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Defocus Media: New cosmetic line safe for ocular surface


“The more you learn about the chemicals in beauty products and the delicate balance of the bacterial biofilm naturally on our eyelids, the more you understand the need to choose products carefully,” says Leslie O’Dell, OD, FAAO explains in this video podcast when asked about the need for ocular surface friendly cosmetics.

Our guests on this interview are Dr. O’Dell, most recently director of the Dry Eye Center of Pennsylvania in Manchester, PA, and is currently transitioning into a new role, and Amy Gallant Sullivan, executive director and co-founder of the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society (TFOS). They have launched a new line of cosmetics, Èyes are the Story, whose tag line is “Beauty rooted in eye science.”

Related: Refractive surgery in 2020: From minimally invasive LASIK to light adjustable lenses

Dry eye and cosmetics
Back in 2003, Sullivan wondered why women experienced dry eye signs and symptoms at a higher rate than men,1 and she speculated that makeup products women used around their eyes may be a contributing factor. After investigation uncovered the common use of harsh chemicals and irritants in products ranging from mascara to facewash, she teamed up with Dr. O’Dell to work on a cosmetic line designed specifically with the eyes in mind.

“You have to be a biochemist to understand what is in your makeup,” Sullivan says.

That problem is at the root of why doctors and patients often do not realize patients are exacerbating or causing ocular surface health concerns by using common daily items around their eyes.

To watch the associated video, click here

Related: Biggest challenges facing optometry schools and students

Safe option
The goal with Èyes are the Story is to create brand-new formulations for common cosmetics so doctors and patients could have a product they can trust to be ocular surface safe.

The first challenge was finding a way to make a product that was designed to disrupt the status quo in cosmetics.

“Almost anyone can private label a mascara,” Sullivan says.

However, she says, when you contract with a cosmetic company that private labels makeup, it doesn’t let you change the ingredients used inside. To develop a truly ocular surface safe product, the formulations had to be adjusted.

Sullivan called nearly 100 companies to see if she could change or adjust the ingredients used in the products they had available, and none were willing to take on the project. Through diligent work she created her own formulations for Èyes are the Story beauty products and found a laboratory willing to take a risk with such a disruptive start-up.

Related: What we know about blue light science and research in 2020

“There are really no beauty products on the market that focus on eye health,” says Sullivan. “Products focus on looking younger,or glowing, but ocular health is not a focus-even with the industry movement toward clean beauty.”

The clean beauty movement is a projected $22 billion gobal industry by 2024.2 Despite the heightened awareness of the dangers of the ingredients found in makeup and facewashes, misconceptions remain about what products are safe.

“Many consumers are still looking for labels like ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘organic,’” Dr. O’Dell says.

In the United States, there is no FDA governance over what labels like these actually mean or what standards the ingredients inside are held to. In fact, there are only limited rules on what ingredients can be used inside over-the-counter (OTC) beauty products in the U.S. (only 11 products, including chloroform, are banned3). Compare this to the European Union which restricts the use of over 1,300 chemicals.4

Sullivan and Dr. O’Dell break down each of the products in the initial launch of Èyes are the Story and share what ingredients were purposefully removed from their ocular surface safe product line that are commonly found in other OTC products.

To watch the associated video, click here

Related: Optometry by the numbers in 2019

Sodium lauryl sulfate is what makes a facewash soap up on the face, but this surfactant is also a known eye and skin irritant which can cause redness, burning, or acute dermatitis.5

Makeup-removing wipes also commonly contain the preservative benzalkonium chloride (BAK). BAK is familiar to eyecare providers because it is commonly found as a preservative in many eye drops and has a known side effect profile, including destabilization of the tear film; morphological changes to corneal and conjunctival epithelium cells resulting in superficial punctate keratitis; and symptoms including foreign body sensation, stinging, or burning.6

Related: New app detects pediatric leukocoria

Many undereye serums and wrinkle creams contain chemical ingredients to produce the desired results of decreasing the appearance of fine lines. Retinol is a common ingredient, but research shows as many as 20 percent to 50 percent of patients using retinoid products can experience dry eye syndrome or blepharoconjunctivitis as side effects.7

Many undereye serums also contain neurotoxins like l-arginine to temporarily paralyze the muscles around the eyes. When these muscles are parallyzed, blink frequency and strength of blink closure changes, exacerbating dry eye symptoms. Surprisingly, neurotoxins like these are now commonly being included in concealers due to their smoothing effects.

Mascara is a known eye irritant, with 60 percent of daily users reporting eye irritation in a 2013 study.8

“Mascara was the very first product I was asked to make,” Sullivan says.

Common preservatives found inside most mascaras include BAK and phenoxyethanol. In designing Èyes are the Story, she worked to find ingredients that would ensure her mascara would not flake or crumble into the eyes but would remain a non-irritant. 

When patients first see the Èyes are the Story mascara tube, they note that the tubes are much smaller than most drugstore products. This design was deliberate to limit patient temptation to extend the life of mascara past the time of safety. Research shows that over 36 percent of mascara tubes are contaminated after 3 months of use, with the most common microbes being Staphylococcus epidermis, Streptococcus, and even some species of fungus.9

Instead of one large tube that could take months to use up, Èyes are the Story mascara comes in three mini-tubes with the same amount of product but in packaging made to encourage proper disposal times.

To watch the associated video, click here

Related: New drop for neurotrophic keratitis uses human nerve growth factor

Wax was a key ingredient that Sullivan wanted to avoid in her eyeliner product.

Due to her formula adjustments in order to avoid certain ingredients, she says the laboratory was getting very irritated with her.

Her final design came from an idea to make her product as easy to apply as using a felt-tipped marker. The result is an easy-on and easy-off product that makes eyeliner application more approachable to novice wearers.

Because the product is not waterproof and is free of wax, it is easy to remove with gentle facewash or eyelid cleansers.

Not just for women
Both Sullivan and Dr. O’Dell encourage eyecare practitioners to consider that healthy beauty products are for more than just women. Facewash, lid hygiene wipes, and wrinkle serums are universal products that could benefit both men and women.

Sullivan encourages doctors to avoid gender stereotyping who could benefit from healthier and ocular surface safe cleansers or wrinkle creams.

Are you interested in adding ocular aesthetics as to your office? You can purchase Èyes are the Story products online or become a wholesale retailer to offer the products at your clinic.

To watch the associated video, click here

More by Dr. Lyerly: OD builds e-commerce dry eye store


1. Matossian C, McDonald M, Donaldson KE, Nichols KK, MacIver S, Gupta PK. Dry eye disease: consideration for women’s health. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2019 Apr 1;28(4):502-514.
2. Pearson B. Clean Beauty Can Be A Dirty Business: Beautycounter, Sephora And P&G Are Changing That. Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanpearson/2019/01/21/clean-beauty-can-be-a-dirty-business-beautycounter-sephora-and-pg-are-changing-that/#1ec7d9363de4. Accessed 5/29/20.
3. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Subpart B-Requirements for Specific Cosmetic Products. Available at: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c108128827d21f2d274e894731665ef4&rgn=div6&view=text&node=21: Accessed 5/28/20.
4. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. International Laws. Available at: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/regulations/international-laws/. Accessed 5/28/20.
5. Bondi CAM, Marks JL, Wroblewski LB, Raatikainen HS, Lenox SR, Gebhardt KE. Human and Environmental Toxicity of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): Evidence for Safe Use in Household Cleaning Products. Environ Health Insights. 2015;9:27-32.
6. Sindt CW. Too much of a good thing? Rev Optom. Available at: https://www.reviewofcontactlenses.com/article/too-much-of-a-good-thing-26319. Accessed 5/28/20.
7. Bergler-Czop B, Bilewicz-Stebel M, Stańkowska A, Bilewicz-Wyrozumska T. Side effects of retinoid therapy on the quality of vision. Acta Pharmaceutica. 2016;66(4):417-478.
8. Kadri R, Achar A, Tantry TP, Parameshwar D, Kudva A, Hegde S. Mascara induced milphosis, an etiological evaluation. Intl J Trichology. 2013;5(3):144-147.
9. Pack LD, Wickham MG, Enloe RA, Hill DN. Microbial Contamination Associated With Mascara Use. Optometry. 2008 Oct;79(10):587-93.

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