For some, eyes and mascara just don’t play nice. One swipe of the wrong kind can leave you inflamed, teary, and bloodshot—not a good look.
But don’t worry—you’re not alone when it comes to feeling that (itchy, burny) pain. “Many women have dermatitis or allergies to eye makeup, particularly to mascara because it gets closest to the eyeballs,” says Jessica Lattman, MD, an ophthalmologist in New York. Dry eyes often factor in, she explains, because the condition prevents your eyes from flushing out offending substances.
Those who wear contacts and are allergy-prone are even more likely to react (thanks, Universe). But the good news is, you can still get lush-ish lashes if you’re willing to tweak your ways. Here, expert advice for how to wear mascara without putting your eyes through bloody hell, plus the best picks for sensitive eyes.
Do a DIY patch test
Before you place that wand near your eyes, advises Dr. Lattman, try the product out on your inner forearm (with a Q-tip swipe a little excess product from the base of the wand, then dab on skin). Cover with a piece of tape or adhesive bandage and check again at the end of the day. If you don’t notice any redness, you’re good to go.
Extension fibers? Proprietary mega-thickening formulas? Not for you. “The simpler the better,” says Dr. Lattman. “Less bells and whistles means less ingredients to irritate you.” On top of reading labels and looking for mascaras with the least amount of ingredients, opt for formulas that are mineral-free, hypoallergenic, and ophthalmologist-tested, Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City, tells Health.
Go basic black
Avoid colored mascaras, since these have dyes in them that are more likely to bother sensitive eyes, advises Dr. Jaliman. Besides, you are way too sophisticated to look like a 1980s prom queen.
Budge-proof sounds good, until you have to scrub yourself raw trying to get it (somewhat) off. “Waterproof formulas are harder to remove,” which means your sensitive eyes and skin don’t get a break, Dr. Lattman notes. Yes you may get the occasional smudge, but isn’t that better than itchy, irritated eyes? Or your contacts popping right out on you?
Ignore the beauty insiders
So the latest makeup vlogger commands you to wriggle that wand in super close to the lash line. Eye doctors beg you not to. “Avoid the base of the lashes and the lower lash line,” Dr. Lattman instructs. And P.S., when wearing eyeliner, skip the waterline (that flat inner rim of the eye inside the lash line) to avoid getting a bacterial eye infection.
Take. It. All. Off.
You know this. I know this. But we still sometimes crash without removing our eye makeup. (At least I do. You’re probably more disciplined.) Nothing good comes of this habit; it contributes to blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelid that leads to a gritty sensation and tearing. Dr. Lattman is a fan of gently scrubbing lashes and lids with Almay Oil-Free Gentle Eye Makeup Remover Pads ($9; amazon.com): “It’s like giving a shampoo to your lashes.”
Know when to say ‘It’s not me, it’s you’
Relationships change and that beloved mascara you’ve been loyal to since college may suddenly bug the hell out of you. “I have women who have used a product for years and say, ‘All of a sudden I have redness, irriation and a scaly appearance—that’s an allergy to the product.'” It’s time to part ways.
Oh and one other key tip from the doctor: “Throw mascara away every three months because bacteria can definitely build up and cause an infection.”
Start with these picks
Looking for a tube that fits the bill for finicky eyes? Below, you’ll find the 10 best mascaras for sensitive eyes. Keep in mind, though, that everyone has different sensitivities, so remember to start with a patch test, as the doctors recommended.
- Maybelline Full ‘N Soft Washable Mascara
- Clinique High Impact Mascara
- Tetyana Naturals 4D Fiber Lash Mascara
- Neutrogena Healthy Volume Mascara
- Tarte Cosmetics Lights, Camera, Lashes 4-in-1 Mascara
- 100% Pure Fruit Pigmented Ultra Lengthening Mascara
- Lancome Definicils High Definition Mascara
- Honest Beauty Extreme Length Mascara + Lash Primer
- Ilia Limitless Lash Mascara
- Blinc Mascara
Maybelline Full ‘N Soft Washable Mascara
To buy: $8; amazon.com
You don’t have to break the bank for a gentle, non-irritating formula. This ophthalmologist-tested drugstore mascara is packed with vitamin E to soften and protect lashes, and is safe for contact lens-wearers. Plus, it’s super easy to remove, so lashes stay intact.
“I have been using this mascara for years,” says one shopper. “I have very sensitive eyes and this is one of the few that does not irritate them. I get compliments on a regular basis of how great my eyelashes look and have even had people ask me if I have eyelash extensions.”
Clinique High Impact Mascara
To buy: $20; sephora.com
Made without fragrance, mineral oil, or harmful parabens and phthalates, this mascara is ophthalmologist- and allergy-tested—so it meets all of Dr. Jaliman’s guidelines for sensitive eyes.
“I have yet to find a better mascara for the days I wear contacts. Every other mascara I've tried irritates my eyes and makes them water. This one doesn't!” raves a reviewer.
Tetyana Naturals 4D Fiber Lash Mascara
To buy: $18; amazon.com
The non-toxic, hypoallergenic formula used in this natural mascara is gentle enough for sensitive eyes and skin, but still delivers eye-popping lift, length, volume, and definition. Need more proof? Believe the 1,500 near-perfect customer reviews.
“I have scarce and short eyelashes and this mascara gives me volume and length,” shares a customer. “Also, I wear contact lenses and have sensitive eyes and can wear it the whole day with no problem. Remove it with water or disposable facial wipes. I'm very satisfied with this eyelash mascara!!!”
Neutrogena Healthy Volume Mascara
To buy: $8; walmart.com
Another amazing drugstore pick, this dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested mascara features almond oil to nourish and protect, while olive oil conditions lashes to make them appear up to 400% fuller—all for an affordable price.
“This is the only mascara that doesn't make my lashes fall out,” writes one buyer on Neutrogena's site. “I love the natural look and formula too. No smudging, no flaking and no more teary eyes!”
Tarte Cosmetics Lights, Camera, Lashes 4-in-1 Mascara
To buy: $23; sephora.com
Not only does Tarte’s best-selling mascara curl, lengthen, volumize, and condition lashes, but the hypoallergenic formula is also made without mineral oils and gluten, so it’s safe for contact-wearers and those with sensitive skin or eyes.
“I've had to stop wearing mascara for the last few years because of extreme eye sensitivities. Between contact lenses and allergies, every mascara on the market seemed to make my eyes itch, water, or burn. I tried Lights, Camera, Lashes on a recommendation from an associate at my local store, and have now purchased several tubes without any reaction at all! My lashes look great—thick, full, and defined without being clumpy. I have no smudging or smearing, which, with contact lenses, is very unusual,” notes a shopper.
100% Pure Fruit Pigmented Ultra Lengthening Mascara
To buy: $26; dermstore.com
This all-natural mascara is formulated with provitamin B5, vitamin E, and oat and wheat proteins to boost lash health and offer a smudge-free, glamorous look for those with sensitive eyes.
“I've used this mascara for awhile now and I love it. It doesn't clump and makes my lashes look beautiful. I love knowing I'm putting a healthier product on and near my eyes. I have sensitive eyes and this does not bother me at all,” says a reviewer.
Lancome Definicils High Definition Mascara
To buy: $28; sephora.com
Similar to a magnet, this formula clings to lashes through electrical attraction, ensuring a thick, even coat in just one swipe. The mascara is also ophthalmologist-tested and fragrance-free, making it perfect for contact lens-wearers and those with eye sensitivities.
“This is the best mascara I have ever used,” shares a customer. “I have extremely sensitive eyes and thin eyelashes and this mascara is amazing, lashes are instantly fuller and long, no clumping and no itchy or watery eyes, highly recommend.”
Honest Beauty Extreme Length Mascara + Lash Primer
To buy: $15; amazon.com
Acting as both a primer and a mascara, this 2-in-1 tube preps lashes for intense color and then follows up by creating volume, definition, and dramatic length. It’s made without parabens, paraffins, mineral oils, and fragrances, so it’s especially safe for those who suffer from dry eyes.
“I've tried dozens of mascaras and they allllll irritate my eyes... until now! This one is AMAZING, and the price point is perfect! With super sensitive eyes, I probably only wear mascara once a week if that, so that 3 month expiration rolls around quickly with a lot left. This one doesn't hurt and it's a great price so I HIGHLY recommend!!!” raves a buyer.
Ilia Limitless Lash Mascara
To buy: $28; sephora.com
This volumizing mascara is a healthy choice for eyes since it’s made with 99% natural ingredients and won’t irritate skin or damage lashes. The formula boasts nourishing and strengthening ingredients like shea butter and keratin, while still providing high-impact lift and definition for lush lashes.
“I have very sensitive eyes. Finding suitable products is very difficult. This is the first time in years I'm able to wear mascara. Ilia products are life altering for me. The gentle natural ingredients mean I don't have red irritated eyes in seconds,” writes one reviewer.
To buy: $28; sephora.com
If taking off your mascara at the end of the day leaves you with red, itchy eyes, this tubing mascara is for you. The formula envelopes each lash in an individual tube—giving you crazy volume and definition without smudging or clumps—but can just as easily be removed with warm water before bed (no eye scrubbing required).
“I LOVE this mascara. Honestly, it doesn't smudge, it doesn't irritate my sensitive eyes, it is worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY of its cost,” shares a customer.
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