About seven years ago, I woke up with swollen eyes… which turned into scaly flaking skin over my eyelids as the week progressed. If this wasn’t alarming enough, it then started happening to my lips too. I couldn’t figure out what was irritating my skin. It couldn’t be caused by a new product, because I had been using the same brands for years. After several trips to the esthetician and eventually an allergist, I found out I was allergic to fragrance, nickel, and several dyes.
Needless to say, that is when my clean beauty journey began. While searching for the best clean mascara, I found it was the hardest product to replace. At that time, there really weren’t a ton of options on the market. What I did find was pretty drying and always crumbled off my lashes after a few short hours. Fast forward to 2020, and the options are endless!
With Zoom calls all the rage and mask-wearing projected into the unforeseen future, I’m wiping off my lipstick and leaning into playing up my eyes.
So, it only felt right to try some of the clean options out there and finally find the best clean mascara. Here is my detailed review of the five best clean mascaras. Be sure to sound out in the comments to let me know if you agree — or share a favorite I missed.
But first… what is the best way to apply mascara?
Before trying the clean mascaras I thought it would be best to tap an expert to see the best approach to applying mascara. So I reached into my former stylist Rolodex and remembered I knew the one and only Katie Jane Hughes, celebrity and editorial makeup artist, and influencer. Read on for her professional tips on applying mascara.
For a fanned out look: start at the middle of the eye up and then work your way across the entire lash line.
For a winged shape: apply to the outer corner, keep pushing a little pressure from the root of the lash so the wand really feels like it’s going from the base to the tips.
Should I pump my mascara to get more product on the brush?
Only pump mascara if you want to dry it out a little. Some mascara comes a little too wet when they are fresh so you can pump it to dry it out. A common misconception is pumping will add more mascara to the wand, however, it will only dry it out.
How long should I wait to build each layer I put on?
Only build depending on how much product you want on the lashes. (Editors note: For this experiment, I only did two layers of each.)
Do I apply mascara on my bottom lashes with the tip of the brush or the side?
Apply to the bottom last with the tip of the brush, swipe to remove excess product, and if you want a really natural look use your fingertip to wipe off the excess.
Now… the review method.
As I was reviewing the best clean mascaras, I knew I needed to set some guidelines for rating them. Below I’ve outlined the most important features of each mascara and what I was looking for.
- They all needed to be synthetic fragrance-free.
- Contain lengthening properties.
- Thickening. Does it add volume without clumping, and is it buildable?
- Smudging. Will it leave black smudges under my eyes after a day of wearing? Crying would not be tested!
- Dryness. Do my lashes feel dry and will they fleck by the day’s end?
Pros and cons: I always knew ILIA Beauty had a cult following, and now I know it’s for good reason. If you have naturally full lashes I think this is the perfect go-to. If you have thinner lashes like myself you may want to try something a bit more voluminous. ILIA’s award-winning clean mascara is lightweight and nourishing, made with a blend of organic bee and carnauba waxes to weightlessly condition each lash, while still keeping them lifted throughout the day. If you prefer a drier mascara, I would recommend pumping this mascara a few times so it’s not as wet on your first few applications.
Why I love it: ILIA goes on very smoothly with little to no clumping. At the end of the day, my lashes still felt very moisturized and I had no real fall out. ILIA’s Limitless Lash Mascara can be effortlessly removed with water at the end of the day as well. I didn’t have to scrub or tug off the product. Plus, it’s gentle on sensitive eyes. Their 99% naturally derived formula contains organic Shea Butter and fortifying keratin to help boost and enhance your lashes.
Rating: This would be my pick for the no-makeup look and all my sun-filled vacations.
Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, Cera Alba/Beeswax/Cire D’Abeille*, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter*, Polyglyceryl-6 Distearate, Dimer Dilinoleyl Dimer Dilinoleate, Glycerin, Cera Carnauba/Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax/Cire De Carnauba*, Polyglyceryl-10 Myristate, Cetyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Caprylate, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Zea Mays (Corn) Starch*, Xanthan Gum, Arginine, Phenethyl Alcohol, Biotin, Urtica Dioica (Nettle) Extract, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Benzoate, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Benzoic Acid, Myristoyl Pentapeptide-17, Ci 77499 (Iron Oxide). *Organic Ingredients. Ingrédients Organiques.
Pros and cons: This mascara really gives your lashes a big pop! I give it high marks for both lengthening and thickening. The densely packed nylon brush was really great for volumizing, defining, and curling my lashes naturally. The result is lashes that are glossy and pitch black. My only con would be that after a full day of wearing it, I found it to be a little drying. However, it only flaked if I touched my lashes. Plus, it’s on the pricier side in comparison to the rest.
Why I love it: The brush on this clean mascara gives a flawless application and does require many applications to achieve an impactful result. No silicones, no parabens, no PEGs, no phthalates, no synthetic fragrances, and no animal testing.
Rating: This will be my date night go-to when I want to make a bit of an impact and treat myself to something special.
Ingredients: Aqua/Water, Cera Alba/Beeswax, Copernicia Cerifera Cera/Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Sucrose Distearate, Cichorium Intybus Root Extract/Cichorium Intybus (Chicory) Root Extract, Propanediol, Helianthus Annuus Seed Cera/Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Wax, Sucrose Stearate, Galactoarabinan, Caprylyl Glycol, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Glycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Ci 77499/Iron Oxides.
Pros and cons: W3ll People Expressionist Volumizing mascara is a 2020 Allure Best of Beauty Award Winner! I think this clean mascara hits all of the boxes as it lengthens, thickens, and has staying power. The dense bristle brush coated my lashes in only a few good swipes. Their blend of organic botanicals helps to lengthen your lashes, hydrates, and conditions follicles for the long term. The only con I have is that it needed more building to bring it up to the same standard as my number one choice.
Why I love it: You can’t beat the price for this quality product. The fluffy brush really grabs a ton of product.
Rating: This is my runner-up for almost perfect!
Ingredients: Aqua (water), castor isostearate beeswax succinate, C10-18 triglycerides, copernicia cerifera cera (carnuba) wax*, cera alba (beeswax)*, stearic acid, propanediol, glyceryl stearate, glycerin, glyceryl caprylate, glyceryl undecylenate, sodium hydroxide, potassium sorbate, xanthan gum, cellulose, tocopherol, Helianthus Annuus (sunflower) seed oil, +/- CI 77891 (titanium dioxide), iron oxides (CI 77491, CI 77499)
Pros and cons: This clean mascara gave me the most volume out of all the ones I tried. The KOSAS Big Clean has natural body-building ingredients that deliver big time. The oversized rainbow-shaped brush, which I loved, with flexible-yet-firm bristles, ensures every lash is volumized, lengthened, and curled. My only con here is that the application was a bit clumpy and messy to use.
Why I love it: Big Clean is distilled down to only what’s needed to keep the formula lightweight and full of goodness: Beeswax for body, a high concentration of lash care actives, and max pigment for major effect.
Rating: This is a fairly new mascara on the market, and the entire CS team are big fans of the Kosas line, so I’m sure with some time they will work out the clumps.
Ingredients: Aqua, Beeswax, CI 77499, Diisostearoyl Polyglyceryl-3 Dimer Dilinoleate, Polyglyceryl-6 Distearate, Pullulan, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Copernicia Cerifera Cera, Ricinus Communis Seed Oil, Sorbitol, Biotinoyl Tripeptide-1, Panthenol, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Acacia Senegal Gum, Trehalose, Citric Acid, Pentylene Glycol, Phenethyl Alcohol, Propanediol, Sodium Hydroxide, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate.
Pros and cons: For me, this mascara does it all. Lengthens, thickens (but not too much), no clumping, and leaves lashes moisturized. I would vote Merit your everyday mascara that defines, separates, and lengthens lashes for a sexy wide-awake look; and hello, this mama needs help in that department. Merit Clean Lash was also very easy to remove with warm water and cleanser. This is great to protect your lashes from the pulling and harsh removers required by most smudge-proof mascaras.
Why I love it: This is my go-to for everyday wear. I don’t have a ton of time to get ready in the morning and the effort impact ratio was the highest.
Rating: Best overall! It was the clear winner out of the five that I tried.
Ingredients: Aqua (Water, Eau), Acrylates/Ethylhexyl Acrylate Copolymer, Acrylates Copolymer, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Wax, Hydrogenated Olive Oil Stearyl Esters, Stearic Acid, Copernicia Cerifera Cera (Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Cire de Carnauba), Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax (Candelilla Cera, Cire de Candelilla), Acacia Senegal Gum, PVP, Tromethamine, Alcohol, Panthenol, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Ethylhexylglycerin, Ethylhexanediol, Steareth-20, Cetyl Alcohol, Simethicone, Steareth-2, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Phenoxyethanol, Disodium EDTA, CI 77499 (Iron Oxides)
I also want to give an honorable mention to Juice Beauty, PHYTO-PIGMENTS Ultra-Natural Mascara, which costs $26. Because I’m an ambassador for Juice Beauty I didn’t feel it was fair to put it in the review but if it is a great clean brand and product. If you do want to try it, use JBBRANDY15 for 15% off your purchases online at juicebeauty.com
Editors note: I pulled the pricing and ingredient list off each of the brand’s websites. It’s important to note that prices can vary from store to store. All in all, all five of these clean mascaras were excellent. As with most things in life you have to find the one that works best for your needs so please try them yourself and see what works for you. But I do hope this shined a light on some options out there!