Toxicity of cosmetic preservatives on human ocular surface and adnexal cells

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Abstract

Cosmetic products, such as mascara, eye shadow, eyeliner and eye makeup remover are used extensively to highlight the eyes or clean the eyelids, and typically contain preservatives to prevent microbial growth. These preservatives include benzalkonium chloride (BAK) and formaldehyde (FA)-releasing preservatives. We hypothesize that these preservatives, at concentrations (BAK = 1 mg/ml; FA = 0.74 mg/ml) approved for consumer use, are toxic to human ocular surface and adnexal cells. Accordingly, we tested the influence of BAK and FA on the morphology, survival, and proliferation and signaling ability of immortalized human meibomian gland (iHMGECs), corneal (iHCECs) and conjunctival (iHConjECs) epithelial cells. iHMGECs, iHCECs and iHConjECs were cultured with different concentrations of BAK (5 μg/ml to 0.005 μg/ml) or FA (1 mg/ml to 1 μg/ml) under basal, proliferating or differentiating conditions up to 7 days. We used low BAK levels, because we found that 0.5 mg/ml and 50 μg/ml BAK killed iHMGECs within 1 day after a 15 min exposure. Experimental procedures included analyses of cell appearance, cell number, and neutral lipid content (LipidTox), lysosome accumulation (LysoTracker) and AKT signaling in all 3 cell types. Our results demonstrate that BAK and FA cause dose-dependent changes in the morphology, survival, proliferation and AKT signaling of iHMGECs, iHCECs and iHConjECs. Many of the concentrations tested induced cell atrophy, poor adherence, decreased proliferation and death, after 5 days of exposure. Cellular signaling, as indicated by AKT phosphorylation after 15 (FA) or 30 (BAK) minutes of treatment, was also reduced in a dose-dependent fashion in all 3 cell types, irrespective of whether cells had been cultured under proliferating or differentiating conditions. Our results support our hypothesis and demonstrate that the cosmetic preservatives, BAK and FA, exert many toxic effects on cells of the ocular surface and adnexa.

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