Your eyes are meant to gaze adoringly into the face of your boo or lead you safely through a gorgeous mountain hike. They’re not meant to be pricked with a needle, dyed, or doused with homemade solutions.
But these are exactly some of the things that are happening in the name of self-expression or saving money and time. Scary, right?
Here are a handful of eye health habits experts wish you would never, ever do to your peepers.
You may have heard about the Canadian model who decided to tattoo her eyeballs purple. She ended up with a nasty infection and is now waiting to see if she can save her sight.
The practice of tattooing your eyeballs actually has a name–sclera staining (sclera is the outer layer of your eyeball)–and, as the model’s story illustrates, it’s not a good idea. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, the procedure actually involves putting a needle in your eye.
Matt Hoffman, a family nurse practitioner and clinical assistant professor with the Texas A&M College of Nursing, has seen it a couple of times in younger patients keen on experimenting. With any tattoo, there is a risk of infection, he says, including of hepatitis C, HIV, or conjunctivitis if the needle used is not clean.
Not only are there health risks, the tattoos aren’t even effective in the appearance department either. “The pigment does not stay around,” Hoffman says. “It’s basically your body rejecting it. That should be a flag not to do this.”
Another flag? A state legislator in Indiana is trying to pass a law to ban the practice.
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Wear non-prescribed decorative contact lenses
It’s Halloween. You’ve decided you’d like to have orange eyes for the occasion. You buy decorative contacts at the gas station or online. Another bad idea.
Also called fashion, cosmetic, or theater contact lenses, non-prescription temporary contacts can damage your cornea, cause infection, and even lead to blindness.
“Contact lenses are medical devices,” says Rebecca Taylor, MD, a comprehensive ophthalmologist in Nashville and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). “Poorly fitting lenses can lead to surface damage which, in some people, can lead to vision loss.”
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all contact lens. Eyes have a very sophisticated curvature and topography, which needs to be carefully measured before getting any kind of lens, Dr. Taylor says.
If you want to costume up for Halloween or any other event and you just have to have eyes that make you look like a mummy or a lizard, you can get the gear from your optometrist or ophthalmologist. “The only right way, in my opinion, is through a licensed provider,” says Hoffman.
In November 2017, Reuters followed a street-side barber in China as he shaved customers’ eyelids. Running a straight razor along the inside of the eyelid is said to unblock the oil glands lining the lids, and some customers apparently swear by it. Eye professionals, not so much.
“Blades to the eyeball only speak once,” Dr. Taylor says. “They have one thing to say, and that’s an injury. We would encourage people not to do that practice at all.”
Granted, blocked oil glands can be a nuisance and contribute, among other things, to dry eye. But striking a blade that close to your eyeball isn’t the way to treat them. If you’re having problems, try applying a warm compress and massaging very lightly on your eyelid just above the lashes. Otherwise see an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
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Sleep in your contacts
It may not seem like a big deal and, in fact, the contact lenses may even be advertised as safe to sleep in. Don’t believe it.
Problems might not happen the first time you sleep in your lenses, but they can and do occur. That’s because contacts deprive the corneas of oxygen, which fosters the growth of infection-causing bacteria.
Boston Celtics basketball player Jaylen Brown recently did just this (with contacts that were theoretically approved for sleeping) and ended up missing a game because of an inflamed eye. He later appeared on the court in goggles, having been told there was no telling when he’d be able to wear contacts again. He was lucky. One woman developed such a bad infection after sleeping in her contacts she nearly went blind, according to the AAO.
Maybe you ran out of saline solution, it’s late, and you don’t want to run to the store to get more. Easy–you'll mix some salt with tap water. While that's a tempting way to solve your problem fast, you may end up with nasty organisms in your eye.
“If you use a store-bought product, it is free of things that can come out of the faucet,” says Dr. Taylor. “With homemade solution, you can give yourself a parasitic infection that [could] cause vision loss.”
There are better ways to manage your budget if saving money's what you're after, she adds. “Saline solution is very inexpensive, and it’s a very good product. This is not where you want to cut your dollars.”
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Remove lesions from your eyelid by yourself
So you have a small bump, cyst, or stye on your eyelid. Please do not take a safety pin and pop it. “It’s not like getting a splinter out of your foot,” Dr. Taylor says. “The eyelid skin is some of the thinnest skin in the body. The risk of infection and permanent damage is high.”
Rather than endangering yourself with a sharp instrument, place a warm, damp washcloth over the bump for a minute or two, twice or three times a day.
If that doesn't help or if the bump gets worse, talk to a doctor. “If it’s growing, if it’s changed in any way, if it’s darkly pigmented or causing any eyelash loss or any dimpling, if it’s scaly–all of those can be signs of an eyelid tumor,” says Dr. Taylor.
We shouldn’t have to say this, but a prescription medication is meant only for the person it’s prescribed to. Sharing over-the-counter eye treatments could mean you’re swapping bacteria and other unwelcome life forms. Same goes for eye shadow, liner, mascara, and contact lenses.
“The virus that causes pink eye can live on makeup for weeks,” Dr. Taylor says. “It can be very virulent and transmitted easily.” Gonorrhea is also easily transmitted and can affect the eyes.
Pick up some safety glasses for a couple of dollars at a local hardware store, or shop around for a more sophisticated (and pricier) version. Either way, look for glasses that wrap around the sides of your face.