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Complications of Cosmetic Eye Whitening

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The pathophysiology of the complications of cosmetic eye whitening stem from the disruption of the normal conjunctiva, destruction of the vascularization to the sclera, and loss of limbal stem cells. Mitomycin C is a topical antimetabolite antibiotic agent that inhibits DNA synthesis. This relatively safe and inexpensive product has decreased the recurrence rate in pterygium surgery as early as 1963.14,15 Complications of MMC in pterygium surgery include infectious scleritis, necrotizing scleritis, calcium formation, and even scleromalacia, occurring at incidence rates as low as 1.4%.16 These risks are balanced against the medical necessity of using MMC. Given the elective nature of cosmetic eye whitening, these complications in a cosmetic setting may not be justified.

The debate of the use of this procedure continues to occur in ophthalmologic societies. Both the Korean Ministry of Health & Welfare and the American Society of Cataract Refractive Surgery do not condone the use of regional conjunctivectomy for cosmetic eye whitening.5,17 Evidence shows that complications from cosmetic conjunctivectomy can be devastating and unnecessary given its elective nature. Although some complications (eg, dry eye syndrome, pain, discomfort) may be considered mild, the number of potentially serious complications brings the usefulness of the procedure into question.

This review is a launchpad to inform the medical community of the potential downside to conjunctivectomy for cosmetic eye whitening with the hope that it can initiate meaningful risk-benefit discussions between providers and physicians.

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