If you’ve ever had to pretend to cry for a play, a movie role, or a prank, you know how difficult it can be to fake red eyes and tease them at just the right moment. Reddening your eyes is an inaccurate science – it can be very difficult to get the same result every time, even if you always use the same method. However, by using clever and safe methods to tease your eyes, make yourself cry or, if necessary, use practical things like makeup, it is often possible to achieve a good result, even if it is not entirely predictable.
What cheap, common item can bring tears to your eyes and make them red in minutes? No, not gift cards – a perfectly normal onion! Onions produce propanthial S-oxide, a chemical irritant that causes eyes to water and makes them red. Peeling or chopping an onion will make your eyes water, but it takes time to get your eyes watering enough to get red. Keeping the center portion or part of the peel, run it under your eyes a few times until your eyes start to turn red. Avoid so-called “sweet” onions (such as the Vidalia onion), as these are generally less irritating to your eyes and cause fewer tears. For best results, use a heavily-flavored white or yellow onion. For a gentler method, place a few pieces of onion in a paper towel or tissue and rub them under your eyes. The barrier protects your eye from direct contact with the bulbs, but the irritant should still have an effect if the material isn’t too thick. If you’re trying to mimic the crying look, rub a little menthol in the bottom of your nostrils to simulate a runny nose. Be careful not to get VapoRup directly in your eyes. Otherwise, it can be very uncomfortable.
This method is almost identical to the menthol method, except you use a product with peppermint oil. Follow the same process as above – rub a small dab of the product under your eyes. The effect should be the same: the oil’s fumes will also irritate your eyes. As above, try to avoid getting the oil in your eyes directly, as this will cause stinging and a lasting uncomfortable sensation. You can find peppermint oil at the most better grocery, specialty, and health food stores. However, if you don’t have one on hand, it’s probably cheaper to use onion or menthol since peppermint oil is usually more expensive for the same amount.
If you need red eyes on the spur of the moment, don’t worry – you can get them without any supplies. Just keep your eyes open as long as possible; fight the urge to blink until it becomes too painful. Since regular blinking keeps your eyeballs moist, they dry out without it. This makes them irritable, swollen, red, and often watery. Note, however, that this can be very uncomfortable! For added effectiveness, look into light while keeping your eyes open. Don’t use a very bright light or the sun to do this, as this can cause permanent eye damage and even blindness.
One method often used in movies and television to cause red-eye is to clench your hands into fists and rub the area around your eyes. This mild form of physical irritation can cause the same symptoms as onions or chemical irritation—red, watery eyes. If you try this method, be sure to apply gentle pressure. Important parts of the eye, like the iris and cornea, are very delicate — so don’t damage your vision just to fake red eye. Also, keep your eyes closed so you don’t touch them directly. Otherwise, you could transfer bacteria from your hands (which can pick up millions of bacteria through everyday tasks) to your eyeball, potentially leading to a painful infection.
Chlorine is a great cleaning agent, but it’s also considered an eye irritant, though some sources suggest other culprits. What is certain, however, is that if you go diving in a chlorine pool without goggles, your eyes will become swollen and inflamed (although the damage isn’t serious or long-lasting). The effect is amplified if you keep your eyes open underwater for long periods. Just ensure you’re not wearing goggles, as the goggles protect your eyes from the effect. Saltwater pools also work well for this purpose. However, some ophthalmology sources state that salt water is less irritating to the eye than chlorine so the effect may be slightly toned down.
While this isn’t the ideal solution for many (especially people who need to be “awake” and focused the next day), sleep deprivation can leave your eyes red and bloodshot the next morning. Unless you make it a habit, a full night’s sleep won’t dramatically affect your health. However, repeatedly not getting any sleep is one thing you never want to do. It can have serious consequences for your health, including reduced cognitive ability, decreased sex drive, depression, and an increased risk of serious illnesses such as stroke or heart disease. Remember never to drive if you are exhausted. Since sleep deprivation stunts your reflexes and affects split-second decisions, it can make you a danger on the road. An Australian study found that a person awake for 24 hours at a time has limitations similar to a blood alcohol level of 1.0 per mil (the legal limit in Germany is 0.5).
Going red and tearing on command to fake crying can be a real challenge – even professional actors often struggle with it. There is no one right way to do this, but there are a few psychological tricks that can be of great help. For example, a useful strategy is to focus on memories and ideas that make you genuinely sad, such as a recently deceased relative, a humiliating experience, or a major concern or fear in your life. The more uncomfortable the experience, the darker and more depressing the thought, and the more likely you cry. Here are a few more examples of things to think about: a breakup, a recent argument, anger at work, moments when a friend or family member betrayed you, people who are no longer a part of your life, and moments in which you were afraid for yourself or a loved one. It can be especially helpful when you convince yourself that everyone you know is in control of their lives except yourself. Try to create a feeling of hopelessness and despair in yourself – think, “This is it – I will never be successful and happy.” However, you should ensure that you no longer wallow in these feelings after the “performance.” The last thing you want is to get seriously depressed.
In the words of a New York University drama teacher, when an actor tries to cry, an actor should “replace the narrative or lines with something specific and personal, so that it’s less about something being asked of them and more about something internal.” mystery, a deep desire, a fear. In other words, the best way to make yourself sad enough to cry is to lose yourself in your deepest, darkest fears and demons. Try to convince yourself that in this task that you want to cry for, you are being judged as a person, even if you are not. Be prepared to awaken and confront your deepest personal demons. In an interview, one particularly celebrated actor, Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, revealed how much his inner fears helped him deliver a compelling portrayal of a person in a troubled state of mind. Asked about a scene in which his character witnesses the death of a young colleague, Cranston said, “I replaced her face with my daughter’s face, and it hit me…she’s just a girl – she could just as easily be my daughter be.”
Red, watery eyes are not always the result of grief. Sometimes these symptoms are also caused by intense feelings of anger or frustration, especially when prompted by someone close to you. If you’re having trouble crying out of pure feelings of sadness, try mixing in a small dose of anger. For example, you can think about current issues in your life that are increasingly frustrating you, like a relative exhibiting self-destructive behavior and not wanting to listen to advice. A few more examples to think of: all the times you were passed over for an award or a promotion, the times when “enemies” triumphed over you, the times when you were unfairly abused by someone in power over you treated and the moments when you witnessed or experienced social injustice.
The motivation that makes you burst into tears doesn’t always have to come 100% from within you – sometimes, external sources can help you too. This strategy is often used by actors who want to set themselves in the right frame of mind for an emotional scene and seek inspiration from others who have already experienced that intense emotion. Movies, books, songs, and other forms of art that can evoke deep sadness or frustration are very effective for this—below are a few ideas to get you started, but there are many more.
Movies: Like a Single Day, The Green Mile, Fate is a Rotten Traitor, Titanic, Dumbo, Up Come See (a Russian film)
Books: Kite Runner, Keepers of Memory, Wuthering Heights, The Idiot, all later Harry Potter books, all the books on which the above films are based.
Songs: Yesterday (Beatles), The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young), Brenda’s Got a Baby (Tupac Shakur), Bad Religion (Frank Ocean), and pretty much every Elliott Smith song.
You should be aware that the strategies in this area may be even harder to implement than the other tricks in this article, even if you’re a person who cries easily when sad. It can be difficult to make yourself sad enough to cry, just as it can be difficult to tickle yourself. Even the best actors often have difficulty consciously forcing themselves to cry. So you should be prepared and ready to try another method if the psychological strategies don’t work.
Through appearances to being! With the right tricks, your eyes will look red and swollen like you just cried when they’re perfectly fine. Since these tricks don’t really irritate your eyes, for the most part, they’re a lot more comfortable than some of the methods above. For example, try these makeup strategies to make your eyes look red: Apply small dots of red eyeliner around the outline of your eyes. You can also use red eyeshadow or red lip liner, but make sure the liner is mild enough that you can apply it around your eyes before using it. Set the points along the entire lower lid. You can apply the dots along the upper eyelid for an even stronger red. Smudge the liner with a cotton swab or brush. To make your eyes look red, you must create a muted red shadow around your eyelid. None of the original lines or points must be visible. Blur until you can no longer see the original dots.
Another easy way to give your eyes a “reddened” effect is to wear specially made contact lenses with a red tint or painted veins. But here you have to make sure that you use contact lenses that color the whites of your eyes red and not the iris (the part that is usually blue, green or brown). Red irises make you look like a vampire or a demon, but not someone who just cried. Some theatrical supply companies make custom contact lenses for film and stage productions, so you may want to check them out if you want a quality product. However, these are not exactly cheap – professional contact lenses easily cost around 80 euros.
Teardrop Pencil If you’re trying to fake red eyes for a play or film production, it might be a good idea to back up the tricks above with some real teardrops to make the effect look more realistic. In that case, you might want to consider getting a “tear pen,” a tool used by some actors that’s a semi-solid stick made of gel or wax with menthol added. The tear stick usually comes in a tube, similar to a lipstick, and is simply applied under the eye. From there, the vapors from the menthol stimulate the eyes, producing tears. Note: since the “active ingredient” in a tear stick is menthol, this method works exactly the same as the menthol method mentioned above.
It’s never a good idea to jeopardize the health of your eyes just to try to make them appear red. Don’t put anything in your eye that can cause serious irritation, including intense chemical irritants like tear gas (tear gas/pepper spray) and natural substances like pepper or chili products. In sufficient quantities, these substances can cause permanent damage to your eyes, including blindness.
If you’re using a method that involves rubbing the skin around your eye to induce redness, make sure you never touch the bare eyeball directly. Even if you don’t injure it, there is a risk that touching it can transfer bacteria from your hands to the eyeball, which can lead to infection (as discussed above). The risk is further increased if you’ve touched something with a lot of bacteria (like a doorknob). Additionally, since your eyeballs are so sensitive, just touching them can cause physical damage. Even the smallest scratch can be very uncomfortable on an eye, while more serious injuries (like an irritated cornea) will require medical attention.
We’ve all heard it before – marijuana use leads to comic red eyes. While that’s true, it’s not a good idea if that’s what you smoke (or eat) marijuana products for. If you want to create the red eyes for a performance, the decline in your cognitive abilities that often accompanies marijuana use can make it very difficult to put on an appropriate, convincing performance. In addition, the use and possession of marijuana is illegal in many areas, with penalties ranging from minor to serious, depending on local law. Finally, regular marijuana use has the same long-term health risks as smoking tobacco, including: