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Which Type of Artificial Tears is Right for Me?

Sep 01, 2020

Artificial Tears

Which type of artificial tear is right for me?  Patients ask me this all the time.  The drug store shelves are confusing.  There are so many different kinds available.  There are six different types of artificial tears on the market today. And, you might want to choose the artificial tear based on your specific lifestyle requirements and the time of day you are using the tears.  

There has been a ton of research and development done in the eye care space in the last ten years.  Companies have been focusing on the ability to keep the feeling of moisture in your eye for longer periods.  The ingredients included in these products have shifted as well with the advancements in technology.

Don't forget to download the Ultimate Guide to Artificial Tears.  For now, let's review the 6 types of tears here:

1) Preserved Artificial Tears

Preserved artificial tears come in a dropper bottle.  These tears will be a thin liquid and can be dispensed multiple times a day.  Generally speaking, they do not tend to blur your vision.  They provide moisture to the eye for a short time. 

Since there are preservatives in this type of tears, you don't want to use them more than four times a day.  This type is not the best to choose if you have sensitive eyes or if you wear contact lenses.  The preservatives can soak into the contact lens matrix and build up over time.

2) Preservative-free Artificial Tears

Preservative-free tears typically come in little vials.  These are great for on the go lifestyles because the vials are small and you can fit them anywhere.  Also, without the preservative, there are fewer ingredients to bother sensitive eyes. 

To use these tears, just pop the top off and instill the drop.  Some of these vials can be re-capped.  If so, you can continue to use the vial for 24hours, but not longer than 24 hours. It is best to refrigerate opened vials between use to prohibit bacterial growth.  You can also just use it and throw it away.

Preservative-free tears are great for contact lens wearers.  There are no preservatives to build up in the contact lenses.  They are also a must-have for patients who use artificial tears more than four times a day. 

Preservative-free artificial tears can also come in a dropper bottle. These bottles have an interesting flat tip to it.  You will need to squeeze the bottle twice to get the drop to come out.  Some patients feel that a preservative-free bottle is a little bit more convenient.

3) Oil-based Artificial Tears

Oil-based tears can come preservative-free as well as preserved.  And these oil-based artificial tears will last longer in your eyes. The oil helps to protect the watery portion of the tears from evaporating too quickly into the air.  

If you suffer from moderate or severe dry eye, you would want to go with an oil-based artificial tear.  However, these are not recommended while wearing contact lenses. The oils could stick to the front surface of the contact lenses and make them difficult to keep clean. 

4) Artificial Tears Spray

Dry eye sprays relieve dryness and irritation to both the eyes and the eyelids, and it's preservative-free.  It is easy to use for folks who have a hard time putting drops in their eyes. 

To use this close your eyes and spray onto your closed eyelids.  Then, when you blink the tears fall into your eyes.  Of course, this is not recommended if you're wearing makeup, lotions, or creams on your lids.

5) Artificial Tear Gel

Artificial tear gel can be used to give a thicker coating of tears at any time of the day or night.  The thicker consistency of the gel drop may blur your vision a bit. 

This product is designed to apply like a drop, but it forms a thicker coating when it hits the eye.  The gel provides soothing comfort and extended relief for both moderate and severe eye dryness day or night.

There is only one brand of dry eye gel that is available as preservative-free.  If you would like to find out which product this is, go ahead and download the Guide to Artificial Tears here. Most of the gels do contain preservatives, so be sure not to use it more than 4 times a day.  And, never use a gel drop while wearing your contact lenses.

6) Artificial Tear Ointment

Dry eye ointments are usually labeled PM, Night Time, or ointment.  They are very thick and act to keep the front of the eye coated.  They come in a small tube.  To use, you will squeeze a little bit out onto your clean finger and then roll the ointment into the inside of your eyelid. 

This type of treatment is great to use at bedtime.  The thickness of the ointment will completely blur your vision.  Make sure you have finished reading or watching the news before you put it in. 

I often recommend ointments to patients in the wintertime since the air is typically drier.  I also recommend ointments to patients who sleep with a ceiling fan, a CPAP machine, or who don't completely close their eyes at night.


Artificial tears are an important part of the 4-Simple steps you should be using to treat your dry eyes daily.  However, using the wrong artificial tear can be worse than not using any artificial tears at all. 

Depending on the severity of your dryness, whether or not you wear contact lenses, your makeup habits,  and your lifestyle: one of the six types of artificial tears will be best for you.  Be sure to download the Ultimate Guide to Artificial Tears to find the one that's best for you. 


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