Dangers of Using Old Mascara

Old mascara? We're here to warn you. Using old mascara is bad for your eyes

The truth behind the risks of using old mascara

When you get a brand-new mascara do you toss the old one in your purse to reserve for emergency touch-ups? Or have you ever found an old tube of mascara in your bathroom drawer, wondered if it was still safe, and then shrugged it off and used it? Maybe it’s the extra-length option that you only use for special date nights, or the blue mascara you only pull out when you get the occasional blue streak added to your hair. But did you know that mascara expires after three months?

What are the risks in using an old mascara? We all know it’s probably not the best idea, but makeup isn’t cheap and we hate to throw away something we might still be able to get some use out of. So what kinds of risks are we actually facing when we use a mascara that’s been around for a while.

Old Mascara: Pretty or Petri Dish?

According to the FDA, many women each year develop serious eye infections that stem from using mascara that is harboring harmful bacteria. In some rare cases these infections have even led to temporary or permanent blindness. Of course, that’s just the absolute worst case scenario, but many women do develop eye infections from mascara that’s past its prime.

A study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science revealed that of all makeup products, mascara is the one used the most often past its expiration date. This study examined the contents of forty mascara samples from real women. A surprising 79 percent of them were contaminated with staph bacteria.

While this may seem shocking, it’s really not so surprising once you consider how a mascara tube is designed. Inside is a dark, test tube-like container filled with a viscous liquid. A mascara wand is removed and brushed on the lashes, picking up material from our tear ducts, eyelashes, and pore-rich eyelids. This material both contains and feeds bacteria. Then the wand is pushed back into the tube, feeding bacteria with new material and more oxygen. Then the lid is screwed shut and the cocktail of bacteria is left in a warm, moist environment to … well, fester.

According to the assistant professor of public health at the University of Arizona, women who wear contacts are at greater risk. They may transfer fungi as well as bacteria into their mascara tubes and then back to their eyes.

Eye Infections Aren’t Pretty

According to a Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology from the University of Texas, Southwestern, Streptococcus Pneumoniae, the bacteria that causes conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is the most common infection that people contract from aging mascara. While not serious, it can cause a very irritating and unattractive eye infection. Styes are another temporarily disfiguring and often painful infection of the eyelids.

Eyelid infections can lead to Blepharitis, a painful inflammation that can lead to loss of eyelashes … a high price to pay for trying to make our eyelashes prettier. They can also go on to affect our corneas, leading to more serious problems that could potentially result in problems with vision.

How to Prevent Infections From Your Mascara

The FDA suggests that mascara be replaced every two to four months for safer use. In their statement the FDA also warns to never try to reconstitute dried out mascara by adding water or spit. (Who DOES that?) This can introduce more moisture and bacteria to an already compromised product.

Avoid sharing mascara, or any cosmetic products with others. While you may be resistant to a bacteria lurking inside your mascara, your friend may not be, and that goes both ways.

If you have a scratch in your eye, or on an eyelid, avoid using any makeup products at all until fully healed.

If your eyes do become irritated and you suspect an infection you should immediately see a doctor and discard any eye makeup you’ve used.

Don’t store any makeup products in temperatures over 85 degrees, such as leaving them in a hot car.

Finally, if you really can’t bear to throw out a mascara that’s still working fine after three months, you should consider only buying sample-sized mascara products that will force you to purchase new ones before the old ones last long enough to become contaminated.

Resources — Women's Health, University of Rochester Medical Center, Self