The Red Eye Shadow Ingredient That Can Cause Irritation

Red eye shadow is tricky, even trickier if you're allergic to its dye.
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Red eye shadow is tricky, even trickier if you're allergic to its dye.

Maybe red eye shadow only occurred to me because Halloween just passed and drugstores have marked down all those mini theatrical makeup palettes, most of which contain at least one red powder or cream shadow. Upon sight, I think, Oh, red eye shadow, cool! And then I wonder, Hey, why don’t non-holiday-specific makeup lines offer more true red eye shades?” 

Generally, red eye shadows are found in prestige brand or theatrically-geared makeup, rather than mass consumer level brand products. 

Other than being an unpopular shade (and thus an unnecessary expense), red eye shadow is trickier than other colors--because it's difficult to create one that a) has a good color payoff, and b) doesn't irritate your eyes. 

Recently, a makeup artist told me that the itchy culprit in red eye shadow is crushed up shellfish, which we all know doesn't agree with everyone. Of course I had to do fact check, and while I didn't discover any concrete fingers pointing to shellfish, I did learn about a very common irritant found in all red dyes (for food and cosmetics): Carmine, aka carminic acid, crimson lake, cochineal, natural red 4, C.I. 75470, or E120.

Carmine actually is carminic acid, and carminic acid is a chemical extracted from the bodies of cochineal bugs and woefully ground up in the name of red lipstick, red cosmetics, and red food dyes. Despite being somewhat of a common allergen, carmine isn't considered toxic by the FDA, since it’s not harmful to people who aren’t allergic to it. 

Those of you whose eyes have ever experienced itchiness or swelling should take a look to see if carmine or any of its aliases are ingredients in your products.

To my knowledge, the only thing I’m allergic to is the aluminum in antiperspirants (it makes me breakout in painful cysts--not cool). I noticed that a lot of lip products I own contain carmine and they haven't bothered me. So I took it upon myself to experiment with some red eye shadows. I looked to Manic Panic, a brand that boasts a vegan and cruelty-free ethos (though I did find carmine listed in these eye colors). Make Up For Ever also offers pretty much every color in the known spectrum as a professional-grade line available to the masses.

red eye shadows

Clockwise from top: Manic Panic Love Color in Wildfire, Make Up For Ever Aqua Cream in Red, MP Powder Eye Shadow in Vampire Red, MP Lust Dust in Infra Red, MP Coffin Dust in Flaming, and MUFE Artist Shadow in Copper Red

Aesthetically, the results are pretty cool. Red eye shadow can look really cyber punk, or like a minimalist dip into art pop. 

red cat eye

MUFE Aqua Creme in Red

red eye liner

YSL Babydoll Kiss & Blush in Rouge Libertine on lips

The trick in making it look good and not like you are suffering from a severe allergic reaction (even if you actually are) is to really commit. 

Red in general is such a statement color, so naturally one would want to make a statement while wearing it. No watered-down reds for me. I love the Make Up For Ever Aqua Cream Liner for this reason. Powder shadow formulas are flexible in terms of blending and opacity, but for big color payoff, I appreciate a good opaque colored liner.

red smokey eye

Make Up For Ever Artist Shadow in Copper Red layered over Manic Panic Vampire Red

MUFE copper red

Laura Mercier's "Sienna" on lips

After wearing that red smoky eye all day, my eyelids were a bit puffy after I washed my makeup off at the end of the day. It wasn't causing me to rub or scratch my eyes in an itchy fervor, though. And to be fair, I was wearing black powder shadow as liner on top of the red, plus mascara, so the whole look was a lot more eye makeup that I normally ever wear.

Eye shadows in general are always being picked apart to determine which ingredients are safe. Like Carmine, there are a handful of contentious components (talc, mica) that make for lots of chemists-who-cried-cancer without definitive or irrefutable research to stamp CARCINOGEN on them, regardless of a few known cases (with other variables involved). Since both the aforementioned common ingredients are all-natural and not known toxins, the FDA doesn’t ban them. 

We’re all complex flesh bags who react differently to different chemicals. The best thing you can do to keep yourself safe is be mindful of what you’re putting on (and into) your body and how your body responds to it. 

  • Any of you ever experienced a weird adverse reaction to red eye shadow? 
  • Or to any ingredients in particular? I'm trying to get better at knowing what's in my products, so help a sister out!