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Is Your Eye Makeup Actually ‘Eye-Safe’?

Neon eye makeup is back in a big way, and tons of brands are offering their own take on the trend. But you might have been surprised to see an ironic safety disclaimer on some shades in your brand-new neon eyeshadow palette: “Not intended for use in the immediate eye area.”

I’m sorry, what? These sure look like eyeshadow palettes, so what gives? How can a product like that be anything but eye-safe? And on that note, how can you make sure that you’re using safe eye makeup? We talked to experts to figure this out.

Here’s how to know if your eye makeup contains non-eye-safe ingredients.

Really any color cosmetic product could contain an ingredient that isn’t approved for use around the eyes. So why are you just now hearing about this? The issue of safe eye makeup made headlines earlier this year when neon shades showed up on runways. Next thing we knew, everyone was excited about superbright palettes and eyeliners, and that’s when they noticed the disclaimer. But you may have also noticed this language on Halloween makeup or face paints, which also tend to be bright and highly pigmented.

So how can you know for sure if your bright new palette is safe for use around your eyes? The FDA encourages consumers to check the ingredients list of products they’re planning to use on their eyes against the agency’s list of approved color pigments, which also lists the exact uses they’re approved for.

“If there’s a color in your makeup that isn’t on this list, the company that made it is not obeying the law. Don’t use it,” the FDA says. “Even if it’s on the list, check to see if it has FDA’s OK for use near the eyes. If it doesn’t, keep it away from your eyes.”

This is actually one aspect of cosmetics regulation that the FDA takes very seriously, cosmetic chemist and cofounder of Chemist Confessions, tells SELF via email. “The FDA actually has pretty strict regulation on colo

r additives,” she says. “Only certain pigments can be used for eyes, [and] there are quite a few cases of foreign goods rejected for import on the basis of using non-approved pigments.”

There are two main FDA classifications for color additives in cosmetics: They’re approved for use in either “cosmetics generally” (which includes everything outside of the eye area and oral applications) or “external application” (which also excludes eye area application but, confusingly, does include some oral hygiene products like mouthwash and toothpaste). Remember, neither of these categories includes the eye area; the FDA classification has to explicitly mention that an ingredient is safe for use on or around the eyes, or technically it’s not safe for that use. And the product will likely end up with a disclaimer reading something like, “Not intended for use in the immediate eye area.”

Skimming the FDA’s data on cosmetic color additives quickly reveals that superbright pigments (often listed as D&C and FD&C dyes) have more restrictions on them and are less likely to be eye-safe than ingredients like talc or mica. Generally, that’s because the brighter and more neon a cosmetic is, the less likely it is to get its color from eye-safe pigments alone.

Why are those pigments more likely to get the “not for eyes” disclaimers? “Usually it means that the pigments underwent safety testing and [were] not approved for eye area use,” Gloria Lu, cosmetic chemist and Chemist Confessions cofounder, tells SELF.

What does it mean if an ingredient isn’t eye-safe?

If a product has a “not for eye” disclaimer, that means it contains an ingredient that, for whatever reason, the FDA concluded shouldn’t be used around the eyes. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, the general public doesn’t know why that happened—just that it did.