Back in 1933 in a world where modern-day mascara was not yet available, there was a cosmetic product on the market called “Lash Lure.” It was a type of permanent dye women could use to darken their eyelashes. To cut right to the chase this product was absolutely disastrous. Thanks to an ingredient called p-Phenylenediamine, some women suffered permanent blindness, ulcers around the eyes, and bacterial infections, which in one case became so severe that the patient actually died!
The story of Lash Lure was so dramatic that it sparked the development and passing of the 1938 Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, which gave authority to the FDA to oversee the safety of cosmetics.
So, it’s been nearly 80 years since the Lash Lure debacle, and all of our cosmetics are now perfectly safe, right?
Well, about that…
Yes, Cosmetics Have an Expiration Date!
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: modern-day commercially produced cosmetics undergo extensive testing to ensure that they are perfectly safe for consumers. The chances of a dangerous or harmful cosmetic product making its way onto store shelves is virtually nonexistent. So, short of any allergies or personal skin sensitivities, cosmetics today are remarkably safe, and unlikely to cause any adverse reactions.
Something many people don’t realize is that cosmetics have expiration dates, and you should take them as seriously as the ones printed on your milk cartons. The tube of mascara that you have riding around in your purse or makeup bag right now might be significantly out of date, and might therefore pose some risk to you.
As a general rule, any cosmetics that are applied around the eyes should be considered out of date after three months of use. Yes, even if you are not a daily user – the three-month mark is the time to toss and replace your mascara.
Why? The answer to that involves a quick biology lesson.
Microorganisms and Lashes
Your eyelashes have bacteria on them right now. This is true even if you’ve just stepped out of the shower. The levels of bacteria on your lashes are normally kept in check by your body’s immune system, but if they were to build up and overwhelm your body’s natural defenses, you may end up with a stye, or perhaps a case of pinkeye. More severe infections can have serious consequences even including blindness.
Every time you use mascara, you are transferring the bacteria from your lashes onto the wand, and then back into the tube. That tube is a moist, dark environment which can encourage bacteria to thrive. The longer you allow this to happen, the greater your risk of infection. You should therefore take note of those all-important expiration dates.
Of course, bacteria is not the only problem. Fungus can also grow in the comfortable darkness of a mascara tube, and this can be a particular problem for contact lens wearers. A fungal eye infection can be remarkably unpleasant, but you can avoid it by simply ensuring that your makeup is in date.
Lastly, accidental damage to the eyeball caused by a mascara wand is an overlooked danger of mascara use that can cause problems ranging from a scratched cornea, to an eye infection, to outright blindness.
Your mascara wand is not “sharp” per se, but if the bristles on the wand come into contact with your eyeball they can not only scratch your cornea, but also directly deposit bacteria into those scratches. Poke your eye hard enough, and you could be looking at a significant injury thanks to your mascara.
Your best bet in order to combat these problems is to never apply mascara in the car or on the train, to take your time and always use a mirror.
To sum up, the mascara you buy in stores today is safer than it has ever been, but human error and neglect can play a huge role in turning something which is essentially quite safe into something that’s potentially dangerous. Just remember to take the expiration date seriously, and to always apply mascara carefully without rushing. Your eyes will thank you for it.