There are many, many articles about mascara—What is the absolute best way to apply it? What are the best options, and can you find a decent natural one?—but none that seem to answer this simple question: Is it bad to wear mascara every day? And the answer to it, I found here, is that it's complicated. So I broke it down to its most basic parts.
Is using mascara daily bad for your eyes or lashes?
It depends. There are a few variables to this, which involve your eyes' oil glands, your skin care, your application techniques, and (just maybe) even your mascara.
Can daily mascara use hurt your eyes?
This, it turns out, is also a weirdly complicated answer. What daily mascara use can actually do is hurt the eyelid, which then can hurt the eye. But before that, a little anatomy lesson on the eye itself, from James Chelnis, M.D., oculofacial plastic surgeon and assistant clinical professor at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. Your eyelid has three parts that produce various liquids: water (which we identify as tears), mucus (which you might notice when you wake up with "crust" in the morning), and oil. For our purposes, that last one is the most important. Oil actually forms a slick around the eye to keep the water in, keeping your eye hydrated. ("When I do surgery or an exam, I can actually see the oil layer over the eye," he says.)
If our oil glands around the eye stop working properly, they can't keep the water sealed on the eye. "Have you ever heard anyone complain about having 'dry eyes' but still tearing up? What's happening there is the eye likely doesn't have enough oil to keep the water in," says Chelnis. And mascara can actually clog the pores in the area, leading to less oil production—especially when not washed off nightly. "This not only leads to dryness but styes and eyelid inflammation," he says.
Can daily mascara use thin your lashes?
"Any chemical on the face can be irritating and can weaken the hair, but it isn't terrible," says board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D. However, application and removal—and the physical wear that comes with it—can thin them at a much quicker pace. Much like being too hard on your hair can make our hairline sparser, being too rough on your lashes will make them lose thickness.
"It gets clumped, you layer it, the tension from curling, all of those things can put strain on the hair, especially if you are doing it every day. That's how you lose lashes. It's all about being mindful of how you’re putting it on and taking it off and making sure you're being gentle," says holistic dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., founder of Resilient Health Institute.
Also: Taking off mascara. "Removing mascara on a daily basis is extremely important to minimize irritation and inflammation" says Barr. But it's a task notoriously harder than with other makeup and can cause you to shed a few strands. This is due to the rubbing many people do while washing their face. Your best bet is to remove your eye makeup prior to washing the rest of your face, so you can be extra gentle and use products (like olive oil) that are tailored to break down the formula.
Does the type of mascara play a role?
"My advice is to pick as clean of product as you can since the skin around our eye is so thin which means absorption is higher," says Barr. "And listen, even though it’s a small area and absorption from each application may not be much, cumulatively it can add up."
Other than that, there's no indication whether a thickening mascara does more damage than a lengthening or curling. However, anecdotally from Chelnis, a more liquid formula might be better. "In doing exams or surgery, I've actually found mascara debris trapped under the eyelid, often causing inflammation," he says. "And this is a total hypothesis, but if I had to guess, I would say that a more liquid formula wouldn't cause as much—it's probably the ones that are more fibrous."
Is it really that unhealthy to use old or other people's mascara?
The general rule of thumb is to toss your mascara out every two months—and never use someone else's mascara. This rule really doesn't need any debunking. "Old mascara can definitely give you an infection—the moistness and tube is a breeding ground for germs," says Gohara. Also, "I don't advise using other people's cosmetic products in general. No need to double dip and double your chances of infection."
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.