Last updated 05/14/2022
It burns, it burns, and it burns. I live in an apartment building. The toilet is flushed downstairs when I’m in the shower the water becomes hot, shampoo or soap in my eyes.
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Why Does Shampoo and Soap Burn Your Eyes?
Shampoo or soap triggers your lacrimal and zygomatic nerves. These are found beneath your cornea. They take the slightest change in pH to be painful.
However your baby shampoos will have a more neutral pH. This is closer to the normal eye pH of seven. But baby shampoos really don’t work as well.
Your Eye pH
So, what else about the burn and the eye’s pH? The chemical falling in changes the natural pH in your eye. This is the measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is on a scale of 0 to 14.
If the pH is 7 (as in your eye) it is considered neutral. When that pH is less than 7 acidic or if greater alkaline. Your regular water is neutral.
But when you combine chemicals (ingredients) to the water it can go either way. For instance acidic liquids are vinegar and lemon juice. While alkaline are almond milk and tea.
Because your eyes can’t handle this alkaline liquid dropping in it alerts your immune system. In response your eyes start to water to get rid of the invader. The redness is due to your eye’s blood vessels enlarging because they are close to the surface. When shampoo or soap gets into your eyes this is the usual experience.
We try our best to avoid this but sometimes it just happens. However, these chemicals are wide spread in our products. Some are actually toxic.
Why do we Need Tears?
Your eyes have their own protective cleaning system. Tears are formed to keep your eyes moist and prevent external irritants from getting in. They assist to focus light so your vision is clear. Because your eyes have no blood vessels on the surface tears transport nutrients and oxygen there.
Your tears protect you from infections. When you blink you are coating the eye’s surface with a somewhat thick film. Tears include lysozyme, a substance containing antibacterial properties. This works to keep out invasion and infection by microbes.
The Three Layers of Tears
Your tears hold three layers of fluid.
Lipid Layer (Oily Outer Layer)
Aqueous Layer (Watery Middle Layer)
Mucin Glands (Inner Mucus Layer)
Your tears are mainly made up of this layer including various parts like proteins. Aqueous is secreted by the lacrimal glands on the underside of the upper eyelid. It lubricates the ocular surface.
The mucin glands give the tear film stick ability to stay on the surface of your eyes. This layer can trap contaminates.
What is Tear Film?
Tear film happens to be this complex combination of substances. These are secreted through many areas on the ocular surface.
They involve the:
- Lacrimal glands
- Accessary lacrimal glands
- Meibomian glands
- Goblet cells
Overall your tears are essential for the health of your eyes as well as vision. Every time you blink you are spreading a protective film that coats the front of your eye. If you don’t blink enough (like staring at that screen device) dry spots can develop. These dry spots can affect your vision causing it to decrease.
So your tear film serves some important purposes:
- Protecting and lubricating your eyes
- Decreasing the risk of eye infections
- Washing away foreign bodies
- Keeping the surfaces of your eyes smooth and clear
- Drain cleaners
- Oven cleaners
On the other hand in different settings like agricultural this can be fertilizers or pesticides. As with industry, multiple chemicals and solvents can irritate and damage your eyes.
When a chemical gets in your eye it is an emergency. One to five minutes is all it takes for damage to happen. Often these chemicals will cause only surface damage and no loss of vision.
Alkaline chemicals are the worse to cause damage to your eye. These consist of ammonia, drain cleaners, dish washing detergents along with oven cleaners.
Symptoms of Chemical Injury to Eye
- Burning sensation after exposure
- Eyes watering
- Eyes and eyelid are red
- Blurred vision
What is a Chemical Burn?
Chemical burns happen to your eyes when chemicals get in. This includes cleaning products, garden chemicals or industrial chemicals. Aerosols and fumes can also cause chemical burns.
Alkaline products such as drain cleaners, sodium hydroxide, lye or lime can damage your cornea permanently.
In cases where a non-toxic like shampoo or soap gets in your eyes flushing is often the only treatment needed.
Chemicals in Shampoo and Soap
You know there are ingredients in these that make your eyes burn. Oh we know it! But they are acidic and said to be non-toxic which is not as damaging as alkaline.
Common acids in shampoo and soaps:
- Sulfuric acid
- Sulfurous acid
- Hydrochloric acid
- Nitric acid
- Chronic acid
- Hydrofluoric acid
Toxic ingredients to avoid:
- Polyethylene Glycol
The front of my shampoo bottle says Sulfate-free and Parabens-free. I just can’t read the rest of the ingredients on the back. Even with glasses it’s a long list and very small print.
Different Ways to Flush Your Eyes
If you are in the shower, this can be kinda convenient. Don’t tilt your head backwards. Let the warm water (not hot) run over your forehead and eye, on low pressure setting.
While you are flushing your eyes it is important to keep your eyes open.
- You could turn the faucet on and bend across the sink. Tilting your head sideways let warm water flow across eye area.
- A pitcher or glass of water can be used over the sink. Don’t tilt backwards this won’t flush the chemical out. The warm water can be poured into your eyes while tilting head sideways.
- Place a pan of warm water on a flat surface. Then dip face into water and keep blinking.
- If your child should need eyes flushed gently hold eyelids open. The warm water can then be poured or run across under faucet. Try to stay calm so your child does likewise.
Don’t do This
Your first reaction may be to rub your eyes when something gets in them. This only makes things worse and causes more irritation.
A child should be watched so hands are kept away from eyes. Small babies can be swaddled to prevent eye rubbing.
Your eye’s natural tears can simply remove irritants. However, when you get shampoo or soap in them this requires flushing eyes out.
Wrapping it up
Your eyes are a delicate sense organ. Getting products in them that sting and burn can lead to a chemical burn. Shampoos or soaps entering your eye need to be flushed out immediately.
Harsh ingredients can damage this sensitive tissue. The eye’s normal pH levels are thrown off when these substances get in. The immune system becomes involved causing irritation and a very uncomfortable feeling.
No matter how hard we try sometimes it is just unavoidable. Therefore you should know that your eyes need to be flushed right away. If you have any concerns about damage to your eye after being exposed to compounds seek medical attention immediately.
Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fifteen years.