The most irritating eye makeup ingredients and 5 other causes of burning eyes

Eye drops
Specialized eye drops may help treat ocular rosacea and other eye conditions. Mayara Klingner / EyeEm / Getty Images
  • Burning eyes might be caused by a pink eye infection or ocular rosacea.
  • Makeup can also irritate eyes, so avoid ingredients like parabens, formaldehyde, and more.
  • If your eyes are burning because they’re dry, look for liquid tears or other lubricating drops.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

If your eyes burn or sting it usually means there’s an issue with the eye’s surface called the sclera.

Sometimes the burning may clear up on its own, like if your eye is irritated by heavy makeup. But in some cases, you may have a condition like pinkeye that needs treatment.

Here are six reasons your eyes may be burning and how to treat each one.

1. Dry eye

Dry eye syndrome occurs when:

  • You don’t produce enough tears to keep your eye lubricated
  • Or the tears are drained too quickly through the ducts on the inside corners of your lids, leaving your eyes dry

When this happens, the outer layers coating your eye can become damaged, says Ashley Behrens, MD, chief of the ophthalmology division at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

This outer layer is supposed to protect the nerves underneath. But without a protective coating, the exposed nerves are prone to irritation, Behrens says.

“Some patients will describe the feeling as gritty or feeling like there is sand in the eyes,” says Tatevik Movsisyan, OD, chief of the Advanced Ocular Care Clinic at Ohio State University College of Optometry.

How to treat it:

For mild cases, you may be able to treat dry eye using over-the-counter eye drops to provide lubrication.

But if you keep having symptoms, you should see your doctor, who can prescribe specialized eye drops that increase your tear production or perform an operation to plug the ducts that drain tears from your eyes.

2. Allergies

Allergies often trigger symptoms like coughing and sneezing – but they can affect your eyes as well.

When you encounter allergens like pollen or dust, your body releases chemicals called histamines, which cause the blood vessels in your eyes to swell. This triggers symptoms like redness, watering, and itching.

“The main ocular symptom of allergies is itching but some patients may describe a burning feeling,” Movsisyan says.

How to treat it:

There are many over-the-counter remedies for allergies including antihistamine medications and nasal sprays. These treatments may help your eye symptoms, but you can also try specialized eye drops – brands like Visine and Clear eyes offer allergy relief products.

3. Blepharitis

Related Article Module: 5 causes of itchy eyes and how to treat each oneBlepharitis occurs when the oil glands at the base of your eyelashes become clogged, causing irritation in your eyes and eyelids.

This can cause a burning or stinging feeling along with symptoms like:

  • Red, watery eyes
  • Swollen, red eyelids
  • Crusty eyelashes
  • Flaking skin around the eyes
  • Eyelids looking greasy

How to treat it:

You may be able to treat blepharitis at home by carefully cleansing your eyes and eyelashes and using warm compresses.

If your symptoms aren’t getting better with home remedies, you should see your doctor, who can prescribe treatments like antibiotics or steroid eye drops.

4. Pink eye

Pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, is an infection or inflammation that affects the membrane covering the white part of your eye. The infection can be caused by either a virus or bacteria.

Behrens says that a burning sensation is one of the most common symptoms of pink eye. Some other telltale signs are:

  • Whites of your eyes appear pink or reddish
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Watering eyes
  • An itching sensation

If you have bacterial pink eye, you might also see yellow or green pus coming from your eye.

How to treat it:

If you have bacterial pink eye, a doctor can prescribe antibiotics that should start reducing your symptoms within 24 hours.

Viral pink eye generally clears up on its own after a few days, but there are some home remedies you can use in the meantime, including over-the-counter eye drops and cold compresses.

5. Exposure to irritants

“Any debris from the air or makeup may cause irritation and burning of the eyes,” Movsisyan says.

“Eyeliner and mascara are the main culprits when it comes to makeup,” Movsisyan says, as these sit right next to your eyes and often contain irritating preservatives.

You may also want to check what kind of cleanser you’re using for your face – “face wash with microbeads can also cause burning and foreign body sensation if the beads get into the eye,” says Movsisyan.

How to treat it:

In order to avoid burning eyes in the first place, be sure to avoid irritating makeup ingredients like:

  • BAK (benzalkonium chloride)
  • Formaldehyde (quaternium-15)
  • Parabens
  • Phenoxyethanol

But if you do get something in your eye, flush it out with water or saline solution. Don’t rub your eye, as this can make the irritation worse.

6. Ocular rosacea

Rosacea is a chronic condition that often shows up as red, bumpy skin on your face, but it can affect your eyes as well.

Ocular rosacea can cause a burning sensation in your eyes along with other symptoms, including:

  • Red, watery eyes
  • Redness and swelling of your eyelids
  • Feeling like you have something stuck in your eye
  • Developing eye bumps like a stye or chalazion

How to treat it:

There’s no cure for rosacea, but your eye doctor can prescribe treatments like steroid eye drops and specialized eyelid cleansers. It’s important not to use regular eye drops, as these can actually make rosacea symptoms worse.

Insider’s takeaway

There are several reasons why you might feel burning in your eyes – you might have a chronic condition like dry eye or allergies, or you might need to change your makeup to something less irritating.

In many cases, you can treat your symptoms at home by gently cleansing your eyes or using eye drops, but other cases may need medical care.

“If the burning is worsening or not going away with artificial tears or if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as redness, seek care from an eye care provider,” Movsisyan says.

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