Mascara can do a lot of amazing stuff. The right product can lengthen and volumize your lashes in the flick of a wand. The wrong one, though, can leave you itching and burning, especially if you've got sensitive eyes. That makes finding a suitable mascara for sensitive eyes especially important—even if it's not always easy to do.
Why do you need a mascara for sensitive eyes
"Sensitive eyes" is a pretty big blanket term, and there are a whole lot of causes, including seasonal allergies, migraines, light sensitivity, and wearing contacts. Yet, plastering lashes with a coat of lash lacquer isn't exactly helpful for any of these conditions. "Ingredients in eye makeup—including mascara—may have harmful effects," says Mark Jacquot, OD, clinical director at LensCrafters. "Many mascara products on the market that can help you gain length and volume in your lashes contain ingredients that can negatively affect your vision.” He suggests always, always reading the label before you purchase a mascara, and calls out ingredients including aluminum powder, propylene glycol, retinyl acetate, and color additives as the ones you should stay away from.
“Typically what happens is that the eyes, and the skin around them, area may get inflamed, which can cause itching and burning. Many different eyelid conditions, caused by certain ingredients in eye makeup products, can cause infection or build-up at the eyelashes," explains Dr. Jacquot. "So keeping your lashes and eyelids clean can help prevent this from happening.”
In addition to picking the right product, practicing good eye hygiene is pivotal for avoiding irritation, because the lash line is just as important as the fringe itself, so take extra care to make sure you're not just leaving old mascara on lashes. "Removing mascara near the end of the day and reapplying or changing your mascara for your evening out is a great habit to prevent buildup and hence the negative affects to your eyes and eyelashes," he adds.
Makeup artists concur: "Some people may have reactions to a particular mascara, simply because their skin does not agree with an ingredient," explains makeup artist Aliana Lopez. "Keep in mind, not all mascaras are made the same and you may find one that ends up working for you." And that sensitivity can reveal itself in different ways. "My sensitivity shows up by watering—I tear and tear and the makeup falls off my face," says makeup artist Molly R. Stern. She echoes Dr. Jacquot's recommendation that if there is any itching and burning happening, you should get some gentle remover on you lashes, and quick. Lopez also suggests adding a cold compress, and keeping the product away from the area to prevent further irritation.
What to look for in a mascara for sensitive eyes
Your best bet for finding a mascara that won't cause any issues is to look for something non-toxic and water-based, because it's "milder on your eyes and lashes," says Dr. Jacquot. A lot of people have a love affair with waterproof mascara, but since it's more difficult to take off at the end of the day you'll likely wind up with some residue left behind, so consider skipping it. When trying something new, do a patch test on your lashes to see if there's any irritation, and be sure to pay attention to the expiration date on your products so you aren't coating your lashes with bacteria.
"It’s really about trial and error when it comes to mascara—what a person is allergic to varies from eye to eye," says Stern. Here, seven of the best mascaras for sensitive eyes that fit the bill.
Best mascaras for sensitive eyes
Spending $74 on a mascara is certainly an investment, but according to Stern you really can’t go wrong with this one from Chantecaille. It’s basically like falsies in a bottle, and helps to stimulate lash growth with the use of peptides.
When makeup artist Shadi Malek is looking for a mascara for a client with sensitive eyes, she says she tests out all the clean beauty brands. “Ilia is definitely my favorite! I recommend it to everyone. Its formula is incredible because it makes your lashes thicker and longer but it’s a hypoallergenic product so it won’t irritate your eyes,” she says.
For a clean, eye-friendly mascara at a drugstore price, look no further than Honest Beauty. Their version comes with a primer, which lengthens lashes before you apply a little extra va-va-voom with the mascara itself. Every sensitive-eyed reviewer on Amazon has given the product at least four stars, calling it out as irritation free in every scenario.
“For me, Clinique is my go-to when looking for products appropriate for skin sensitivities,” says Lopez. “This formula is a great place to start if you have sensitive eyes.” It happens to be waterproof, but is ophthalmologist tested and said to be safe for sensitive eyes and contact lens wearers.
Tested by dermatologists and ophthalmologists, this Neutrogena mascara is safe for anyone with sensitive eyes or who wears contacts. It’s made with sweet almond and olive oil to condition and add fullness to your lashes without creating clumps. One reviewer said,”I have VERY sensitive eyes. This is pretty much the only mascara I can wear.”
Looking for clean ingredients is the most important when it comes to sensitive eyes, says celebrity makeup artist Hailey Hoff. She says this tarte mascara is a great option. It’s vegan; made with ingredients like rice bran wax, proviatmin B5, and olive esters; and it’s dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested. The 4-in-1 formula works smarter, not harder — it volumizes, lengthens, curls, and conditions.
Another clean beauty recommendation from Hoff, this Saie mascara is made with 100 percent natural or naturally-derived ingredients, including responsibly-sourced Australian beeswax and organic, non-GMO shea butter from Ghana. It has a buildable formula to help lift and lengthen lashes.
Makeup artist Judi Gabbay says finding a mascara for sensitive eyes can be tough, but she recommends to go to the beauty counter and open up the tubes.”If you smell a strong fragrance coming from the wand, that product may not be for you. Stick to mascaras that say ‘hypoallergenic’ on packaging.” One of her favorites is the Lancome Hypnose Drama Mascara, which is long-wearing and volumizing and contains no sulfates SLS and SLES, parabens, formaldehydes, or phthalates, and has less than one percent of synthetic fragrances.
Hoff says she’s gone through hundreds of tubes of this L’Oreal mascara, which has a long-wear formula that doesn’t break down or flake off, which can also help with eyes that are prone to irritation. The formula also helps condition and protect lashes.
Both Gabbay and Malek are a fan of this Thrive Causmetics mascara that’s ophthalmologist-approved and safe for sensitive eyes and contact lens wearers. Not only does it add length, it’s also easy to wash off. So easy, in fact, that Gabbay says it requires no makeup remover, and the “formula forms tubes around lashes that slip off in warm water, no smudging or transfers!”
If you have sensitive eyes, tubing mascara formulas like this one from Blinc might be a good option, says makeup artist Margina Dennis. “The mascara literally wraps around the lashes, so it does not flake at all.” The oil-free mascara is also designed to be smudge and run proof, and tested to be non-irritating, ideal for sensitive eyes and contact lenses. And removal requires just warm water and a washcloth.
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