Eye boogers—We All Get Them

None of us wake up looking like movie stars. With our hair in disarray and breath in need of freshening, we rub at our eyes to clear our blurry vision and to remove the gross stuff that has built up in the corners of our eyes.

No matter what you call it—eye boogers, sleep in your eyes, crusties, gunk, sludge—everyone’s got it.

Find out more about what they’re really made up of and how to safely get rid of them down below.

What is it?

Rheum—its technical name—is a naturally-occurring mucus discharge from your eyes. Along with mucus, it can also contain water, oil, and skin cells.  

Your eyes stay moisturized because they’re constantly being bathed in what’s a called a tear film, which is composed of three layers:

  1. An oily outer layer to keep tears from evaporating

  2. A watery middle layer to nourish the cornea and conjunctiva

  3. A mucus-based inner layer that binds to the watery middle layer so your eyes stay wet. Rheum is mostly made up of this mucus.

What causes them?

We’re always producing the stuff that makes up rheum… it’s just more noticeable after we wake up because we’re not blinking it into our eye’s tear drainage system like we are throughout the day. Because we’re not blinking in the night, the rheum builds up and, depending on how long it’s been exposed to the air, it gets crusty.

Everyone produces eye boogers, but foreign things around your eyes like makeup, dirt, debris, or environmental factors can heighten your eye booger production.

How to get rid of them

Good eye hygiene will keep your eyes happy. If you’ve woken up with these eye crusties, the best way to manage them is with a damp and warm washcloth. Avoid using your fingers and nails because you don’t want to risk scratching your eyes or potentially introduce bacteria that could lead to an infection. In this case, the less fingers-to-eye contact the better.