Mascara made me blind for life

She has now issued a warning for all makeup users!

Shirley’s night out left her with devastating consequences.

Here, Shirley Potter, 50, tells the story in her own words.

I’d waited for this day for years. My daughters, Cyndal, 21, and Kirsty, 20, had invited me for a night out.

‘Let’s go into town,’ said Kirsty. ‘That would be amazing,’ I smiled. ‘Are you sure going out with your mum won’t embarrass you?’ But they were as excited as I was.

The night out was extra special because it had been a rough few years. I’d had a kidney transplant four years earlier, just after my 40th birthday. I’ve got polycystic kidneys and clusters of cysts had formed all over them, making them more cyst than kidney.

My husband Steve had to look after the kids while I was in hospital and for big chunks of time afterwards when I went into renal failure.

family photo
Jesse, my granddaughter River, Cyndal, me, Kirsty and Steve (Credit: Supplied)

It had been a rocky time, but I’d been hospital-free for nearly a year and at last I was feeling good again.

Now to look good, I thought. Over the next few days I bought a new outfit, new stockings and I even went to the hairdresser to have my hair done.

On the night, I dug out my make-up from the bathroom cabinet. I’d had most of it for about 20 years, but it still looked as good as new. Brushing my cheeks with blusher and sweeping my lashes with mascara, I scrubbed up pretty well. I should wear make-up more often, I smiled at my reflection. Steve and the girls thought so too!

‘Now just don’t go too wild,’ Steve joked, waving us off. As if! With my kidney history I had to be very careful. We had a brilliant night and I only had a couple of glasses of wine. But waking up the next morning I felt terrible.

Both my eyes were red and burning. ‘I must be tired,’ I told Steve, soothing them with a cold wash cloth. As the day went on though and they still ached, I couldn’t help worrying. It was particularly odd that my left eye was so sore.

I was born with a birth defect that meant the eye was completely blind. It looks normal, but it doesn’t react to anything. The kids have even poked it and it doesn’t hurt. So why was it as painful as my right one?

After about three days, I knew something was seriously wrong. It wasn’t just my eye, it was the skin down to my cheeks and into my eyebrow.

My doctor sent me straight to an ophthalmologist. By the time I saw him, my eyes looked normal even though they were itchy. ‘You might just have a mild infection from your make-up,’ he suggested.

But six months later, my eyes were still itchy and black dots had started to appear in my vision. As well as the blindness in my left eye, I could now barely see out of my right. There was a black ring around the outside, like I had tunnel vision.

I love to bushwalk with my family (Credit: Supplied)

‘I’ve started bumping into things and I even fell over a pram at the mall,’ I told a doctor at the Royal Society for the Blind. Testing my eyesight, he had some grave news.‘You’re legally blind,’ he said.

Shaking my head in shock, I couldn’t believe it. It had happened so gradually I hadn’t realised how bad it was. But what had caused it? Back at the ophthalmologist, he confirmed I had an eye infection. ‘It all started after that night out,’ I said, confused.

Asking about the make-up, he questioned how old it was. ‘About 20 years,’ I shrugged. Shocked, he explained that mascara should only be used for three to six months and then thrown out.

Back home, I did some research on the internet and discovered that germs from your eyelashes hang onto the brush and get transferred straight into the tube. It’s why you shouldn’t share make-up either. I had no idea!

Over the next few weeks I used the antibiotic drops he gave me. But it was too late. My vision continued to deteriorate and now, six years on, I can only see out of a pinhole-sized circle in the middle of my eye. It means I can only read very large text and I’m not allowed to drive.

I need a white cane and at home, I rely on Steve and my son Jesse, 22, which can be frustrating. 

They’ve told me I’m likely to lose all sight, probably in the next three years. I still can’t believe that mascara made me blind.

Since the night out with my daughters, I’ve been too scared to wear make-up – apart from a bit of lippy occasionally. It was only last month that I even touched eye make-up again.

For my 50th birthday celebrations, the girls arranged for a make-up artist to come to the house. ‘Are you sure the mascara is safe?’ I kept asking, telling her my story.

50th bday
Celebrating my 50th birthday in style (Credit: Supplied)

She assured me she always used disposable brushes, and eventually I relaxed.

Although it did look great, I want to share my story because beauty isn’t always worth the consequences. People need to be aware of how to look after their make-up and throw away anything that’s too old. I hope the fact that mascara has made me blind is a wake-up call to others.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life!, on sale now.

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