Are Homemade Eye Drops Safe?

If you have itchy, burning, or red eyes, chances are you’ve used over-the-counter or prescription eye drops. You may have also considered alternative therapies, including homemade eye drops. While home remedies may sound like a natural and cost-effective option, they’re not always a good alternative. We’ll explore several popular homemade eye drops and determine which ones (if any!) are safe.

Key takeaways:
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    Homemade eye drops can cause more harm than good, such as increased dryness, allergic reactions, chemical burns, and even vision loss.
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    It can be difficult to ensure homemade eye drops are entirely sterile and have a pH balanced with your natural tears.
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    Natural doesn’t always mean safe or healthy for your eyes. Many natural products, such as tea tree oil, are too strong to use undiluted on your eyes.
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    Choose commercially available eye drops over home remedies. Ask your doctor if you’re unsure which ones are best for your eye symptoms.

Types and risks of homemade eye drops

Making your eye drops can be risky. Commercially available eye drops are sterile and may contain preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi, or Acanthamoeba. These microorganisms can cause serious eye infections. Making eye drops at home makes it challenging to ensure the ingredients are not contaminated.

Certain ingredients can burn or irritate your eyes if not formulated correctly. The pH of your natural tears is neutral, around seven. If you use eye drops that are too acidic (low pH) or alkali (high pH), you can irritate or damage your eyes.

Saltwater solution

A saltwater solution is a mixture of table salt and tap water. Boiling the solution kills harmful pathogens and dissolves the salt. However, the solution can still become contaminated if poured into a non-sterile container.

Additionally, the salt crystals can scratch your eye if not properly dissolved. Finally, if the salt level isn't balanced with your natural tears, the solution will draw moisture from your eyes and dry them out — making matters worse.

A better alternative is to use saline solution or bottled eyewash to rinse your eyes. If you have swelling in your cornea, your eye doctor may recommend a sodium chloride hypertonic solution to draw out the fluid.

Tea bags

A typical home remedy is to place steeped tea bags over the eyelids as a warm compress or rinse the eyes with brewed tea to treat conjunctivitis, puffy eyelids, or other eye issues. However, studies indicate that chamomile tea can cause allergic conjunctivitis, while black tea can stain the cornea.

You can opt for over-the-counter homeopathic eye drops (such as Similasan), which may contain chamomile or other natural ingredients. However, it's important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated homeopathic products for safety or effectiveness.

Castor oil

Castor oil has been shown in some studies to improve signs and symptoms of dry eye and eyelid inflammation. In general, oil-based products help prevent the evaporation of tears off the surface of your eyes.

Another popular use of castor oil is to promote eyelash and eyebrow growth. In addition, some data suggest that ricinoleic acid, found in castor oil, may prevent hair loss.

Despite these benefits, it’s best to avoid putting pure castor oil into your eyes because it may not be sterile — resulting in temporary blurred vision. Instead, look for specially formulated eye drops containing castor oil or other similar ingredients to lubricate your eyes, including:

  • Refresh Optive Mega-3 (castor oil and flaxseed oil);
  • Refresh Optive Advanced (castor oil);
  • Systane Complete (mineral oil);
  • Systane Balance (mineral oil).

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is known for its antibacterial properties and ability to kill eyelash mites (called Demodex). Demodex causes eyelid inflammation, eyelash dandruff, styes, dryness, and other irritation of the eyes.

However, undiluted tea tree oil irritates the skin and can burn your eyes. Therefore, tea tree oil must be diluted with water or carrier oils before use. The safest route is to choose products formulated for the eyes, which typically include a lower concentration of tea tree oil, such as:

  • OcuSoft Oust Demodex cleanser;
  • Cliradex Towelettes eyelid wipes;
  • We Love Eyes tea tree eyelid and eyelash cleansing oil;
  • I-Lid 'n Lash Plus tea tree wipes.

Lemon juice

Lemons are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that protects your eyes against age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases. Lemon juice has also been used as a home remedy for eye infections. However, putting lemon juice in your eye is NOT recommended.

Lemon juice is highly acidic and has a pH of around two. Chemical eye injuries can occur with a substance of pH under four. An acidic eye injury is extremely painful and can damage your cornea, cause permanent vision loss, raise your eye pressure, and have other lasting side effects.

The best way to obtain vitamin C is through your diet. If you suspect an eye infection, consult your eye doctor to see if they recommend a prescription or over-the-counter eye drops.

Homemade eye drops are generally not recommended and can increase your risk for infections or chemical burns if not properly formulated. Your eyes are highly sensitive organs, and the wrong substances can damage your vision permanently. Store-bought or prescription eye drops are a much safer bet.


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