In spring this year, I came out of new mom fog and realized I wanted to start looking a little more human. I decided I could find the time to apply a coat of mascara every morning (I’m running at about a 75% success rate). I also decided it was a great time to choose a safer mascara.
While I’ve reduced the number of toxins we’re exposed to in terms of food, cleaning products, and some body products, I’ve never really changed my cosmetics. My current goal is to slowly replace my cosmetics with safer alternatives as I run out of each product.
Why Safer Mascara?
The cosmetics industry is a $200 billion industry that is regulated by 1.5 total pages of federal law, with 1938 being the last year that a law was passed. At this point it is up to individual consumers to research product safety on their own.
Marketing terms like ‘all natural’ don’t actually mean anything when it comes to personal care products. It is perfectly legal to sell products that include chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other serious health issues, or ingredients for which we don’t have safety information.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require that cosmetics ingredients or products be approved before they go on the market, and the FDA has no power to recall a product from the market. 
It’s estimated that there are around 10,000 chemicals used in the cosmetics industry.  While the term ‘chemical’ is not in and of itself bad, everything is a chemical!, when there are 10,000 of them used and no regulation around their safety, you have to wonder what the actual cost of beauty is on our bodies.
Toxic chemicals can enter our bodies directly through our airways when we inhale particles from powders and sprays, and through our skin, lips and nails when we apply products. Not only do they enter our bodies, for those of us who are pregnant or may become pregnant, they can enter the cord blood of babies in utero. 
Here are just four ingredients often used in mascara, and why I don’t want them on my body:
- Parabens are a class of preservatives that are used in personal care products to prevent mold and bacteria growth. While that sounds great, parabens are endocrine disruptors, meaning that they mimic or disrupt hormones in the body, including estrogen. See here for more information on how parabens may be related to cancer.
- Aluminum Powder is finely ground aluminum particles that are used for coloring. It is known to be toxic to the human nervous system and it’s suspected that there are nano-scale ingredients that can be absorbed into the skin. 
- Retinyl Acetate is a harmful ingredient known to cause reproductive and developmental issues. From the EWG, it “produces excess reactive oxygen species that can interfere with cellular signaling, cause mutations, lead to cell death and may be implicated in cardiovascular disease.” In animal studies, low levels have been shown to form tumors. 
- Ethanolamines are used in cosmetics to emulsify water and oil-solable ingredients so that they mix together. They are linked to allergies, skin toxicity, and hormone disruption. 
I tried nine mascaras in total and the four mentioned below are the ones that I found to perform well enough to wear daily and recommend to you. I used a combination of mascaras that score a 1 or 2 on the EWG’s Skin Deep database, while excluding any that included the four ingredients above, to find a sample of mascaras to test. I also tried to find a good selection of price points and availability.
(The Skin Deep database is not perfect, and there are a few ingredients on which I disagree with it on safety. But it’s an excellent resource to screen your products and determine where they fall on the scale. I highly recommend downloading the app to use when shopping for new personal care products.)Learn why safer mascara matters, and find an option that is right for you! @smallbiteswellClick To Tweet
This list is intended to be a guide for those who don’t have the time or desire to seek out better options themselves, but want to start using either a safer or (an actual) all natural mascara.
What’s exciting is that there are many, many safer mascaras out on the market. At a cost of $10 – $30 per product, I simply couldn’t try them all.
If you’d like to explore yourself, there are seven and a half pages of mascaras that score a 1 and 2 on the Skin Deep database alone. And there are plenty of brands that are not included in the EWG Skin Deep database at this point, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make safer, high performing products. You can research the ingredients in these brands in the Skin Deep database to get a sense for where they might land in the rankings.
My Favorite Safer Mascaras
Before I share my findings, I want to share my intentions.
My intention is to reduce the number of toxins to which myself and my family are exposed by using safer products that perform as well as their conventional counterparts.
My intention is not to be perfect. My intention is not to win ‘best hippie’ or ‘greenest home’ awards. My intention is not to make my own products.
To that end, this is not a list of all natural mascara options. I know that it is important for some, and I will always try to include at least one all natural option in my posts in this series, when I find one that performs.
But I don’t think non-natural automatically means bad. I’m for products that use ingredients that have been screened and tested for safety. I’m for products that are safer. I’m for not stressing if I can’t find perfect, because you know what’s just as bad a toxins? Chronic stress about them.
With that, on to my favorite safer mascaras.
Best Performing Safer Mascara: Beautycounter Lengthening Mascara
Off all nine mascaras that I tried, the Beautycounter Lengthening Mascara was hands down my favorite.
It won me over with it’s thin wand that is perfect for easy, no-mess application, and it’s basically waterproof formula. While it’s not marketed as a waterproof mascara, it has never run, even a little bit. And I cry every time a college friend of mine posts about an animal in need on Facebook.
I loved that it dries almost immediately. I have a weird habit of sneezing as soon as I apply mascara, which usually means I end up with mascara marks under my eye that need to be wiped off. Not a problem with the Lengthening Mascara. One coat provides enough coverage for me, and I use coconut oil or Cleansing Balm to remove it in the evening.
My only wish is that it came in a black brown in addition to the soft black.
The Lengthening Mascara is rated a 2 in the EWG Skin Deep database, with two ingredient scoring a 3 and the remaining 26 earning a 1 or 2. It is not tested on animals in anyway, though it does contain beeswax so it is not vegan. You can purchase it directly from Beautycounter.
Full disclosure: I had been using Beautycounter skincare products for quite some time before this experiment started, and when I tried the mascara I realized that this company has really nailed safer and high performing. I decided to join the movement. Read more about why I made the decision to join Beautycounter, how I’m giving back through my business, and how you can receive a FREE MASCARA, right here.
Best All Natural Mascara: 100% Pure Black Tea Pigmented Ultra Lengthening Mascara
What 100% Pure can do with 100% natural ingredients is pretty amazing.
The Ultra Lengthening Mascara was a close runner up to the Beautycounter mascara in terms of staying power, which is amazing for a product in which every ingredient is all natural. I found that by the end of the day, I had a bit of residue under my eyes, though nothing I would consider unacceptable from a long day of wearing mascara.
The reason the Ultra Lengthening Mascara wasn’t the overall winner for me is that the formula is pretty wet, and the wand gets a little clumpy. It took me a while to get a really clean application, and I still have trouble if I blink (or sneeze) without it fully drying. Any cleanser works to remove it.
The Ultra Lengthening Mascara is rated a 2 in the EWG Skin Deep database, with all 22 ingredients scoring a 1 or 2. It is not tested on animals in anyway, and is listed as vegetarian as it contains beeswax. You can purchase it directly from 100% Pure.
Best Budget All Natural Mascara: Honeybee Gardens Truly Natural Mascara
Before trying Truly Natural Mascara, I did not think I was going to find a budget all natural mascara that performed well enough to recommend. I had tried several and just wasn’t impressed. I placed one more Amazon order and was so pleasantly surprised!
The Truly Natural Mascara wand is a nice size and not clumpy. The application is really smooth and not too wet. One coat was enough coverage for my needs. I was able to remove with a variety of cleansers.
Of all the mascaras that made the list, this one probably runs the most. But it’s nothing that I considered unacceptable, just more under-eye residue after a full day of wearing than the others. It’s listed as water-resistant and work-out proof, but not waterproof.
Best Safer Drugstore Mascara: Almay One Coat Get Up & Grow One Coat Waterproof Mascara
I was pleasantly surprised to find a drugstore mascara that is both safer and preforms well.
I picked up the Get Up & Grow Mascara from my local Walgreens. The staying power is above average, though for being marketed as waterproof, I did find a bit of smudging after a day of wear. Nothing unreasonable, but there was some. The formula was not clumpy at all and I found that one coat was enough for coverage. Any cleanser worked to remove.
I found the wand to be really large and a little unwieldy. I had a hard time not making a mess applying the mascara, especially in the corners of my eyes. I never quite figured out how to get a really clean application when reaching the hard to get lashes, and instead settled for wiping up my mess after.
Get Up & Grow Waterproof Mascara comes in black and black brown. Both score a 2, with 6 ingredients scoring a 3 and the remaining 28 scoring a 1 or 2. Note that the Get Up & Grow non waterproof products score a 3 overall in the database. You can purchase it in person at drugstores or on Amazon (black, black brown) and it is budget-friendly.
Do you have a favorite safer mascara? Let us know in the comments! What safer cosmetics (or any products!) would you like me to test and review next?
Don’t forget my October Beautycounter launch special where you can receive a free mascara. Details here!
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I'm a believer that we shouldn't have to compromise our health in the name of beauty. Or performance in the name of safety.