The clean beauty movement is a no-brainer. Greenwashing aside (the practice of brands using clean buzzwords to seem more sustainable than they are), it’s pretty clear that clean products are better for the planet and better for our bodies.
Mascara is one of the trickier products to do well without using synthetic and chemical materials. So, is it really that important? Should we be going out of our way to find a natural product that works for us?
In short, yes. Many people who seek out natural products do so because of skin sensitivity, and there is no more sensitive part of the face than the eye.
“Eyelids are very thin, delicate, mucosal surfaces that are prone to irritants and allergic contact dermatitis,” Angela Lamb, associate professor of dermatology at Manhattan’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told HuffPost. “So any product with a smaller ingredient list, especially if it’s been cleared by the Environmental Working Group, the gold standard for clean beauty, they’re better.” Lamb said there is potential for eczema or an allergic reaction from non-natural mascaras.
If the skin continues to have a reaction even using a natural product, Lamb recommends a patch test.
“It’s a specific test given by a doctor that’s different than a standard allergy test for things like mold and dust,” she said. “This tests things you’re actually allergic to in products.”
Daniel Laroche, director of glaucoma services and president of Advanced Eye Care of New York, isn’t a fan of mascara in general. Though he acknowledges the benefit of using a natural mascara void of chemicals that can be toxic to the follicles, mascara of all kinds can cause issues.
“It can build up at the base, which you can see under a microscope but not necessarily with your naked eye,” he said. “That can create a reservoir for bacteria and allergens.”
Laroche recommends changing out mascara tubes every three months, trying to apply away from the very base of the follicle and being sure to remove mascara properly. He also prefers alternative methods of lash adornment, such as Latisse drops, which require a prescription.
“Latisse thickens the lashes and makes them grow longer, with a darker appearance at the root,” Laroche said.
And what about the effectiveness of natural mascaras? Kari Bauce, a celebrity makeup artist and clean beauty expert, has seen and used her fair share of clean mascaras ― and plays favorites.
“For a subtle look, try Ere Perez Avocado Waterproof Mascara,” she said. “The oils in this formula serve to condition lashes instead of traditional waterproof formulas, which can be drying. Bonus points for being vegan, which is hard for mascara even when it’s clean, due to the beeswax.”
Another favorite is the Ilia Limitless Lash mascara for its curl and lengthening abilities, but Bauce warns about the wand. “A lot of people love the comb style wand for definition, but it may prove scratchy for those with very sensitive eyes.” (Ilia is my favorite, too)
Finally, for big drama, Bauce prefers The Big Clean mascara from Kosas. “I’ve been patiently waiting for several years for a mascara in the clean space that has major volume while still adding some length and curl,” she said. “But be warned, this is NOT subtle.”