What Are Eye Styes, and How Do You Treat Them?

Your makeup products might be the cause of these pesky eye bumps.

Eye Styes

One of the most unnerving experiences is looking in the mirror to discover a red pimple-like bump on your eyelid. You might be tempted to instantly freak out, since the eyes are one of the most noticeable facial features and a very important organ. But don't stress: The bump you've discovered is more normal than you think. Eye styes, or that pesky, sometimes-achy pimple on the eyelid, can occur for various reasons, such as bacteria build-up or rubbing an itchy or irritated eyelid. Here's exactly what causes eye styes and eye stye treatment — plus, whether or not your eye makeup may be a factor.

What Is an Eye Stye? 

"A stye is a blockage of the glands around the eyelid that is caused by bacteria," says Diane Hilal-Campo, M.D., board-certified ophthalmologist and founder of twenty/twenty beauty. Eye styes often form as a bump or pimple on the inside or edge of your eyelid or lash line. They appear red in color and are often tender and painful. Eye styes can also look identical to pimples in the sense that they can be filled with pus, similar to a whitehead.

Within the eye, there are three different glands that help it to function properly. The meibomian gland (found along the edge of the eyelids) secretes oils that are important for producing tears and preventing dry eye, says Dr. Hilal-Campo. Meanwhile, the glands of Zeis and Moll make antibodies and sebum, an oil that lubricates the lashes to keep them from being brittle and breaking, according to Dr. Hilal-Campo. When any of these glands become clogged, irritated, or infected by bacteria, inflammation sets in, and a stye will form on the eye.

Certain symptoms will immediately clue you in to the existence of a stye or that one may be brewing. These symptoms can include:

  • A pimple-like bump on the upper eyelid or lower lash line 
  • Swelling or redness on the eyelid or lash line 
  • Pain or soreness of the eye 
  • Teary eyes, itchiness, or flakey crust forming on the eyes or lashes

Conditions That Cause Eye Styes

It's important to note that certain skin conditions, such as rosacea (a condition that causes redness, rashes, and small red pus-filled bumps to appear on the face), can increase your susceptibility to eye styes because it can further develop into ocular rosacea. "Rosacea is actually a systemic skin condition that can also affect the area around the eyes and cause inflammation in the oil-secreting glands," explains Dr. Hilal-Campo. "So when people who have rosacea have inflamed eye glands, the eye glands block up and styes can form." These glands work to prevent dry eyes, and if they’re blocked, redness, itching, and irritation will set in, creating a bona fide environment for styes to develop on the eyelids as a result.

On the other hand, if severe eye styes are recurring without any underlying predetermined health conditions present, these styes may be the result of blepharitis, a chronic condition. "Blepharitis is an eye condition that’s caused by inflammation in the oil glands on the eyelid," explains Dr. Hilal-Campo. This condition can result in swollen, itchy, or burning sensations on the eye as well as dandruff-like flakes or crusts that form on the eyelashes. Blepharitis is diagnosed by an ophthalmologist, who can also provide oral or topical antibiotics to help treat it.

How to Treat Eye Styes

As unnerving as it may be to have a painful pimple on your eye, eye stye treatment can be fairly easy and done right at home. The first step is to resist the urge to rub and touch your eyes, especially where the stye has formed. Similar to acne-like pimples, you shouldn’t attempt to pop the stye as that can lead to infection.

Instead, apply a warm compress to the eye for 15 minutes at a time, five times a day, to help the styes heal and drain, says Dr. Hilal-Campo. Applying the compress consistently should also help alleviate any pain or discomfort the stye may be causing. If the stye doesn't improve after a few days, Dr. Hilal-Campo advises making an appointment with an eye doctor who can help determine an eye stye treatment plan that may include prescription topical or oral antibiotics. 

Should You Wear Makeup with a Stye?

The short answer is no, according to Dr. Hilal-Campo. Avoid wearing or applying makeup to the eye while the stye is visible if you want your eye stye treatment to work quickly. Here's why: Some eye makeup products require repeated dipping of the wand into the product (think: mascara). If you use these products, then, while experiencing a stye, that repeated dipping can introduce bacteria into the product — bacteria that might still be present on the wand long after your stye is healed. This cross-contamination can cause the stye to reoccur as the bacteria is reintroduced back into the eye.

Cross-contamination is also why you shouldn't use eyeshadow brushes and palettes while you have a stye. In addition to the risk of bacteria, applying these cosmetics can cause additional irritation to the stye because of the constant friction from brushes. Even worse, product may become trapped on the stye or eyelid.

Best Practices for Preventing Styes

The best way to avoid getting an eye stye is to take the necessary steps to prevent them from occurring, especially if you frequently wear makeup. Generally, disposing of eye makeup every three months, or one month if it's mascara, is a good habit to develop, says Dr. Hilal-Campo. If your makeup is really old and has been sitting in your collection for years, throwing it away is the best option, since expired makeup and its spoiled ingredients can irritate the eyes. When wearing a full face of makeup, including eyeliner and eyeshadow, be sure to thoroughly cleanse all of the makeup off of your face, eyelids, and lashes. The best way to do this is by double cleansing: first with a makeup remover or micellar water, and then with your beloved face wash.

Although lash extensions can really accentuate the eyes, be sure to keep the extensions clean and free of product and dirt Bacteria can grow in the lashes and cause an infection at the base of the eyelid. Lastly, always wash your hands before touching or rubbing your eyes and face, as dirt, germs, and bacteria can transfer from your hands into your eyes and create irritation that may lead to a stye.

While eye styes are unsightly, typically they shouldn't cause too much concern and should heal within a few days to upwards of two weeks. It's always best to seek out an ophthalmologist to help figure out the best eye stye treatment plan for you, and make sure you're practicing safe, sanitary eye makeup habits.

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