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Burning Eyes of Hate

By Amalah

My eyelids are sensitive and have been for awhile. In the past I bought higher-end shadow and been ok. Until recently. The shadow I was using was making my eyelids red, puffy and itchy. So I stopped using it- problem solved. This weekend I bought new shadow -Clinique- and about two hours later- puffy, itchy red eyelids again.
I went to my dermatologist and he said well, you might have to stop wearing any eye shadow. Um, what?
So I don’t want to go all Tammy Faye but a girl does like a bit of shadow. So is there anything out there that I can use? No problem with mascara or even liner- it is the shadow.
Please help. I need something on my eyes to counter the dark toddler circles I have.

I hate this question. I hate this question because I’ve gotten it from at least a dozen different people. And I keep ignoring this question and people keep asking me this question and I HATE THIS QUESTION.
I hate it because I hate giving people bad news, and the bad news is that there is absolutely no product I can recommend that is guaranteed not to bother your eyes. Because this is an allergy. Eyelid dermatitis. Very common. Very annoying. Very much a big ol’ question mark in the world of dermatology.
And unless you can individually test out every single ingredient in your eyeshadow to figure out which one(s) you’re allergic to, it’s damn near impossible to find a product that won’t trigger the reaction. Is it cocamidopropyl betaine? One of the oxides? Soybean oil? Oh, and don’t forget to test your makeup brushes, too. It could be your brushes. Or something on your fingers! Do you blend with your fingers? Do you use an eyelash curler? It could be the nickel.
See? No way I can give you a solid recommendation with all the bazillion different variables here. Which means I have to echo your doctor’s advice: lay off the shadow. Be really careful with your other cosmetics (replace your mascara and wand and eyeliner often, and toss them at the first sign of irritation). Do Not Poke The Eyelid Allergy With A Big Pointy Stick.
bareshadow.jpgYour best shot would probably be something like Bare Minerals, which is at least free of a lot of the most likely suspects for allergies, but even this is far from a sure thing.
Just because something is “natural” or “pure” doesn’t mean it’s allergen-free, since hello! Everything I’m allergic to (mold, grass, strawberries, camping) falls squarely on the NATURE side of the fence, as opposed to the EvilBadScaryCHEMICAL side. But if it’s the talc or oils or chemicals that’s freaking your lids out, you might be able to use Bare Minerals.
Again, please be careful when you test out this or any new shadow. Don’t use an open tester at the store, though — those are like, the public restrooms of cosmetics. (Sephora gives you 60 days to return a purchase; Bare Escentuals gives you 30 days.) Test on one eye only, and wash it off at the first sign of irritation. If your doctor prescribed any kind of topical ointment for you, use that.
I mean, it’s not like eyelid dermatitis = exploding eyeballs of blindness or anything, but allergies? Ugh. SO unpredictable. You’re actually really lucky that you can wear liner and mascara, so if you really have to give up eyeshadow, at least you can rock the cat eyes if you want.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • kat

    February 21, 2007 at 11:53 am

    hillarie, you are ME! i had the same problem. and i bought clinique eyeshadow and used it thinking it would be fine but i got red puffy eyelids and it was not pretty.
    i forget where i read about almay but i read that it was good for people with sensitive skin. i guess since it’s hypoallergenic. and it doesn’t irritate my eyes! score! so perhaps you could try it and hopefully it’ll work for you.

  • robin m

    February 21, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    Bare Minerals is a good start but they do use a lot of irritants (bismuth, I think?) that other mineral make ups do not. Try – small sample sizes available 🙂

  • kalisah

    February 21, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    heh. camping.

  • CadyKansas

    February 21, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    Hillarie – I have this problem too. Over time I have found that if I stick to the brands who are the least bothersome (for me, personally, Clinique works with minimal issues but Revlon makes me want to poke my eyes out with a toothpick), and use a base coat of something before applying the shadow, it works. I use Clinique Eye Gel, I can’t remember the exact name but its a little pink tube. Once I let that dry, then I put a light coat of shadow and it doesn’t cause me any problems unless I rub my eye and get in the tearduct. Don’t do that. it sucks. There are probably other brands of gel/basecoat eye cream you can use to form a barrier between the eyeshadow and your lids. Really, anything that provides some kind of barrier, you can even try a dab of foundation on the lid first if foundation isn’t generally a problem. Last thing I have found is the colors that are the most nuetral cause the least irritation, for me, so I stick to tans and taupes on the shadow. Hope this helps.

  • Amy Mingo

    February 21, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    I am SO glad you answered this because that? Is me.
    One day a week or so ago you answered someone saying you NEVER leave the house without makeup and truthfully, I never used to either. But my skin is super sensative and though I can rock the eye makeup like no one’s business, the tearing and itching and redness at the end of the day (or an hour after applying), makes me so frustrated. I no longer wear any makeup at all save an SPF moisturizer made for sensitive skin. I do, however, wear makeup for special occations and then take it off the instant I get home. It’s not a great trade off, but it’s working for me right now.

  • CadyKansas

    February 21, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    PS – Also you can use the gel under your eyes, and it helps with the puffies. You can even apply it a couple of times throughout the day, to cool any burning and general discomfort. Its magic, I tell you, magic!

  • Martita

    February 22, 2007 at 9:11 am

    I have suffered from the same exact problem. I have found a solution that works for me – moisture is very important. The Bobbi Brown hydrating eye cream is the best I’ve found — I also like the Bobbi Brown color corrector and concealer for under eye areas. Here’s the main thing – this Benefit eye shadow base is THE BEST STUFF — If I put this on, I can wear any kind of eyeshadow. Also, I use jojoba oil to remove my eye makeup. This provides all natural moisture. I like the Desert Essence brand. Hope this helps!

  • KS

    February 22, 2007 at 9:14 am

    Amalah is dead on here. I only wear eye shadow a few times a year because of this. I can wear mascara and liner without trouble. I’ve been suspicious of the mineral content in Bare Minerals (I react to mineral sunblocks too) so I haven’t tried it. One thing that has helped me immensely is Urban Decays Primer Potion. I can actually wear shadow on consecutive days with this. I still have to go easy and can’t do every day, but a few. I use steroid creams (from dermatologist) when it gets bad, but they don’t like to use those-steroids on the eye cause thinning of already thin skin and can increase chances of glaucoma. I have discussed other options, such as Protopic ointment (also Rx) which is an immune suppressive, but decided to wait until I wasn’t trying to get pregnant to try that.
    Good Luck with finding a solution that works for you.

  • barnmouse

    February 23, 2007 at 1:16 am

    Bleech. I’m allergic to nickle and it totally sucks. Although I do get use the phrase “I’m allergic to cheap jewelry”. Hee! But accidentally wearing earrings that I thought were silver and having my earlobes swell up and turn red and puffy and itchy? Not so fun.
    I used to think that label reading was just for food, but not anymore!

  • Kimberly

    February 27, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Hmm, my problem was the same but the solution was different. Because this red, itchy thing only happened sometimes, I decided it wasn’t the shadows, it was my eyes.
    I tried a bit of hydrocortisone cream on my eyes at the suggestion of another woman who had the same problem and, POOF! 2-3 days later no problem. It’s stayed away too, and I’d had the red, itchy eye lid problem for years.
    So, FWIW, I’d suggest trying that b/c it may eliminate the problem altogether and if it doesn’t? Well, you’re only out the $3 for a tube of hydrocortisone cream.

  • mommylicious

    December 28, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    this is me too! mine developed after the birth of my second child. i have been afraid to try anything else-bare essentials and clinique didn’t work for me! i may try the almay but am afraid to use the cortizone cream b/c of the steroid content!!
    i’m so glad i’m not the only one!