Eye Cosmetics

Keep your eyes safe and clean from harmful ingredients.

Eye cosmetics must meet safety requirements regulated by Health Canada, but part of the responsibility in ensuring eye safety rests with you. If at any time you are unsure regarding the safety of a particular cosmetic item or procedure, do not hesitate to speak with your optometrist, who is trained in recognizing harmful substances and negative effects.

Regulations, labelling and advertising

Health Canada regulates eye cosmetic products by:
Reviewing ingredients to ensure they do not contain ingredients that may cause injury when used as directed on the label
Requiring disclosure of ingredients on product labels
Monitoring cosmetics in the marketplace
Investigating and taking enforcement actions if there is a health and safety problem with a cosmetic product
Ensuring that cosmetics are manufactured, prepared, preserved, packed and stored under sanitary conditions


Labelling is regulated by the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), the Cosmetic Regulations and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations.

To meet these requirements, cosmetic labels must show: 
The ingredient list
The common name of the product (e.g. mascara)
The amount of product in metric units or count (e.g. 150mL)
The name and address of the manufacturer or distributor
Warnings or cautions
Directions for safe use

All of the above must be listed in English and French, except the ingredient list.

For more information, visit the Health Canada website.

Be careful of products without a Drug Identification Number (DIN) or Natural Product Number (NPN) that claim to modify body functions and prevent or treat diseases (therapeutic claims). These kinds of claims are only allowed on drugs or natural health products, not on cosmetic products.

Advertising terms

Advertisements use different terms to describe products. Therefore, it is important to understand what they mean to make an informed purchase. These terms may include:

Fragrance free or unscented
This means fragrances have not been added to the cosmetic product orscents in the product have been hidden with a masking agent. This agent may be listed by its scientific name or under the name “parfum,” or fragrance.

This is not a legal or scientific term. It only means that the manufacturer is choosing ingredients with minimal allergens. This does not guarantee an allergen-free product. In fact, there is no such thing as a non-allergic cosmetic.

This term refers to products without preservatives. However, eye cosmetics and other make-up products need natural or synthetic preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria within the product.

Take, for example, the damp bathroom where your makeup rests. It is a perfect place for bacteria to grow in your cosmetics and make-up tools. Preservatives keep harmful bacteria from growing in your products.

Natural and synthetic
Many people think natural ingredients are better than synthetic ones. However, “natural” ingredients may have a similar chemical composition than their synthetic counterpart. In fact, synthetic ingredients can work better than natural ones in some products because it may be more stable, providing longer use.

Ophthalmologist/Dermatologist tested
This means tests were conducted by an ophthalmologist or dermatologist to make sure the product does not irritate the eye or skin.  It is the safety, not the effectiveness, that is tested.

Currently, there are no regulations to dictate the type or number of tests needed to deem a product ophthalmologist/dermatologist tested. If you are unsure of an eye cosmetic or experience irritation of the eye or surrounding skin book an exam with your optometrist.

There are some products with ingredients you should avoid. These can be found on Health Canada’s Hotlist. This list is updated a few times per year and contains the names of ingredients that are banned or limited in cosmetics throughout Canada.

All in all, the best way to figure out which products to personally avoid is by working with your optometrist

Effects of poor eye cosmetic safety


Contact dermatitis 

Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash that can appear after your eye or surrounding skin comes in contact with a substance found in your eye cosmetics. It is not fatal or contagious, but can be uncomfortable and/or painful. Usually, the rash develops within minutes or hours after coming in contact with the substance, and it can last between two to four weeks. The skin of the eyelid is thin and has many blood vessels, making it more sensitive to substances than other areas of the body.
The severity of the rash depends on:
How long you’ve been exposed to the substance
The strength of the substance that caused the rash
Environmental factors
How your body responds to the eye cosmetic (your genetic make-up)

Signs and symptoms include:
Red rash or bumps
Dry, cracked and/or scaly skin
Blisters, crusting or draining fluid
Swelling, burning or tenderness

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and/or feel like you may have contact dermatitis on the skin surrounding the eye, visit your local optometrist. Many optometrists have reserved a block of appointments for urgent or emergency visits, so they will be able to treat your rash quickly.

How do you get contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis can be caused when a substance found in your eye cosmetic irritates your skin or triggers an allergic reaction. These substances can cause both irritant and allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis 

This is the most common type and is a non-allergic reaction where the substance damages the skin’s outer protective layer.
Common irritants include:
Rubbing alcohol
Sawdust or wool dust
Lotions, soaps, and deodorants

Allergic contact dermatitis

This happens when a substance you are already sensitive to (allergen) triggers an immune reaction in your skin. Usually, the substance only affects the exposed area. Once you have developed a reaction to a certain substance, the smallest amount can trigger the reaction again.
Common allergens include:
Balsam of Peru, poison ivy
Eucalyptus, camphor or rosemary
Cosmetics, sunscreens, lotions, hair dyes, and body washes

Contact dermatitis may lead to infection. If you scratch continuously, your rash can become wet and oozy. This creates a good place for bacteria or fungi to grow.

Eye cosmetic safety

Hygiene is essential for safe and healthy eyes. Individuals have gone temporarily or permanently blind because of dirty eye make-up and tools, or from the improper use of cosmetics. Below are a few tips to maintain hygiene and safety when using eye cosmetics:

Don’t share

You should never share your eye cosmetics. Another person’s germs can be an irritant or allergen to you. Avoid “testers” at the retail store. If you must sample a product, make sure you use a new single-use applicator or disinfectant.

Be steady when applying

Avoid applying eye make-up while moving because you risk injury to your eye (e.g. scratching your cornea). Even a small scratch can lead to an eye infection.

Pay attention to the ingredients

If a cosmetic product is sold in a retail store and does not have an ingredient declaration, it is considered illegal. Do not hesitate to ask the store manager why it is not present.
An ingredient declaration is important because certain colour additives approved for some cosmetics are not approved specifically for eye cosmetics.

Stay clean

  • Make sure make-up brushes are clean, especially those that are used for eye make-up
  • Do not allow eye cosmetics to be covered with dust, dirt, soil, etc.
  • Do not use old containers for eye cosmetics
  • Throw out dried-up mascara.
  • Adding saliva or water to moisten mascara is dangerous. The bacteria from your mouth can grow in the mascara, causing infection.
  • Likewise, adding water introduces bacteria, while weakening preservatives used to prevent bacteria growth.
  • Don’t store cosmetics in temperatures above 30 C. Preservatives can weaken at higher temperatures.

If you start to experience any symptoms relating to a reaction see your optometrist and inform Health Canada.

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