Mascara enhances the eyes by darkening, lengthening, and volumizing lashes making eyes look bigger and brighter. Oh, and let’s not forget that it gives the wearer a more youthful appearance!
Mascara dates all the way back to ancient Egyptian times and has been a cosmetic bag staple ever since.
Mascara seems to have a transformative power making it one of our most used and loved cosmetic items. It’s the perfect finishing touch to every look, from au-Naturelle to full-on glam.
And how many times have you had to run out in a hurry and didn’t have time (or couldn’t be bothered) to put makeup on? A quick hairbrush and a swipe of mascara are all you need to make yourself “presentable” to the public.
So it’s no wonder our dependence on our beloved mascara has us wondering, is mascara bad for your eyelashes?
Is Mascara Bad For Your Eyelashes?
A good mascara, if used (and removed) properly, should not harm your eyelashes.
That said, there are a lot of issues that can result from wearing mascara that runs the gamut from irritation, swelling, and lashes becoming thin, brittle and weak, to bacterial infections, losing lashes, and dry eye disease.
There are some types of mascara and specific ingredients you should avoid which can cause clumping, damage lashes, and lead to these issues. We’ll get into those in a bit and what to look out for to avoid.
But even using a “good mascara” can lead to issues if you are not careful. But these problems associated with wearing mascara are more to do with “user error” than the product itself.
Using mascara past its expiry date, improper use, handling, and storage, or not removing it properly, regardless of how “good” it is, will ultimately put your lash and eye health at risk.
Mascara Ingredients to Avoid
Mascara ingredients differ between products. Many ingredients are the same (and no, there’s no bat poop in there!) but there are differences. It’s those ingredients that you need to be paying attention to.
There are certain ingredients you want to avoid when looking for a mascara that will not end up causing the problems mentioned above.
Avoid mascaras that contain the following:
Water-based products can grow bacteria, mold, and other microorganisms – enter parabens. Parabens are a group of chemical compounds used as preservatives in cosmetic products, pharmaceuticals, and in the food industry.
Parabens are known irritants that can cause rashes, swelling and redness.
Parabens in your mascara can be indicated on the list of ingredients as propylparaben, benzylparaben, methylparaben, or butylparaben.
Propylene glycol is a petroleum derivative and is used in tons of different products, from toothpaste, deodorant, and food products, to pharmaceuticals, brake fluid, and antifreeze.
Now despite the ridiculous story going around social media not too long ago trying to warn everyone, there’s antifreeze in your mascara, that’s not the case.
While propylene glycol is found in anti-freeze, it’s also found in a lot of food products as an emulsifier and is considered a “generally safe” substance according to the FDA.
Propylene glycol is used in mascara to maintain its liquid consistency. However, the reason you want to avoid it in your mascara is that it’s an irritant and can cause allergic reactions.
Coal Tar Dyes
Coal tar dyes are used in mascara can be listed in different ways on the label. Look out for something that looks like this: FD&C Yellow 5, Red 3. They may be listed as a Colour Index number with a CI, followed by a 5-digit number, like CI 77489, CI 77491, CI 77492.
They may also be labeled as aminphenol, diaminodenzene or phenylenediamine, PPD, benzenediamine, paraphenylenediamine, or aminoaniline.
Coal Tar dyes contain heavy metals and can trigger skin reactions including lesions, redness, rash, itchiness, irritation, and in extreme cases, can cause skin ulcers as well as lash loss.
Nickel is a metal that is used to make… well nickels. It’s also used in things like buttons, cell phones, and jewelry, as well as mascara.
Now although nickel is not completely banned in cosmetics, products being sold in the US must be tested to ensure it falls at or below one part per million of bioavailable nickel — i.e. 1ppm (0.0001%).
This low amount of nickel is not going to do you any harm, but where you may run into issues is if you are buying cosmetics from Asia that can contain far higher levels of nickel, which can cause serious allergic reactions in some people.
Nickel may be listed as niccolum, or by its chemical symbol Ni.
Rosins are found in personal care and beauty products, topical medications, surface coatings, lubricants, adhesives, and sealants and are used to help the color in mascara adhere to your lashes.
Rosin is an all-natural ingredient and derived from coniferous trees, like pines, junipers and cedars.
However just because it’s “all-natural” doesn’t mean it can’t have a harmful impact. Anthrax and black mold are also “all-natural”!
Okay, so rosins are not a deadly naturally occurring toxin, but they can be pretty harsh and can cause eyelid dermatitis, a condition that causes the skin on or around the eyelid to become dry, itchy, and irritated and result in lash loss.
You’ll want to avoid mascara with rosins that may be listed as any of the following: colophonium, colophony, resin terebinthinae, tall oil, abietic acid, methyl abietate alcohol, abietic alcohol, abietyl alcohol.
Paraffin is a petroleum derivative. Most often found in waterproof mascaras, it’s a type of wax used primarily to make mascara waterproof and helps it cling to your lashes.
Paraffin also helps keep the lashes separated, thickened, and makes them stiffer while retaining flexibility.
Paraffin can clog the oil glands in the eye. This can lead to irritation, and in some cases, infection and dry eye disease.
“Fragrances” may fall under proprietary confidentiality as a manufacturer’s secret formula, so they don’t need to list exactly what it contains.
But if you see that word, you will want to steer clear. This is for the same reason they stopped making scented toilet tissue and feminine products: because they found that it was a major irritant and caused all sorts of skin reactions in people.
Any Silicone, Oil or Petroleum-Based Mascara
Most waterproof mascaras are silicone, oil or petroleum-based and should not be used daily. What makes the mascara waterproof also makes it damaging to the lashes and a lot harder to remove, which in turn can cause even more damage.
Using waterproof mascara once in a while for a special occasion is not going to harm your lashes. But regularly using waterproof mascara as your daily go-to can damage your eyelashes (particularly the removal process) and can affect the growth and health of your lashes in the long run.
Petroleum Jelly On Eyelashes
Speaking of petroleum, let’s talk Vaseline. We thought we’d slip this in as there’s been a video created by a beauty blogger that’s created quite a stir on social media about using Vaseline, a.k.a. petroleum jelly, mixed with primer and black eyeshadow as a mascara hack.
This has spawned loads of people further endorsing the use of petroleum jelly on eyelashes as a more natural way to escape the “evils of mascara and all of its harmful chemicals”.
There are even those who claim petroleum jelly makes your lashes grow longer and faster.
Let’s set the record straight : putting petroleum jelly on your eyelashes will not make your eyelashes grow longer or faster. Petroleum jelly is also, as you may have guessed by the name, petroleum-based.
If petroleum-based mascara and petroleum derivatives, like propylene glycol and paraffin, are considered things to avoid when shopping for mascara, then common sense should dictate that straight-up petroleum jelly will have the same risks.
Sure, putting Vaseline all over your eyelashes may make them soft and look super glossy. But the issue with using petroleum jelly (or mascara containing petroleum derivatives) is that it acts as a moisture barrier.
It blocks moisture so well in fact that it can block the glands and pores around the eye area which can lead to inflammation and styes. It can also disrupt the tear film that keeps your eyes moist and hydrated.
This can lead to dry eye disease that comes with a whole host of its own problems.
Not to mention that if you are using your fingers or some other instrument that is not sterile to apply it, you can trap bacteria under the seal it creates. This can further increase your chances of infection.
We’re not hating on Vaseline – it’s an amazing product with 101 uses.
Unfortunately being a lash conditioner and mascara substitute is not among them.
What Constitutes A “Good Mascara”?
We’d mentioned above that a ‘good mascara’ should not harm your lashes with proper use and removal. What does that mean exactly?
Choosing a mascara that is not petroleum-based and does not contain the ingredients to avoid in the list above is the first step. These should produce fewer problems for your lashes, eyes, and surrounding skin.
Looking for a hypo-allergenic formula is a good start, but read the list of ingredients.
What Is The Healthiest Mascara For Your Eyelashes?
Provided you use it and remove it properly, all of the following mascaras are ophthalmologist-tested, safe for sensitive eyes, and do not contain any of the items on our list of ingredients to avoid.
How to Prevent Lash Damage When Using Mascara
It’s not just about choosing the right mascara, free of potentially harmful ingredients. Even with the right mascara, improper use can cause a myriad of issues as well as affect your lash growth. We’ve put together some tips to maintain your eye and lash health.
1. Properly clean lashes
Before starting your mascara application, soak a cotton pad in your favourite makeup remover and make sure you have removed any residual dirt or traces of leftover makeup.
2. Don’t pump the wand
Don’t pump the wand in and out of the mascara tube. Pumping your mascara will force air and bacteria into the tube, which will then become trapped. This can lead to eye infections and will also make the mascara dry out and break down faster than it normally would.
3. Don’t use mascara past its expiry date
We all want to make our product last as long as possible and can’t bear the thought of throwing something away if it’s not finished. What a waste! But the shelf life of mascara begins when you open it, so whether or not there is still mascara in the tube and its past its expiry date, it’s time for a new one. The shelf life of mascara is about 3-6 months. Check your packaging.
4. Don’t add water
Trying to remoisten a drying out mascara by diluting it with water will just mess up the formula. Water can also introduce bacteria into your mascara and lead to an eye infection. Do not add water inside the tube.
5. Don’t use too many coats
The more coats you apply, the more it will weigh down your lashes and can even cause them to eventually fall out. Most mascaras are meant to have no more than two coats applied.
Pro Tip: make sure to wait 30 seconds and let the first coat partially dry before adding the second to avoid clumping!
Adding too many coats also makes mascara harder to remove. Excess friction from scrubbing can damage your lashes.
6. Always remove mascara before going to bed
This is one of the most important steps in maintaining good eye and lash health. Mascara makes the lashes stiffer, so being squished into a pillow can cause breakage and lash loss.
You also run the risk of flakes of mascara or even a dried, stiff eyelash getting in your eye and scratching the cornea.
7. Be Gentle
When you are removing any eye makeup, don’t vigorously rub. This can cause lash damage and loss. Use a gentle, water-based eye makeup remover on a cotton pad and rest the pad on your lashes for a few seconds.
This will give the remover a chance to loosen the mascara and it should come off much more easily and gently.
8. Give Your Lashes A Rest
Even the ‘cleanest’ mascaras can take a toll on your eyelashes if you are wearing mascara 365 days a year. Promote healthy lash growth by giving them the weekend off from mascara every once in a while.