makeup and using a magnifying mirror when removing them.

Importantly, follow what Dr. Resnick calls healthy contact lens habits. “Healthy contact lens habits should include washing hands prior to handling lenses, following the proper lens care instructions including cleaning and replacing the contact lens case on a regular basis, and replacing the contact lenses according to the manufacturers' recommended schedule,” she says.

Use Soft Products Around the Eyes

Be A 10 Be Discreet Concealer
Be A 10 Be Discreet Concealer $22
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"A great way to avoid damaging your contacts when applying makeup is using products that are soft around the eye area," Figueroa advises. She suggests soft makeup brushes, Q-tips, or soft applicators. "My favorite concealer to use for contact wearers is the Be A 10 Be Discreet Concealer because of the convenient pompom applicator which provides precise coverage and keeps you from having your fingers touch the eye area," she adds.

Keep Makeup Clean

Use healthy makeup habits too—make sure that you keep eye makeup containers tightly closed when not in use to avoid bacteria from growing, and toss old makeup because nobody wants eye infections. Naturally, don’t wear eye makeup or put in lenses at all when your eyes are swollen, red or infected to keep eyes healthy.

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