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Prone To Skin Irritation Around Your Eyes? The One Product You Might Be Overlooking

Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director. Previously she worked at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com.
Image by Danil Nevsky / Stocksy
December 7, 2019

If you're one to get red, inflamed, angry patches on the eyelid, you know contact dermatitis all too well. "The most common type of facial eczema is contact dermatitis—this is a form of eczema that comes from irritation from products, like perfumes or skin care topicals," says holistic dermatologist Alan Dattner, M.D. "It's most often found around the eyes and eyelids." If this is you, or you've had a brush with facial eczema before, you've probably been told to reach for sensitive-skin-safe makeup items and eye creams. (You know the buzzwords: hypoallergenic, ophthalmologist-tested, gentle, and so on.)

But can you guess the most common irritant for this hypersensitive area? When Dattner asked me, I assumed mascara (wrong). Tried again and guessed eyeliner (nope). And while these can spur contact dermatitis—especially when formulated with the preservatives methylparaben or butylparaben—the most surprising culprit is actually at your fingertips: nail polish.

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"It's like poison ivy; you don't have to rub it in; you just have to touch it," says Dattner. Even if you're on your best behavior, he says, it can happen during the most innocent of circumstances, like when you're sleeping. And from the initial contact, it becomes a vicious cycle. "So you touch your eye, it becomes irritated and starts itching, and you're likely tempted to go back and scratch it again," he says.

So do you have to avoid all nail polish?

In short: no. First off, if you don't have any allergic reaction on your face or eyes, you can avoid this advice altogether and go merrily along to your next manicure appointment. This is really just a PSA for those who have flare-ups and can't seem to nail down the issue.

The big red flag ingredient is acrylates (also called ethyl acrylate, ethyl methacrylate, and methyl methacrylate), which is found in fake nails and at-home nail enhancers, like gel, dips, photo-bonding long-lasting polishes, and shellac. This 2017 case study in the journal Dermatology Reports stressed the importance of evaluating polish choices when evaluating facial eczema, especially around the eyes.

But even if you avoid fake nails, your more common nail polishes can cause irritations, too. Always opt for your cleaner options, like polishes labeled 5-free, 10-free, or even these 16-free ones. These polishes will be free of formaldehyde (a strengthening agent), camphor (which is used to provide high shine), and toluene (for vibrant color)—other common allergens for those with eczema.

Application also might have a role to play: After painting, let the polish dry prior to touching the face. "Sometimes polish can feel like it's dried, but it's not fully cured," says Dattner. It takes at least 2 hours for polish to fully set—not simply the 10 minutes you wait while blowing on them. If you venture into a salon for your weekly manicure, we might suggest bringing your own clean lotions, base coat, top coat, and polish.

And if all else fails: Buffed, naked manis are super chic.

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Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director at mindbodygreen. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She has worked at many top publications and brands including Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends and updates in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as travel, financial wellness, and parenting. She has reported on the intricacies of product formulations, the diversification of the beauty industry, and and in-depth look on how to treat acne from the inside, out (after a decade-long struggle with the skin condition herself). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.