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If you do just one thing for your dry eyes – read the label!

If, like 1 in 4 people, you experience dry eye symptoms you need to be more aware than most about the ingredients you put in or around your eyes. This is because a dry or sensitive feeling eyes might also have a compromised cornea. The cornea is a transparent protective layer that covers the surface of the eye, if damaged you can find yourself more sensitive to the potentially toxic effects of some ingredients.

Your optician is there to guide you and recommend suitable products, but your eye care professional cannot always with you, so here are some commonly used ingredients you should avoid – just check the label!

Now preservatives are needed in many products to keep them safe for use but with dry-eyes they are best avoided but this is not always possible, so failing that be careful to avoid the ones which are known to be toxic.

Benzalkonium chloride (BAK) is a preservative which is used widely is cosmetics such as eyeliners, eye shadows, mascara and makeup removers as well as older generation over the counter and prescription eye preparations. Studies have shown that BAK can cause damage to the delicate surface of the eye leading to more problems for dry-eye sufferers.

It is not just BAK you need to watch out for some preservatives release formaldehyde which will also negatively impact the surface of the eye. Examples of such chemical ingredients are quarternuim-15,imidazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, bromopol, glyoxal or sodium hydroxymethylglycinate These ocular no-no’s frequently pop-up in eye wipes and skin care, the result can be less than ideal for your eyes.

Parabens (butyl paraben, methyl paraben and propyl paraben) are another group of preservatives that should be avoided as these have been shown to be associated with increases in dry-eye related conditions such as meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). They have received a bad press for some-time but it is still surprising to find out that many everyday products such as eyeliners and mascara still use them. They are pretty easy to spot on the label, and if you see them, they are best avoided.

Lovely thick long eye lashes look great and there are lots of serums available to enhance your natural lashes but be careful as many of them contain prostaglandin analogues (PGAs) or synthetic equivalents. These chemicals will give you your desired party lashes but they are also known to have some concerning side effects which include red itchy eyes and lids, darkening of eyelid skin and dry-eye. What should you be on your guard for? Dry-eye sufferers would be wise to steer clear of ingredients such as bimataprost, latanoprost, travoprost, unoprostone or isopropyl cloprostenate to name those most commonly seen.

Sometimes the products are not one you even personally choose but a by-product of another procedure such as eyelash extensions. Formaldehyde releasing glues and removers are all too often used with deleterious effects to eye and eye lash condition in the longer term. Scientific studies have highlighted the damaging effects of eye lash extensions such as keratoconjunctivitis and allergic blepharitis.

No chemically formulated product is completely safe but it is prudent to keep a watch out for ingredients which might take their toll on your eyes. There are products available which have been formulated with eye health in mind, ask your optician for advice or check out the best-in-class portfolio of products which have been curated by the Dry Eye Zone with you and your optician in mind.


Goldstein, M.H., Silva, F.Q., Blender, N. et al. Ocular benzalkonium chloride exposure: problems and solutions. Eye 36, 361–368 (2022).

Chen X, Sullivan DA, Sullivan AG, Kam WR, Liu Y. Toxicity of cosmetic preservatives on human ocular surface and adnexal cells. Exp Eye Res. 2018 May;170:188-197. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2018.02.020. Epub 2018 Feb 24. PMID: 29486163.

Amano Y, Sugimoto Y, Sugita M. Ocular disorders due to eyelash extensions. Cornea. 2012 Feb;31(2):121-5. doi: 10.1097/ICO.0b013e31821eea10. PMID: 22134404.

Datta S, Baudouin C, Brignole-Baudouin F, Denoyer A, Cortopassi GA. The Eye Drop Preservative Benzalkonium Chloride Potently Induces Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Preferentially Affects LHON Mutant Cells. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2017 Apr 1;58(4):2406-2412. doi: 10.1167/iovs.16-20903. PMID: 28444329; PMCID: PMC5407244

Jingyi Wang, Yang Liu, Wendy R. Kam, Ying Li, David A. Sullivan, Toxicity of the cosmetic preservatives parabens, phenoxyethanol and chlorphenesin on human meibomian gland epithelial cells, Experimental Eye Research, Volume 196, 2020, 108057, ISSN 0014-4835,

Holló G. The side effects of the prostaglandin analogues. Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2007 Jan;6(1):45-52. doi: 10.1517/14740338.6.1.45. PMID: 17181451.

Inoue, K., Shiokawa, M., Higa, R. et al. Adverse periocular reactions to five types of prostaglandin analogs. Eye 26, 1465–1472 (2012).

Doucette LP, Walter MA. Prostaglandins in the eye: Function, expression, and roles in glaucoma. Ophthalmic Genet. 2017 Mar-Apr;38(2):108-116. doi: 10.3109/13816810.2016.1164193. Epub 2016 Apr 12. PMID: 27070211.



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