How Tears Impact Your Skin: The Good, The Bad, and The Tear-ific

Shedding light (not tears) on the truth!
Fact-Checker: Samantha Ward
This article was last updated on: April 13, 2023
In this article, we'll dive deep into the relationship between tears and your skin, exploring the science behind it and what it means for your skincare routine.
Table of Contents

Ever wondered if those tearful moments might be doing more than just expressing your emotions? You might be surprised to find out that tears could have an impact on your skin too.

What Tears Are Made Of

Though they may seem simple, tears are actually a complex mixture of various components, each playing a crucial role in keeping your eyes healthy and functioning properly.

Here’s a breakdown of the six main components found in tears:

  1. Water: The majority of tears consist of water, which helps to hydrate the surface of the eyes, providing lubrication and comfort.
  2. Electrolytes: Tears contain a variety of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. These electrolytes help to maintain the balance of fluids in and around your eyes, as well as support the overall health of your eye tissue.
  3. Lipids: Lipids, or oils, are a key component of tears. They are secreted by the meibomian glands and help to form a protective barrier on the surface of your eyes. This lipid layer helps prevent tears from evaporating too quickly, ensuring your eyes stay lubricated and comfortable.
  4. Mucins: Mucins are proteins that help tears spread evenly across the surface of your eyes. They also contribute to the adhesion of tears to the eye’s surface, ensuring that your eyes remain moist and protected.
  5. Enzymes and proteins: Tears contain various enzymes and proteins, including lysozyme, lactoferrin, and lipocalin. These substances serve as part of your immune system, helping to protect your eyes from infection by breaking down harmful bacteria and other microorganisms.
  6. Hormones: Emotional tears, in particular, contain higher concentrations of certain hormones, such as prolactin and adrenocorticotropic hormone. These hormones are believed to help regulate your mood and may play a role in the emotional release experienced during a good cry.

Tears Impact On Your Skin

Tears can have both positive and negative effects on your skin, depending on the situation and how they interact with your complexion. Let’s dive deeper into the various ways tears can impact your skin:

The Good

  • Natural moisturizing: Tears are made up of water and oils, which can provide some hydration to the skin. As they roll down your face, they might help to moisturize and nourish the skin’s surface, particularly in areas that may be more prone to dryness. This can temporarily alleviate the appearance of fine lines and dehydration-related tightness.
  • Mood regulation: Emotional tears contain higher levels of hormones like prolactin and adrenocorticotropic hormone, which are thought to help regulate mood. A good cry may not only help you feel better emotionally, but could also alleviate stress. Since stress is known to have negative impacts on your skin, such as triggering breakouts or exacerbating existing skin conditions, a reduction in stress may indirectly benefit your complexion.

The Not-So-Good

  • Irritation: While tears do have some moisturizing properties, they also contain salts and enzymes that can potentially irritate the skin, especially if you have sensitive skin or are prone to conditions like eczema or dermatitis. The skin around the eyes is particularly delicate, and the irritation from tears could cause redness, itching, or even inflammation in some cases.
  • Rubbing and friction: When you wipe away tears or rub your eyes, you’re creating friction on the skin, which may lead to irritation, redness, or even small abrasions over time. This can be especially problematic for the delicate skin around your eyes, as it can weaken the skin barrier, accelerate the signs of aging, and even contribute to the formation of dark circles or puffiness.
  • Disruption of skincare products: Crying can wash away or dilute the skincare products you’ve applied, reducing their efficacy. This may impact your skin’s hydration levels, protection, or the overall benefits you receive from your skincare routine.

As you can see, tears aren’t entirely bad or good for your skin, but rather a mix of both.

What Tears Can’t Do For Your Skin

Although tears can have some positive effects on your skin, there are certain things that they cannot do, and it’s important to be aware of these limitations. Here’s what tears don’t do for your skin:

  • Deep cleansing: While tears might help remove small amounts of dirt, makeup, or pollutants, they don’t have the same deep-cleansing capabilities as a dedicated facial cleanser. Relying on tears to cleanse your skin would be insufficient for maintaining a clean and healthy complexion.
  • Exfoliation: Tears don’t have any exfoliating properties, meaning they won’t help remove dead skin cells or unclog pores. To achieve these benefits, you would need to use a dedicated exfoliant or a gentle scrub, depending on your skin type and sensitivity.
  • Targeted treatment: Tears aren’t capable of targeting specific skin concerns such as acne, hyperpigmentation, or wrinkles. For these issues, you’ll need to use specialized skincare products or treatments formulated to address your individual concerns.
  • Long-term hydration: While tears may provide temporary hydration, they cannot replace the need for a dedicated moisturizer in your skincare routine. A good moisturizer helps to maintain your skin’s natural moisture barrier, locking in hydration and promoting overall skin health.

How To Stop Tears From Irritating Your Skin

While it’s impossible to avoid tears altogether, there are steps you can take to minimize their impact on your skin and reduce the likelihood of irritation. Here’s what you can do:

Pat, don’t rub

When drying your face after crying, be gentle and avoid rubbing your eyes or skin. Instead, use a soft, clean tissue or cloth and gently pat the area to soak up the tears. This helps prevent friction and reduces the risk of irritation or damage to your skin.

Rinse your face

If you’re able, splash your face with cool water after crying to help rinse away any lingering salt, enzymes, and potential irritants from your tears. This can soothe your skin and minimize irritation, as well as help refresh your complexion.

Apply a gentle moisturizer

To counteract any potential dryness or irritation from tears, apply a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer to your face, focusing on the delicate skin around your eyes. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and glycerin, which are known for their hydrating and skin barrier-strengthening properties.

Use a calming eye cream

To specifically target the eye area, consider using a calming eye cream that contains soothing ingredients like chamomile, aloe vera, or green tea. These ingredients can help alleviate redness, irritation, and puffiness associated with crying.

Cucumber or cold compress

If you’re experiencing puffiness or redness after crying, try applying cucumber slices or a cold compress to your eyes for a few minutes. The cool temperature can help soothe and de-puff the skin, making you feel refreshed and more comfortable.

Avoid harsh skincare products

After a tearful moment, it’s best to steer clear of skincare products containing harsh ingredients, like alcohol, fragrances, or exfoliants. Stick to gentle, soothing products to avoid further irritating your skin.


Tears are a natural part of our emotional and physical response to various situations, and while they serve important functions for our eye health, their impact on the skin is a bit of a mixed bag. Tears can provide some temporary hydration and help with mood regulation, which may indirectly benefit the skin. However, they also have the potential to cause irritation, especially in those with sensitive skin or pre-existing skin conditions.

It’s crucial to understand that tears are not a substitute for a proper skincare routine. They don’t deeply cleanse, exfoliate, or provide targeted treatments or sun protection. To maintain a healthy complexion, it’s essential to establish a consistent skincare routine tailored to your skin type and concerns.

Remember to treat your skin gently after a good cry by patting away tears, rinsing your face with cool water, and applying soothing skincare products. With proper care and attention, you can help minimize any potential negative effects of tears on your skin and keep your complexion looking its best.

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