A Guide to the Best Natural and Clean Beauty Mascaras of 2021
Looking to discover the best clean mascara available today? Are you one of those who will go completely bare-faced except for mascara? You’re not alone! Many women claim mascara is one of their most important beauty products.
If this is you, I know it can be borderline traumatizing when you have a reaction to a new mascara. Or worse…every mascara you purchase. Black mascara and watery, itchy eyes are not never a good combo.
If you are looking for a good starting point to find a reliable, natural mascara that won’t irritate your beautiful eyes and delivers lush lashes… look no further. Today we’re doing a deep dive into the best natural and clean mascaras of 2021 and why seeking out clean mascara your unique body can handle is so important. I will also touch upon some of the aspects of selecting and wearing a natural or clean mascara that you should consider ensuring the best experience.
Putting product so close to our eyes immediately makes many of us question if it is safe. If you have sensitive eyes this is likely your first thought, even before you buy your mascara. Safe is a relative term when it comes to cosmetics. What is safe and wearable for one person may be a total disaster for another.
Many of us (myself included) originally gravitated towards natural cosmetics because traditional cosmetics cause us irritation, itching, acne, and unexplained discomforts. The truth is, both traditional petrochemical-based mascaras, natural, and clean mascara alternatives can all cause sensitive eyes to itch and water. What’s worse, these chemical sensitivities (yes, all-natural cosmetics ingredients are also technically “chemicals”) can be hard to identify in a long list of ingredients and even more difficult to avoid.
So, you’ve made the switch to a natural or clean mascara thinking that it would solve your sensitivities and are still having eye irritations. I know how frustrating that can be. If a product or ingredient (natural or not) is irritating to your eyes, it’s got to go.
This is your opportunity to find out little-discussed tips and tricks to select the best natural mascara for you that actually works for your sensitive eyes.
Why Does Some Mascara Irritate My Eyes?
Have you ever stopped to wonder what’s actually in mascara? As it turns out, the list of ingredients is a long one, including many buzzword synthetic chemicals may are now trying to avoid:
- Synthetic dyes
- Micro-fibers (like Nylon)
- Carcinogens such as carbon black
- Petroleum derivatives
- Formaldehyde releasing ingredients
- And natural ingredients such as essential oils
When you apply your mascara to your lashes, you’re exposing your body to all of these chemicals through the mucus membrane of your eye. If your body is particularly sensitive to both the fumes from the product and small particles and fibers (Yes! Many mascaras have micro nylon fibers to increase volume and length).
In the last few years, a new movement has emerged advocating for the development of the best clean beauty mascara made from a blend of natural and “safe” synthetic ingredients. (You can read more about my thoughts on “clean beauty” here.)
Why Does Mascara Contain All Those Irritating Ingredients?
You might be wondering why so many large companies insist on using such potentially irritating ingredients in their products. Beyond concerns in regard to cost-effectiveness, producing mascara comes with a particularly difficult challenge: the threat of bacteria. Since this product is going against (and by accident sometimes IN your eye) it is critical that the product is well preserved.
In general, any element of makeup with a liquid consistency is going to have an increased risk of promoting bacterial growth. The more you expose that liquid to air, the greater the risk, and with the way mascara is handled, it tends to get exposed to air a lot. So much so that you might be wondering why you haven’t had to deal with nasty infections around your eyes thus far.
As it turns out, the companies producing these products are well aware of the dangers of bacterial growth. That’s why many of the ingredients on the laundry list are preservatives, added with the express purpose of keeping bacteria out of your makeup, specifically so you don’t get an infection. Unfortunately, adding those ingredients simply trades one danger for another.
Sure, you’re less likely to get a bacterial infection. But the very nature of a preservative is to kill bacteria which means it is irritating. It’s a delicate balance and sometimes your body is not able to deal with that specific blend of ingredients.
At the same time, that does mean that the creators of natural mascara face an additional challenge: finding ways to reduce the risk of bacterial growth without introducing a new health hazard in the process.
Not All Clean and Natural Mascaras Are Equal
Even if you’re determined to locate the best clean ingredient mascara, it can be a difficult process. You likely have your own preferences for mascara already, developed over years of use. Whether your preference is for an affordable drugstore variety, an extra-strength waterproof product, or one that’s particularly effective at volumizing, it may take some time to track down the best clean mascara alternative for that same product.
There’s so much information to comb through, and it can be easy to lose steam when you’re working on your own. After all, when you already have your ideal brand of mascara that gives you a perfect curl every time, it can be challenging to cast it aside, despite the fact that it’s putting you at risk. Especially because, as it turns out, clean and natural mascara comes in many varieties, and not all of them are of equal quality.
Some creators struggle to develop their formula, leaving with stiff, flaky lashes. Others end up with such a watered-down consistency that it hardly looks you’ve applied any mascara at all. Another issue involved with locating the best clean ingredient mascara is the issue of misleading labels and false advertising.
As the popularity of such products continues to increase, more and more big-name makeup-up stores have started to reserve specific sections to cater exclusively to those seeking out natural beauty products. However, as you search through the options available for the best clean mascara at Sephora, you might stumble upon products that aren’t really all that natural at all.
Understanding the “Natural” and “Clean” for Mascaras
The term “natural” is not currently defined by the US Food and Drug Administration, which means that the term is technically open to interpretation. This leaves room for makeup companies to exploit this loophole and apply their own definition of “natural.”
This could include all sorts of ingredients that are either technically found in nature, synthesized from nature, or duplicating something from nature. For example, mercury is highly toxic to humans but is a naturally occurring chemical element.
Because of all this ambiguity, there have been attempts to standardize the system with the implementation of certifications to verify that a product is truly “natural.” However, as of now, they are yet to be uniformly applied, making them just as confusing and unhelpful.
Then there are those products defined as “clean.” Again, there is no standard definition here. Starting to see the pattern?
One interpretation of “clean beauty” means using synthetic ingredients that are not known to be toxic or hazardous at this time along with “safe” natural ingredients. However, just because we currently don’t have evidence supporting the toxicity of a substance doesn’t mean we might not discover it later in the future.
Radium was once thought to be a harmless substance with useful, luminous properties. It was only several years after the disastrous effect of radium on the human body was discovered.
What Is The Best Clean Mascara?
This is a lot to take in. How can you be sure that the product you’re buying is genuinely clean and natural while also being effective as mascara? The short answer? A lot of research and years of my own industry experience developing natural cosmetics and mascaras.
To curate this content, I combed through all of the different products available, taking multiple things into consideration with each assessment. For starters, the label of “natural” or “clean” is not enough. Instead of relying on terms that could easily be incorrectly applied by eager advertising teams, I examined the actual ingredients used in each product to ensure they were generally considered safe for use on sensitive eyes.
Another influential factor was how those ingredients were applied. For instance, I could fill a tube of mascara with mud from a natural creek and call it clean and natural, but that doesn’t make it mascara. Each ingredient has a purpose, and understanding those purposes is critical to determining how useful it will be.
Finally, there’s the actual, practical execution of the product. Did it work in the way it was intended? Did it offer any additional, desirable features, such as nourishing and conditioning the lashes, water-resistant coverage, high volumizing, or easy application?
All of these details were considered in an effort to provide you with a list of the best clean and natural mascaras for 2021.
That being said, even the best clean mascara comes with disclaimers for use. Failure to practice proper makeup hygiene for any product is incredibly dangerous, regardless of whether it’s made of synthetic chemicals or natural ingredients.
What’s the Best Way to Clean a Mascara Brush?
While many creators of mascara have found alternate methods of inhibiting bacterial growth, it’s still important to keep your mascara brush as clean as possible. Not only is this good for your health, but it also ensures that you continue to get beautiful lashes when applying your mascara.
Over time, layers of mascara can form on the bristles of the wand. If left unaddressed, this can result in extremely clumpy, uneven lashes. If that’s the case, you might be wondering how best to clean the mascara brush?
Figuring out how best to clean a mascara brush might sound a little intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are a few simple steps to keep your brushes clean and bacteria-free:
- Wipe off the excess mascara. Using a clean paper towel, gently remove the excess clumps, being careful not to crush the bristles.
- Soak the wand in hot water. Hot water is effective at loosening up any residual layers of mascara. Just make sure it’s not too hot, or you’ll risk melting your wand!
- Soak the wand in rubbing alcohol. This should help with the final, more stubborn layers of mascara.
- Pat the wand dry. Using a clean paper towel, gently pat the wand across the surface until it is completely dry.
- Check the tube opening for additional clumps of mascara. Tubes of mascara often accumulate layers of the stuff around the opening. These dry flakes can be removed with a damp cotton swab.
If you’re working with waterproof mascara, it may prove a little more stubborn. When cleaning a wand with waterproof mascara, try soaking the wand in makeup remover in place of the hot water. At the end of the process, you’ll be left with a clean, sanitized brush.
What’s the best way to remove mascara from your eyes?
Mascara should be applied to your eyelashes only, taking care to stay away from the waterline. Even the less irritating ingredients in mascara can cause irritation and even an infection if you leave them on overnight. That’s why it’s critical that you remove your mascara and other eye makeup completely before you go to bed.
The best way to remove mascara from your eyes is to:
- Soak an organic cotton pad in a gentle, natural eye makeup remover or natural oil like olive oil.
- Swipe the pad over your eyelashes down and away. Do not rub your eyes with the pad.
- Dip a Q-tip in the makeup remover or oil to clean under the lower lash line and remove any remaining pigment.
When Does Mascara Expire?
Like most makeup products, traditional mascara has an expiration date. Even with all the chemical preservatives, bacterial growth is still possible, and the risk of such growth increases over time.
With this in mind, you may be wondering, “When should I throw out my mascara?”
According to the FDA, mascara should be discarded after three months from purchase. Keep in mind that mascara’s greatest problem is its exposure to air which accelerates bacterial growth. If you’re not sure about the status, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to protecting your eyes. For natural mascara, the recommendation is actually about the same. Any longer than 3-4 months is risky.
Another thing to keep in mind when asking, “how long does mascara last?” is the consistency of the product. If it’s overly dried out and clumpy, it’s likely past its prime. When expired, mascara conveniently lets you know as much by emitting a pretty nasty odor, so if sniffing your mascara suddenly makes you wrinkle your nose, it’s probably time to toss the tube. When in doubt, throw it out. Your eyes are too precious to gamble with.
The Best Clean Mascara Brands Up To Afterglow’s Standards
I’m committed to focusing our recommendations on products that are not only clean and natural but ideally also gluten-free, corn-free, and soy-free. We hold ourselves to a high standard because we believe in the value of organic ingredients and have applied that same high standard to the list below that I’ve curated for you today.