What’s the best mascara for sensitive eyes that won’t leave specks, burning, crusting and itchy patches?
Sensitivities and allergies make picking out a mascara a nightmare. Label catchphrases usually aren’t helpful, since so many aren’t regulated—looking at you, “clean” and “healthy” labels.
You could check out each mascara’s ingredients—but it’s only helpful if you know what to look for. Benzalkonium chloride? Retinyl Acetate? Plain english, please.
And with more people wearing mascara more often, sensitivities and allergies are getting more common. Mascara is a perfect storm. It's our eyes' job to be sensitive... and it's mascara's job to hang out next to them.
If you have eyes sensitive to mascara, you’ve probably encountered at least a few of these:
- Specks of mascara keep getting in your eyes (ouch!).
- You have a burning sensation in your eyes when they water or when you try to remove makeup.
- Your mascara and contacts don’t play well together, so you find yourself wearing glasses on days you want to wear more mascara.
- You’ve gotten a light crust around the roots of your lashes.
- You have to clear mascara residue and specks from the inner corners of your eyes throughout the day.
- Rashes and/or dry itchy spots have appeared around your eyes and lids (dermatitis).
- Tiny bumps appear around your lash line (mila).
- Your lash line is prone to painful styes.
Eye sensitivity is a crazy cycle. If mascara irritates your eye, you have to resist rubbing your eyes or tearing up if you want to keep the mascara in place.
Let’s make the craziness stop.
What should you look for when mascara shopping for sensitive eyes?
1. Look for a mascara that doesn't flake
No one wants a flaky mascara. But it’s even more true if you have sensitive eyes. Flakes are often the prime irritant. How can you tell if a mascara is going to be a flaky one? The top flake-causers are
- Age. The older your mascara, the more air has entered it and made it dry out.
- Putting on coats too fast. If your lashes are wet, or you don’t let layers dry, mascara won’t apply smoothly.
Formula. An oil-based mascara is prone to flaking (and that’s the case with most mascaras). Tubing mascara is the best option for going flake-free, since the formula cures as a casing around each lash.
Flaking and smudging often go hand-in-hand. Traditional mascaras with wax and oils don’t react well when water hits them. That leads lots of buyers to use waterproof mascara to avoid smudging. That should stay out of your eyes better, right?
However, waterproof mascaras cause their own problems—that leads us to the next issue to avoid:
2. Watch out for “waterproof” or “water-resistant” labels
These formulas require a suspicious cocktail of ingredients designed to latch onto your lashes like concrete. Great for a day at the pool...not great when you have to take it off. Not only do water-resistant mascaras require special removers, they can also be difficult to get off without lots of rubbing.
But waterproof mascara’s biggest red flag is the eye dryness it causes. These mascaras are notorious for leaving a residue that clogs your ducts and pores. If any mascara will irritate your eyes, it's waterproof mascara.
3. Look for a mascara free of common irritants
Thankfully, the public’s increased interest in mascara ingredients has led to easily accessible education on it. What ingredients are the prime offenders in mascaras that hurt sensitive eyes?
- Parabens. It helps mascaras not go bad too quickly...but it's not great for nourishing your skin. In fact, it frequently causes dermatitis (that’s the red itchy patches around your eyes).
- BHT. It’s also supposed to preserve your mascara, but it’s one of the most common mascara ingredients to cause an allergic reaction.
- Fragrance. This popular ingredient covers the sometimes funky smell of raw makeup. Ingredients labeled “fragrance” aren’t always specified, and many lead to irritation.
- Mineral oils. These ingredients have been used since mascara has been invented. They seal your lashes, making mascara shiny and easy to apply. But they also seal your pores and ducts, leading to mila, styes, and irritation.
4. Don't use a fiber mascara (or removers with fibers)
These mascaras are super popular for their length and definition-enhancing powers. But they use—you guessed it—fibers. Ones that can get in your eye and cause that irritation. Steer clear of fiber mascaras to have more confidence in a flake-free formula.
Plus, if you remove your mascara with a cotton ball or cotton pad, you’re exposing your eyes to even more fibers. If your eyes are prone to irritation, swap out fiber-full disposables with a non-shedding wipe or reusable cloth.
In conclusion: here’s what mascaras can irritate sensitive eyes
If you have sensitive eyes, here's what will give you trouble:
- Oil-based mascaras (most traditional mascaras)
- Waterproof and water-resistant mascaras
- Mascaras with common irritants
- Mascaras with fiber technology formulas
- Old and dried-out mascaras
We get it, it's hard to shop for mascara when you have sensitive eyes. Most options you find at the drugstore are oil-based. And many of the great mascaras that hold up like a charm make you pay for it with difficult clean up. So what choices does that leave you with?
Two options are getting a lash lift and tint or using a tubing mascara.
Lash lift and tint is a fun spa option—it’s like a perm and dye for your lashes. However, it can get pricey. You’re looking at a starting price of $75. And it might not give you the definition you're looking for if you have especially thin or light lashes.
If you’re looking for a cheaper option, and have never had success with traditional mascaras, then you need to try out tubing mascara for your sensitive eyes.
So how does a tubing mascara work?
It applies like a normal mascara, but it uses a different technology and formula. Traditional mascara is a paint that's usually oil-based. It still interacts with water and your natural oils, coming off in flakes and sludge.
Tubing mascara encases each individual lash in its own tube. It sets as it dries, creating a sturdy structure that doesn't flake throughout the day. It lasts until you take it off, so you won’t wake up raccoon-eyed if you forget to take it off before bed.
And the best part? It’s the easy-to-remove mascara your sensitive eyes have been looking for. When you want them to come off, you soak them with water...and they slide off each lash. No scrubbing. No lineup of cleansers. No black floaters or slime out the corners of each eye.
Your sensitive eyes deserve a mascara that treats them gently—but never make you sacrifice the lash length and volume you’re looking for.