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What is Eye Whitening?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 21, 2024
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Eye whitening is a cosmetic procedure intended to reduce the appearance of veins and blemishes on the white of the eye, also known as the sclera. It is common for adults to experience temporary redness or discoloration of the white of the eye, but some people experience visible veins or blemishes that will not go away. In these cases, they may seek permanent eye whitening to restore the eye's bright white appearance. When the eye discoloration is caused by allergies, infection, or other illness, specialized drops may be used to minimize the discoloration temporarily. For those more concerned with the discoloration of the eye, the membrane that contains the unwanted colored elements and veins can be excised permanently.

One of the most common methods of eye whitening involves using medicated drops to constrict the blood vessels in the eye, resulting in less apparent veins and reduced redness. This method does not work for other types of discoloration. Tetrahydrozaline hydrochloride and naphazoline are both common active ingredients in these types of drops. Eye drops are usually seen as very safe, effective products, but overuse may cause rebound redness as the eye gets used to the chemicals.

Permanent eye whitening is accomplished by a surgery that is sometimes called conjunctivoplasty. This type of surgery is usually performed to remove growths in the eye, but it can also be targeted to benign discoloration. The removal of the layer that contains the discoloration is generally fairly quick with little recovery time, with results visible in several weeks. The only known side effects from a properly performed surgery are dry eyes or a scratchy feeling, although a botched surgery can result in blindness.

There are many less drastic ways to achieve whiter eyes. Natural measures, such as avoiding irritants or getting more sleep, may decrease redness significantly. Eye drops, while not ideal, are perfectly safe to use for isolated occasions of redness. Even specialized contact lenses can be used to cover the white of the eye, although these are typically not made for this purpose, nor are they very comfortable.

As some eye specialists worry about unnecessary cosmetic surgery performed on delicate organs such as the eye, eye whitening surgery is generally seen as a last resort. Surgery is a serious answer to a relatively minor irritation, and this particular surgery can result in blindness or even a worsening of the original discoloration. It is best to consult with a trusted and experienced eye doctor before pursuing permanent eye whitening.

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Discussion Comments
By ElbowTickle — On Aug 02, 2011

@MedicineBall - I can't say that I don't disagree with you, but eye whitening is very important to most people. How often do you see a African American actor with yellow eye whites? The image of beauty happens to include white eyes.

I think that some African American woman like to have their eyes whitened for one simple reason -- their eyes will stand out more against their skin. Contrast always draws attention, so why not improve theirs?

As for the cost, it is not covered by health insurance and it ranges from $2,000USD to $5,000USD per eye. It is definitely expensive, but if you have severely red eyes – it might be worth it.

By MedicineBall — On Aug 01, 2011

I wonder how much a surgery like this costs? Since it's cosmetic, I doubt health insurance covers it.

I know that a lot of African Americans have slightly yellow eye whites -- but it's natural. It's because of the amount of pigment in their skin. Not everyone has to have glowing white eyes to be attractive.

I don't know if I agree with the commercialized version of white teeth and white eyes. I think that you should stay the way you are unless you yourself don't like the color of your eyes.

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