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The best mascara for sensitive eyes

Mascara has long been a staple in many people’s cosmetic bags. Over time, wearing the lash-lifting ink has developed into a rite of passage — a pivotal step into young adulthood. However, for many, perfectly enhanced eyelashes are wrecked by itchy, watery, sensitive eyes. 

It’s common for certain ingredients in mascara to irritate sensitive eyes. But fear not, beauties. There are specially formulated hypoallergenic mascaras available that can give you all the sass with none of the side effects.

Best mascara for sensitive eyes

Looking for a mascara that won’t irritate your eyes? Here are some of the best hypoallergenic mascara options for people with sensitive eyes.

1. Neutrogena Healthy Lengths Mascara

Neutrogena is one of the OG makeup brands, giving them years of experience, research and development behind their products. Their line of “healthy” mascaras are infused with vitamin E and olive oil to nourish the lashes while giving them a longer, healthier appearance.

Neutrogena Healthy Lengths mascara is ophthalmologist and dermatologist tested, and is safe for sensitive eyes and contact lenses wearers. Retails for $8.99.

2. Honest Beauty Extreme Length Mascara

With one tube sold every two minutes, Honest Beauty Extreme Length mascara has developed quite the following. The double-ended wand provides a lash primer to prepare the lashes for the mascara, giving you 2-step results in a single product.

The mascara is dermatologist and ophthalmologist approved, cruelty free and contains no parabens, paraffins or synthetic fragrances. Retails for $16.99.

3. Clinique High Impact Mascara

This mascara offers all the perks with none of the parabens. Clinique High Impact mascara creates lusher, plusher eyelashes while gentle on sensitive eyes and skin. 

The cosmetic company vows to formulate their products without parabens, phthalates or fragrances, minimizing the possibility for irritation. Retails for $20.

4. Tarte Cosmetics Gifted Amazonian Clay Smart Mascara

Tarte has found a niche by infusing several of their products with sustainably sourced Amazonian clay. The clay is supposed to balance, nourish, hydrate and repair lashes while delivering soft, weightless volume.

Gifted Amazonian Clay Smart mascara is vegan, cruelty-free, and ophthalmologist- and dermatologist-tested, making it safe for contact lens wearers and sensitive eyes. Retails for $23.

5. COVERGIRL Lash Blast Volume Mascara

This mascara has likely made an appearance in all of our makeup bags at one point or another. LashBlast by COVERGIRL is designed to max out each eyelash, giving you “10 times more volume” instantly.

Formula is hypoallergenic and cruelty free. Retails between $6.17 and $11.29.

6. thrive Causemetics Liquid Lash Extensions Mascara

This award-winning mascara uses a trademarked Flake-Free Tubing Technology that coats and dramatically lengthens each individual lash from root to tip. This technology ensures long, smudge-proof wear, yet easy removal to protect your natural lashes.

thrive Causemetics Liquid Lash Extensions mascara is vegan, cruelty free, and dermatologist and ophthalmologist approved. Plus, it’s formulated without sulfates, parabens, synthetic fragrances or phthalates. Retails for $24.

SEE RELATED: Eyelash extensions

7. Maybelline Full ‘N Soft Washable Mascara

Relying on its many years in the makeup industry, Maybelline has created an advanced thickening formula that produces full, healthy-looking lashes. Full ‘N Soft Washable mascara is infused with vitamin E and a quick-dissolve system that allows for easy removal and prevents lash loss.

This product is hypoallergenic, ophthalmologist tested and suitable for contact lens wearers. Retails for $8.77.

8. Tarte Cosmetics Lights, Camera, Lashes 4-in-1 Mascara

What Tarte refers to as “a push-up bra for your lashes,” the Lights, Camera, Lashes 4-in-1 mascara promises to lift, curl, lengthen and volumize your eyelashes. 

The vegan, cruelty-free formula offers smudge-proof, flake-free, 24-hour wear that ophthalmologists and dermatologists have tested and approved. Retails for $23.

9. Almay Thickening Mascara

Who doesn’t love a fat lash? The formula created by Almay promises to double the plushness of your lashes in just one clump-free application, “fattening” every last lash with one swipe.

Almay Thickening Mascara is fragrance free, hypoallergenic and ophthalmologist tested. Retails for $7.39.

10. ILIA Limitless Lash Lengthening Mascara

As Allure’s 2019 Best in Beauty award winner, this mascara still doesn’t disappoint. ILIA Limitless Lash Lengthening mascara is a clean, 99% naturally derived formula that lifts, curls, lengthens and adds volume to your lashes. 

This product is made with 100% natural dye, is gluten and cruelty free, and has been deemed safe for sensitive eyes by ophthalmologists. Retails for $28.

11. LA ROCHE-POSAY Toleriane Waterproof Mascara

While waterproof mascara isn’t usually great for sensitive eyes, Toleriane Waterproof mascara from LA ROCHE-POSAY is a powerful exception to the rule. With jojoba oil as a key ingredient, this mascara is waterproof yet still easy to remove without irritating sensitive eyes.

Toleriane Waterproof Mascara is dermatologist and allergy tested, paraben free and fragrance free. Retails for $25.

Why do my eyes burn when I wear mascara?

If your eyes burn whenever you wear mascara — either right away or after a few hours — it’s likely because of ingredients in the mascara’s formula that you're allergic or sensitive to.

Having a reaction to the ingredients in your mascara doesn’t always happen with the first use. In fact, it’s possible to develop a sensitivity to something over time with repeated exposure. So, your tried-and-true mascara that is suddenly causing your eyes to itch and puff up may have worn out its welcome.

The burning, itching or swelling of the eyes and/or eyelids related to mascara use is caused by a condition called contact dermatitis. Symptoms of contact dermatitis can develop when certain substances — irritants or allergens — come into contact with the skin.

Irritants are the more common cause of dermatitis. The substances, which may include detergents, soap, certain cleaning products and acid, are usually too harsh on the skin and can create a rash.

Allergens trigger the body’s immune system, which can overreact to the substance, causing an allergic reaction. Examples of allergens include jewelry metals (nickel), certain fragrances and airborne allergens, such as pollen and dust. 

Either irritants or allergens in your mascara (or any other cosmetic product) can cause contact dermatitis and may occur immediately or after years of use. 

What is in mascara that irritates the eyes?

What triggers contact dermatitis varies from person to person, so it’s difficult to pinpoint a single ingredient as the cause. However, there are some common ingredients used in cosmetics that are known to cause irritation, including:

  • Parabens. We’ve all heard of these controversial additives. Parabens are man-made chemicals used to preserve a product, such as mascara. 

  • Fragrance. While many people love a scented makeup product, fragrance can irritate the skin and eyes. The most common fragrance known to cause an allergic reaction is balsam of Peru, which is a liquid collected from trees in Central American and is used in many cosmetic products. 

  • Lanolin. An ointment-like material derived from sheep’s wool that is added as a moisturizing ingredient.

  • Quaternium-15. Another preservative commonly used in makeup, known as a “formaldehyde releaser.”

  • Propylene glycol. A preservative alcohol substance added to cosmetics to help maintain product moisture.

SEE RELATED: Eyelash serum and Latisse

Tips to avoid makeup-related eye irritation

There isn’t much you can do to prevent sensitive eyes or to keep your eyes from reacting to certain products, including mascara. However, there are some steps you can take to make sure the products you’re using around your eyes will not cause irritation.

  • Avoid fancy mascaras. Within the past few years, cosmetic companies have marketed mascaras with “extension fibers” that will build on top of your natural eyelashes to make them look longer. While this may be the effect you’re looking for, those fibers can flake off and get into your eyes. Besides that, the ingredients used to create the fibrous look can irritate the eyes. Keep it simple by using mascaras with limited ingredients and a hypoallergenic formula.

  • Do a patch test. If you’re highly sensitive to cosmetics, it’s recommended that you do a patch test somewhere before you apply a product to your face. The inner part of the arm is a good location, as the skin there is more sensitive than on the back of your hand or forearm. A patch test will determine whether the product contains allergens or irritants that will bother your skin.

  • Honey, wash your face. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: Do not sleep in your makeup. This habit can wreak havoc on your skin and trigger eye irritation caused by eyelash mites. If you can’t commit to going all out with soap and water, using a makeup remover wipe will suffice.   

  • Choose black over colored mascaras. Though a subtle brown or a daring cobalt blue lash may be your thing, it’s best to stick with plain black. The additives and dyes required to make fun colored mascaras can irritate your eyes.

  • Steer clear of waterproof. Many people swear by their waterproof mascaras, but removing the stuff requires some serious elbow grease. Try one of the several non-waterproof mascaras mentioned above that have a no-smudge formula, yet gentle removal. And if you’re hooked on waterproof, try LA ROCHE-POSAY Toleriane Waterproof recommended above. 

  • Give the lash line some space. Beauty vloggers love to tell people to apply their mascara right against the lash line for best results. Not only can this cause irritation by getting product in the eyes, but it’s the perfect storm for a bacterial infection.

  • Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to one of your favorites. As mentioned earlier, it’s possible to develop an allergy to a product that you’ve loved and used for years. While chucking an old friend in the garbage can be an emotional experience, your eyes are worth it. Plus, the mascara game is so strong these days, you’ll likely find a new favorite that doesn’t bother your eyes.

READ MORE: Types of eye makeup and popular eye makeup trends

Here’s why your same old eye makeup is suddenly causing irritation. Self. October 2018.

Contact dermatitis. Cleveland Clinic. October 2019.

Parabens fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 2017.

Allergic contact dermatitis to balsam of Peru. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. June 2016.

Lanolin. Cosmetics Info. Accessed June 2021.

Formaldehyde‐releasers in cosmetics: relationship to formaldehyde contact allergy. Contact Dermatitis. 2010.

What Is Propylene glycol? Verywell Health. September 2020.

Healthy lengths mascara. Neutrogena. Accessed June 2021.

Extreme length mascara + lash primer. Honest. Accessed June 2021.

High impact mascara. Clinique. Accessed June 2021.

Gifted Amazonian clay smart mascara. Tarte. Accessed June 2021.

Lash blast volume mascara. COVERGIRL. Accessed June 2021.

Liquid lash extension mascara. thrive Causemetics. Accessed June 2021.

Full 'n soft washable mascara. Maybelline New York. Accessed June 2021.

Lights, camera, lashes 4-in-1 mascara. Tarte. Accessed June 2021.

Almay thickening mascara. Almay. Accessed June 2021.

Limitless lash mascara. ILIA. Accessed June 2021.

Toleriane waterproof mascara. LA ROCHE-POSAY. Accessed June 2021.

The 10 best mascaras for sensitive eyes, according to customer reviews. Meredith Health Group. August 2018.

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