What's That Black Stuff in My Eyes?

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Do you ever wake up with excess makeup—or "black goop”—in the inner corners of your eyes? It’s a sign that you didn't wash off your makeup as well as you thought you did. And taking off your makeup before bed isn't just good for your skin (and your pillowcase)—it's better for your eye health. Want proof? “Make up left on overnight can migrate beneath the lids and stain the surface of the eyeball,” says Cynthia Bradford M.D, a professor of ophthalmology at the Dean A. McGee Eye Institute and senior secretary for advocacy at the American Academy of Ophthalmology. 

Delicate oil glands (called meibomian glands) exist near the edges of the eye membrane, the area underneath the upper and lower lids. These glands secrete clear oil that helps lubricate and protect the surface of the eye near the lash lines. When you don’t properly clean these glands, they can become inflamed, irritated, clogged, and dry if enough makeup gets trapped in the membrane. “Women who roughly apply and remove irritating makeup can develop a red rim on their lash line as they get older. It's a very common sign of eye abuse," warns Dr. Bradford.


How Makeup Irritates the Eyes

Any makeup that can flake into your eyes is potentially the most irritating, like mascara and powdery shadow. “I constantly see female patients who wear cakey, flaky mascara," says Dr. Bradford. "I see particles of it on the surface of their lids. Our eyes tend to dry out as we age, and irritating makeup only exacerbates the problem."

How the Eyes Protect Themselves

Luckily, it’s impossible to trap makeup inside the eye. The filmy coating on your eyeball has a mucous layer designed to trap any irritants. Tear ducts also trap and drain small foreign particles. If the particles are larger, the duct collects them at the inside corner of the lid, which is why you wake up with black gunk there in the morning.

How to Take Care of Your Eyes

How to create dramatic and creative looks without wrecking your peepers? To start, use a shadow primer to give powder products something to adhere to, and always use a non-flaky mascara formulation. Makeup and eye lubricants can quickly become colonized with bacteria, so switch out your liner and mascara every three to six months. And while many people will ignore this advice, Dr. Bradford strongly advises against lining the waterline daily. “That specific tissue location directly affects the condition of your meibomian glands."

Take off your eye makeup thoroughly with a delicate remover designed to tackle tough waterproof mascara formulations (browse our favorite makeup removers). Avoid removers with mineral oil-based jellies. “The worst thing to use on your eyes is Vaseline. It’s thick and sticky, and it clogs oil glands," says Dr. Bradford. If you still wake up with black goop, place a warm compress on the lids for two to three minutes. “This melts the meibomian oil onto the eyelid and loosens any remaining debris," she says. If dry eyes constantly plague you, lubricate them daily with over-the-counter eyedrops and take flaxseed oil capsules once a day to help regulate oil production. Discard opened drops after three months of use to prevent bacterial infections from spreading through the surface of your eyes.

To keep your eyes healthy, happy, and pretty, Dr. Bradford recommends: