Is Your Mascara Actually Dangerous?

Is Your Mascara Actually Dangerous? Hero Image
Photo: Stocksy

The perfect mascara is akin to a group of best friends. There's mascaras for weekends, when you want a more subtle look, and mascaras for nights out, when staying power and a dramatic curl are top of the list. There's curved wands and straight wands, waterproof and onyx-coating formulas...but have you ever found yourself browsing the beauty section of a drugstore all excited to find a new lash-enhancer, only to end up feeling overwhelmed, confused and even defeated?

Well I'm here to change that and share some golden nuggets I've learned along the way in pursuit of a doe-eyed glow—for as long as I have lashes, I'll always be looking for smudge-proof, voluminous hold that doesn't harm me or the environment.

Beware of "natural"

If you’re looking for eco-friendly mascaras, take note: The word “natural” means almost nothing in the beauty industry. Any brand can use it on its packaging because there's no regulation of the term. To shop true green, look for the brown-and-green USDA Organic seal, which indicates that the product contains 95 to 100 percent organically produced agricultural ingredients, meaning they’re grown without synthetic chemicals or pesticides. Organizations like the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, have made toxic ingredients lurking in our products so much more transparent and easier to navigate—in EWG’s rating system, you can score your beauty products for their hazardous potential.

Vegan & cruelty-free

Considering whether a product is vegan and cruelty-free? This can be somewhat hard to spot because the government doesn't regulate the labels “cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals.” PETA has a fantastic search feature that lets you input your favorite brands and research their standards. These are some cruelty-free brands that you should be able to find in any big drugstore, and they're also reasonably priced! Try NYX, Jane, e.l.f. cosmetics, and Juice Beauty for some stellar eye transformation.


Don’t see the seal on your favorite products? Look for the phrase “made with organic ingredients,” which can be used on packaging only if the product contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients. Or make your own DIY one to darken, lengthen, and thicken lashes—it can be helpful to think of wearing mascara as though you're “eating” your the ingredients, because you absorb them through your skin.


Microbes in your mascara

Yes, this can happen, but it's the result of keeping your mascara too long—the microbes don't arrive in the mascara itself. According to a study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, bacteria that are naturally present in the eyes can be transferred into mascara via the wand. When researchers tested mascaras, microbes like Staphylococcus and Streptococcus were present in 33 percent of the products tested, along with fungi. Mascara contains preservatives that prevent bacteria from breeding, and though typically, mascara is considered to be safe for three months due to preservatives, I tend to watch the clock and throw mine out after two. Why? Every time you use mascara, you’re letting oxygen into the tube and drying out the liquid. Plus the FDA doesn’t require cosmetics companies to print expiration dates on makeup...

Get label savvy

You can also check the list of ingredients in your favorite items and research anything that sounds unfamiliar, or you can download a free app like Think Dirty for your phone—it decodes beauty lingo in seconds. With a little label reading, you’ll be able to take steps to make your mascara purchases that much more eco-friendly. And let's be honest, who doesn't want ultra-curly, extra-long, non-toxic Bambi-style lashes?

Explore More