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Eye Whitening Drops: What You Need to Know

Close-up of open eye

Those crystal clear, bright white eyes you see models rocking in fashion magazine closeups may look great, but for the most part, they're photoshopped down to the last tiny vein.

That's because, in the real world, slightly bloodshot eyes are more the norm. They may be caused by such things as allergies, staring at computer screens, or contact lenses left in for too long. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), red eyes may also indicate more serious conditions.

But when trendsetters like fashion designer Tom Ford decreed (as he did years ago in "Tom Ford's Grooming Commandments") that "like white teeth, white eyes matter," bloggers around the world started beating the drum for eye-whitening drops.

Should I use Eye-Whitening Drops?

Often called "redness relieving drops," they contract the eye's blood vessels through a process called vasoconstriction.

As tempting as the drops sound, John A. Moran Eye Center ophthalmologist Amy Lin, MD, urges moderation, and the AAO agrees.

"I do not recommend whitening eye products on a routine basis because the continued constriction of blood vessels can cause them to become even more dilated than normal when the effect wears off," Lin noted.

"There's a real rebound effect, and your eyes can become even redder than they ever would have been. Plus, nearly all of these eye drops contain preservatives that can be toxic to the eye's surface when used repeatedly. I think they are fine for very sporadic use—maybe if you are getting your picture taken or for an interview or something like that, but definitely not for daily use.

"That said," Lin explained, "You may be able to avoid 'rebound redness' by using newer eye drops that contain brimonidine. This ingredient targets small veins rather than small arteries in the eye. Bottom line, read the labels and use all eye drops with moderation or as directed by your ophthalmologist."

What About Going Blue?

Fashion blogs have also extolled the virtues of another "beauty hack" that one called "master-level eye-brightening drops with a blue tint that correct any stubborn yellowness for surreally white peepers."

Though they "sound intriguing," Dr. Lin said, "they seem to work for whitening, but they stain everything else blue—from eyelids and skin around the eyes to clothing. I imagine they would stain contact lenses as well. I would say proceed at your own risk with blue drops."

Protect Your Eyes Naturally

The best way to keep your eyes happy and clear? Get enough sleep, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, and protect your eyes from UV rays and dry air—especially this time of year.

Anything from air conditioning to sitting around a campfire can dry your eyes. In that case, preservative-free artificial tears are your best bet. Or, prescription eye drops prescribed by a licensed eye care provider can help.

updated: June 3, 2021
originally published: June 2017