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When can I wear eye makeup after LASIK?

By Joel Hunter, MD | 10/16/17 7:00 AM
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This question is a biggie. It’s a chart topper on the LASIK Questions chart, or it would be if there was one. For those just looking for a short answer, feel free to skip to the last paragraph. Most women getting LASIK ask this at some point, and one time a man asked. It was only once, but it was memorable. He was your average college-age guy, a little quiet, but super nice. So when he asked how soon after LASIK he could wear eye makeup, I reacted (with the really good intentions in my heart) the way a supportive dad might respond when his son tells him he now identifies as an owl. I said, “Oh!...well, yeah! Of course if...haha?! Hmm? Oh I thought you said someth...I mean, sooooo. Sure, sure, suresuresure...I think if you want, if, who am I to? I mean! Just...What was the question?”

I’ve since matured and learned the world is much bigger than I realized growing up. A lot of credit goes to that guy for helping me. It was a good question, and the reason was as unexpected as the question. He hosted a how-to program that gave all the instructions through the medium of black metal music. As I found out from watching a few of these shows, black metal music is (A) heavily costumed, with heavy black eye makeup and (B) terrifying to my eternal soul in a unique way. Moving on, let’s never speak of this again and answer today’s question about eye makeup after LASIK.

Within the first six hours or so after LASIK, the surface of the eye has smoothed over to the point where there is rarely even a foreign body sensation. This is relevant because your eye is designed to feel a foreign body sensation if there is even the slightest abrasion. That way you’ll produce lots of tears to help it heal and also to flush out particulate matter that may get inside the abrasion. If some tiny foreign body (like a particle of makeup) gets stuck in a spot where there’s a scratch, the bacteria that is invariably adherent to that tiny particle can grow and form an infection. As you’ll assume, that’s bad.

What’s good is how rarely this happens because our eyes are so good at flushing that stuff away with tears. That, combined with how quickly LASIK heals, means it is exceptionally difficult to get an infection from makeup. So why wait? Putting makeup on, and more likely, taking makeup off puts force on the eye or can increase risk of slipping and poking yourself in the eye. Particularly with poking, a LASIK flap can be dislodged with enough effort in the first week. Hence, the waiting time.

The conservative amount of time to wait to use eye makeup is a week. I’ve not heard of someone causing an injury after a week. That being said, it is pretty difficult to cause problems after the first 24 hours unless you are very unlucky or exceptionally prone to poking yourself in the eye. I usually tell patients, after they look good at their next-day post-operative appointment, they can carefully put eye makeup on the day after that. And that they should be even more careful when removing it to be extra gentle. I’ve never seen a problem when following these guidelines in many thousands of female patients or in one male patient.

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