• Exfoliating Scrubs Can Scratch Your Eye

    Written By: Beatrice Shelton
    Reviewed By: Laurie Gray Barber MD
    Mar. 29, 2019

    Microbeads are tiny bits of plastic that until recently were found in many skincare products. They're intended to exfoliate debris from the body and face. But if you’re not careful, tiny pieces of plastic can become lodged in the eye and scratch your cornea, the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye. 

    In addition to microbeads, other gritty exfoliating scrubs pose a similar danger. Classic culprits are apricot scrubs with walnut shell powder, pumice stones, sugar, and coffee grounds—which are all active exfoliating ingredients. 

    Ophthalmologist Laurie Barber, MD, plucked microbeads from a patient’s eye who used a facial cleanser right before going to bed. During an eye exam, Dr. Barber discovered that a clear, tiny bead had embedded behind the patient’s upper lid. It caused a corneal abrasion. 

    Most corneal abrasions heal completely without a permanent effect on vision. A deeper scratch on the eye can cause corneal scarring or, even worse, a corneal ulcer. A corneal ulcer is a deep wound that can permanently damage vision and even cause blindness if left untreated. 

    Corneal abrasion symptoms include: 

    U.S. law now prohibits microbeads in personal care products. There's also growing concern over tiny plastic beads’ impact on marine life. The good news is there are many products on the market free of microplastic and other substances harmful to the eye. 

    Consider these tips when washing your face: 

    • Use self-care products free of microbeads and gritty exfoliants.
    • Wash your hands before you wash your face. This will keep grit and grime from getting into the eye.
    • Pat—don't rub your face dry. This may help avoid brushing anything into the eyes.
    • If a skin care product gets into the eye, rinse it out with clean cold water immediately
    • Do not rub your eye. Rubbing may scratch the cornea.
    • See an ophthalmologist if symptoms don’t go away, or keep getting worse. An ophthalmologist can help fix the problem and can help you make safe decisions about your skincare products.