Cosmetics Can Permanently Change the Fit, Feel, and Vision of Your Contact Lenses

7:04 PM

Have you ever had the experience of leaving the doctor's office with a great contact lens - excellent comfort and perfect vision - only to have the vision and comfort take a marked turn for the worse a few days or weeks later?  As an optometrist, I've seen this issue present itself many times.  The lenses perform and move beautifully on the eye in office, but a few days later I'll get a phone call from the patient that they need to be seen because their lenses "don't fit."  What changed?  New research shows that the products we use around our eyes, from makeup to facewash and makeup remover, can cause significant changes to both the physical shape and performance of contact lenses.

How Does Makeup or Makeup Removers Come in Contact With Your Contact Lenses?

Makeup applied to the waterline can easily transfer onto your contact lenses. The waterline is where our tear glands (called Meibomian glands) sit, so every time you blink, these glands release oils that spread over the surface of the eye, transferring any makeup applied to the area with them. image via
You may be surprised to hear that contact lenses can be affected by your normal skincare products, because they typically aren't coming into contact with each other directly. No one rinses their contact lenses with makeup remover, or coats them with mascara purposefully (or if you do, you'd expect them to be extremely uncomfortable as a result!). The overwhelming majority of the time, contact lenses are exposed to makeup and soaps by accident when you are either inserting or removing your contact lens. Sometimes makeup or facewash residue is still on our hands when we touch our lenses, or if you are wearing your contact lenses when you apply eye makeup like mascara or eyeliner, small amounts of it can easily transfer into your eye and stick to the surface of the contact lens. The majority of monthly and biweekly disposable contact lenses are made from materials called silicone hydrogel, and the silicone in these lenses that helps make the contact lens more breathable is also very attracted to oils. Makeup and makeup removers are primarily oil based products, and once they come into contact with a contact lens, they bind tightly and are next to impossible to remove even with the strongest contact lens cleaners.

To best prevent makeup from sticking to your contact lens and causing blurry vision, redness, or build up on the lens, try this technique:

1. Apply all of your makeup
2. Wash your hands thoroughly
3. Instill a rewetting drop to rinse makeup particles off your eye.
4. Insert your contact lens.

By applying your makeup first and then using an artificial tear drop to rinse stray makeup particles away from the eye's surface, it's less likely that you'll inadvertently transfer makeup onto the contact lens.

The Science of What Makeup And Facewash Can Do to Your Contact Lens

In 2015, researchers tested 7 different silicone hydrogel contact lenses with different common skincare and makeup products, including hand cream, makeup removers, and mascara. Lenses were exposed to each beauty product, and then dark-field microscopy was used to see how much the product deposited on the contact lens. The lenses were then cleaned with a hydrogen peroxide solution and deposits were measured again.  Researchers found that mascara was far and away the makeup product that deposited the most on contact lenses. While non-waterproof mascara deposits improved significantly after cleaning the contact lens with a hydrogen peroxide solution, waterproof mascara deposits remained firmly stuck to the contact lens, even after a cleaning cycle! 

In June 2019, a new study exploring this same topic was performed looking more specifically at the changes these makeup and skincare products can have on the physical size, shape, and optical properties of a contact lens. Three different brands of contact lenses were tested with exposure to mascara and eye makeup removers as outlined below. All lenses were newly opened from the package and have never been worn previously. Each lens was only exposed to one product.  A -3.00D lens was used for each contact lens to minimize differences between lenses outside of the product material itself.  

The contact lenses used were: 

The Results:
Statistically significant contact lens changes were found in both diameter (or size) of the lenses, base curve (or shape), and power (or prescription) of the lenses in this study. The degree of change relative to the baseline measurements was compared with the ISO standards for contact lenses, which suggests tolerance limits of +/-0.20 mm for lens diameter, +/-0.20 mm for base curve, and +/-0.25 D for lens power.

What Problems Do Makeup Removers Cause? Research shows these products primarily affect the fit of the contact lens by changing base curve and diameter. 

The makeup removers used were:

  • Diameter Changes: The makeup removers, specifically the liquid products (L'Oreal Gentle Makeup Remover and Neutrogena Oil-Free Makeup Remover), resulted in an increase in lens diameter and lens edge distortions. 
    • L'Oreal Gentle Makeup Remover caused diameter increases in senofilcon C (Acuvue Vita) and samfilcon A (Bausch and Lomb Ultra) of 0.26 mm 
    •  Neutrogena Oil-Free Makeup Remover showed a mean increase of 0.35 mm for samfilcon A (Bausch and Lomb Ultra)
    • Lotrafilcon B+EOBO (Air Optix Plus Hydraglde) was less affected compared with senofilcon C and samfilcon A
  • Base Curve Changes:
    • Liquid makeup removers resulted in an increase in contact lens base curve.
      • L'Oreal Gentle Makeup Remover resulted in an increase in base curve for senofilcon C (Acuvue Vita) of 0.36 mm
      • Neutrogena Oil-Free Makeup Remover resulted in an increase in base curve for samfilcon A (Bausch and Lomb Ultra) of 0.35 mm
      • Because most of these changes exceeded the tolerance of the ISO standard of +/-0.20 mm, it is possible that lens movement and centration of the contact lens on the eye could be affected
Contact lens edge distortion caused by exposure of samfilcon A lens to Neutrogena Oil-Free Makeup Remover via

What Problems Do Mascaras Cause? These products primarily effect image quality and vision.

The mascaras used were:

  • Deposition Changes: Mascara caused significant deposits on the contact lenses, and in some brands these deposits did not improve even after a 1 hour soak in purified buffer solution. 
    • Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof Mascara deposited thickly on all lens types and did not slough off during the 1-hr soak
    • Rimmel Wonder'Lash Waterproof Mascara and L'Oreal Luminous Original Mascara did not deposit as thickly and sloughed off more readily after cleansing
  • Optical Image Quality: This was measured using the Contest Plus II (Rotlex, Israel) lens analyzer.
    • all contact lens types were adversely affected by mascara
    • samfilcon A (Bausch and Lomb Ultra) was affected similarly by all brands
    • senofilcon C (Acuvue Vita) and lotrafilcon B+EOBO (Air Optix Plus Hydraglyde) were most affected by Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof Mascara
  • Base Curve Changes:
    • Of the mascaras tested, only Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof Mascara caused a statistically significant change in base curve
      • The application of Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof Mascara caused a steepening in base curve for all lens types of 0.24 mm for senofilcon C (Acuvue Vita) and samfilcon A (Bausch and Lomb Ultra) and 0.19 mm for lotrafilcon B+EOBO (Air Optix Plus Hydraglyde)
  • Lens Power Changes: 
    • The exposure of makeup removers caused a change in power of less than or equal to 0.09 D which was not statistically significant
    • Overall, mascaras differed significantly in their impact on lens power
      • Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof Mascara caused an apparent decrease in power of -1.18 D for senofilcon C (Acuvue Vita)
Take Home
During the normal course of wear, contact lenses can be exposed to numerous facial and cosmetic products that can significantly impact the comfort and visual performance of the lens. Properly cleaning your contact lenses may help recover some of the parameter changes caused by different cosmetics to some degree. However, particularly mascara may still affect image quality and liquid eye makeup removers may affect lens fit. If you are struggling with contact lens performance, changing to a daily disposable contact lens and limiting exposure of the lens to cosmetic products may greatly increase lens comfort, vision, and wearing time. Avoiding waterproof mascaras and tightlining with eyeliner can also help minimize contact lens contamination.

The best solution? Changing to daily disposable lenses can make sure that your contact lenses perform the same every day!

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