Is glitter makeup harmful to eyes?
Glitter makeup looks are popular for costumes, holiday parties, special occasions and even just fun nights out on the town. They’re seen everywhere in pop culture, from social media posts to TV shows (especially the glitter makeup seen on the HBO series “Euphoria”).
But are these glitter makeup looks safe to try at home? When used carefully, with the appropriate products, they usually are. However, even the most cautious makeup applications aren’t always foolproof.
Here’s what you need to know about using glitter near your eyes.
What happens if you get glitter in your eye?
Sparkly and metallic eye makeup should be used with caution, as they contain tiny specks of glitter that can cause irritation if they fall into the eye. If you wear contact lenses, this irritation may be even more intense.
When you get something caught in your eye, you can usually expect some discomfort. In some cases, getting glitter or makeup in your eye can lead to further complications, including:
Glitter eye makeup is usually fairly easy to remove and is often nothing to worry about when the makeup is designed for the eyes. On the other hand, generic or craft glitter is not designed for use around the eyes and can cause a much bigger problem.
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Is cosmetic glitter safe for eyes?
When it comes to using cosmetics and other products around your eyes, it is critical to choose products that are made specifically for that sensitive area.
While eye shadow palettes and packaging can look similar among different brands, it’s important to locate the word “eye” on the label — “makeup palette” alone does not guarantee the product’s safety around eyes.
That being said, cosmetic-grade makeup that is considered safe for eyes can still cause irritation or even scratch your corneas if it is applied incorrectly or if it gets into the eyes by mistake.
READ ABOUT eye makeup and contact lenses.
Cosmetic glitter vs. craft glitter
It’s important to note that cosmetic glitter is specifically designed for cosmetic use, unlike craft glitter, which is intended for use on objects other than the body.
Cosmetic-grade glitter and craft glitter are actually cut differently when they are made and contain different types of dye. The hexagonal cuts and harmful dyes found in craft glitter are not suitable for use on your body, let alone near your eyes. Craft glitter also often includes larger fragments and pieces (sometimes even plastic or aluminum), which, combined with the material’s rough cuts, can cause tiny cuts if applied anywhere on the skin.
In addition to using eye-safe glitter makeup, always use eye-safe adhesive to apply it (if needed). Eyelash glue and special primers, sometimes called eye glitter glue, can be used for this, but craft glue should be avoided even if it is marked non-toxic.
Keep in mind that even though cosmetic glitter reduces the risks of damage found with craft glitter, there is no way to completely prevent irritation if loose pieces of glitter get into your eyes.
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How do you remove glitter from eyes?
When you’re done sporting the sparkly look, glitter makeup can be gently removed from your eyelids with a clean cotton swab — just be sure to keep your eyes closed as you wipe cosmetics away to avoid having anything fall into your eyes.
If glitter (craft or cosmetic) gets in your eyes, they should be rinsed with artificial tears or a sterile solution to irrigate the eyes and encourage removal. Do not rub your eyes or try to get the glitter out with your hands, as this can cause more irritation or even push the glitter further around the surface of the eye.
Consult your ophthalmologist if irritation persists after you’ve rinsed your eye with solution or drops. It’s also recommended to contact your doctor if you experience:
Severe redness or symptoms of infection
Your eye doctor will remove the glitter and check for signs of a scratched cornea and infection. Further treatment will depend on whether the glitter caused any damage to the eyes.
Can you lose your eye from glitter?
Glitter can be tricky to remove from your eye, but most of the time it can be done safely with a sterile eye rinse or with the help of your eye doctor. If your eye is left untreated, however, it can lead to complications such as an infection or corneal abrasion — both of which can be dangerous for eyes if they are severe enough.
Corneal abrasions can heal, although some leave scarring. Experts agree that getting glitter in your eye does not usually lead to blindness, but in very rare cases it could.
In one such case, a woman accidentally got a piece of craft glitter in her eye as she was helping her daughter put her crafts away. The glitter cut her cornea and led to an infection.
The woman endured several treatment methods, including antibiotics, injections, eye drops and even multiple corneal transplants before nearly dying from sepsis. In this special case, doctors had to remove her eye and replace it with a prosthetic.
Again, circumstances like this one are rare, but they can happen.
Treatment for damage caused by glitter (and other irritants)
If a fragment of any kind gets into your eye, it can lead to irritation and damage to your eyes. Fortunately, the following treatments can typically be used for each condition:
Corneal abrasion can sometimes simply be treated with lubricating eye drops. Some cases may require antibiotic eye drops or ointment to prevent infection and scarring.
Eye infections are treated differently on a case-by-case basis. You may need antibiotic eye drops, ointment or a compress (or a combination of all three).
Corneal ulcers can be treated with topical antibiotics, though treatment depends on severity.
Irritation may last a little while after you have gotten the glitter out of your eye. If you experience discomfort or dryness, try using a cold compress and/or lubricating eye drops to soothe the area.
Stay in touch with your eye doctor if your condition changes or worsens, as your treatment may need to be altered.
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Preventing glitter-related eye damage
While you can’t always prevent small particles from getting into your eyes, there are some steps you can take to avoid both mild and severe irritation that comes with getting glitter in your eyes.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Only wear glitter makeup that is designed and labeled specifically for use around the eyes.
If you need to apply an adhesive before applying glitter eye makeup, it needs to be safe for use around the eyes as well. Eyelash glue may be used for this.
Don’t share your makeup tools or mascara wands with anyone else.
If you get eye glitter or other eye makeup in your eyes, rinse them thoroughly with a sterile rinse or artificial tears. Call your eye doctor if irritation lingers.
Remove your eye makeup after every use with eye-safe products.
Do not use cosmetics past their expiration date.
Avoid sleeping in your makeup.
Wear protective eyewear when working with craft glitter.
Lastly, glitter isn’t the only small particle that can cause damage to your eyes. Always wear safety glasses when working around dust, dirt and other debris to avoid contact and potential danger. If you do get something in your eye, rinse it with a sterile solution and monitor your condition to be sure it doesn’t worsen.
When in doubt, never hesitate to contact your eye doctor for an exam. Whether the condition is mild or severe, it is better to be safe than sorry about the health and wellbeing of your eyes and vision.
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How to use cosmetics safely around your eyes. American Academy of Ophthalmology. March 2021.
Can glitter damage my eyes? Charlotte Eye, Ears, Nose & Throat Associates, P.A. (CEENTA). November 2018.
Here's how to safely wear glitter without damaging your eyes. Bustle. April 2017.
A piece of glitter got stuck in this woman's eye — and it almost killed her. Women’s Health. April 2016.
Page published on Tuesday, July 27, 2021