Thirteenth-century healers prescribed washes made of eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) and rue (Ruta graveolens) to treat various eye conditions. And because herbs like these have proved their efficacy over time, modern manufacturers like Similasan and PrimaVu continue to use them in their own eye care formulations. Relying on the wisdom of their forebears, these companies are manufacturing a wide range of homeopathic eye drops and washes that may actually be safer and more effective than the chemical-laden products that consumers usually reach for.
Susan DeGress, marketing manager for Swiss-based Similasan, says that many over-the-counter eye drops contain vasoconstrictors like tetrahydrozoline and naphazoline, which restrict the flow of blood and other essential fluids to the eyes. ?These substances can cause the ?rebound effect,?? she says, ?which occurs when the drug wears off and symptoms ?rebound? or return more pronounced than before.? She suggests that this can result in a vicious cycle wherein users rely on repeated use of the product to relieve their symptoms.
Similasan, which has North American headquarters in Highlands Ranch, Colo., makes four different eye drop formulations: Pink Eye Relief, Dry Eye Relief, Allergy Eye Relief and Computer Eye Relief. None of their products contain vasoconstrictors. Instead, the company formulates its products according to the homeopathic ?Law of Similars,? which holds that active ingredients that trigger certain symptoms can, in diluted dosages, actually stimulate the body?s healing mechanisms to relieve conditions with similar symptoms. ?Our products trigger a physiological reaction from within the body, rather than imposing a pharmacological action on the body,? explains DeGress.
Similasan?s Allergy Eye Relief drops, for example, contain a 6x dilution of Apis mellifica, a venomous substance derived from honeybees. While large dosages of apis can trigger many allergic symptoms, the diluted 0.0000001 percent concentration of apis used in Similasan?s Allergy Eye Relief is, according to DeGress, ?just enough for the body to detect its presence and react to relieve symptoms such as swelling and burning.?
Similarly, the belladonna used in the company?s Dry Eye Relief and Pink Eye Relief formulas contains hyoscyamine and atropine, which can be poisonous, even hallucinogenic, in large doses. Similasan?s 6x dilutions of belladonna, however, can relieve internal ocular pressure and photophobia (abnormal sensitivity to light). Euphrasia (also known as eyebright) is another botanical that Similasan dilutes for use in its pink eye, dry eye and allergy eye formulas. Euphrasia?s astringent and anti-inflammatory properties tighten the mucous membranes of the eye to relieve the inflammation of conjunctivitis (pink eye) and blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid). A member of the nightshade family, euphrasia is also helpful in relieving cold and allergy symptoms like stinging, itchy, runny and sore eyes.
European-based PrimaVu Herbal Eye Care manufactures a line of herbal eye care products that are distributed in the United States by San Diego-based marketing partners Molecular Health Commerce Inc. and PrimaPharm Inc. Like Similasan, PrimaVu formulates its products in accordance with homeopathic principles, using diluted dosages of active ingredients. PrimaVu?s Herbal Eye Drops, the best-selling of its products, provides relief for dry, tired eyes. It contains a botanical tincture of eyebright and German chamomile. ?Eyebright offers gentle astringent properties, while German chamomile has long been known for its soothing and refreshing effects,? explains company President and Chief Executive Officer Roger Carr.
PrimaVu?s other two eye care products, Herbal Eye Drops Acuta and Herbal Eye Wash, are both establishing a growing base of users, says Carr. The acuta formulation combines eyebright, fennel and yellow clover to relieve irritated eyes, while the eye wash is designed to gently ?flush, cleanse and refresh? the eyes. ?Our products are prepared in a carefully buffered, isotonic saline solution that has gentle lubricating properties, to maximize their moisturizing and soothing effects,? Carr says.
While oral doses of various homeopathic ingredients can be very effective in supporting eye health, externally applied eye drops have their advantages. Carr explains that because drops deliver their active ingredients directly onto the eye?s surface, they provide immediate relief. ?The moisturizing and lubricating effects of the eye drop solution are a particularly important consideration for those suffering from dry eye,? he says.
DeGress agrees, saying that Similasan also prefers to offer topical remedies because the company wants users to feel immediate comfort. ?When someone has dry eyes, they want fast, soothing relief.?
Both Carr and DeGress suggest that the key to successfully marketing these products lies in educating consumers about them. ?Consumers need to know that regular OTC eye drops can cause dependency and will often exacerbate symptoms,? says DeGress. ?With homeopathy, the ingredients do not build up in the system. The body uses what it needs and flushes out what it doesn?t need,? she says. ?And because of the dilution levels, it?s impossible for the body to absorb a toxic level of the ingredient in one [use].?
Janet Zand, founder and formulator of Zand Herbal Formulas, also advocates the use of herbal eye remedies. As a naturopath, she is able to recommend specific substances for particular conditions affecting the eyes. She says that calendula is good for use in washes and drops to treat pink eye, a contagious inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, transparent membrane covering the outer surface of the eye. ?Because it is an antiseptic,? she says, ?calendula is also perfect for relieving irritation due to pollutants and allergies.? For cataracts, a clouding of the eye lens that causes blurred vision, Zand recommends drops containing eyebright. She says that glaucoma, a disease that affects the optic nerve, should be treated with eyebright and rutin—a bioflavonoid that reduces pain and pressure inside the eye.
Retailers can help market these products by explaining to customers that they are effective, safe, natural alternatives to the many chemical-based eye drops on the market. They are strong enough for adults and safe enough for children. They can safely be used over a prolonged period of time without risk of side effects, and will not interact with other drugs. As Carr puts it, ?These products are formulated to provide consumers with a robust, effective, natural source of relief from a variety of common eye complaints.?
Kristen Lewis is an Arvada, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 3/p. 106