The Best Natural Mascara (25+ Products Ranked!)
Our team of experts took a deep dive into the world of mascaras. We looked at 20+ of the most popular mascara brands that market themselves as clean or natural to see if the claims hold true.
Today we’ll be looking at…
- Why you should use a natural mascara.
- Why not all mascaras labeled “clean” are actually natural.
- Ingredients to avoid in conventional mascara.
- Why preservatives are important in mascara.
- The best natural mascaras and the results of our research.
If you had to assemble a makeup kit for a desert island survival, chances are that mascara would be pretty high up the list. For many people, mascara is a must-have daily wear, whether you rock a full face of makeup or not.
But how many of the most popular mascaras on drugstore and department store shelves are as non-toxic as they claim?
In this guide, you’ll learn about the best clean mascaras that do what they claim to do – give your eyelashes a beautiful boost without exposing you or your family to toxic ingredients.
Why You Should Use a Natural Mascara
While many people have leaped into clean beauty in recent years, some believe that because mascara is applied to the lashes and not directly to the skin, it’s perfectly safe to use whether or not it’s clean.
Here are just a few of the reasons why you should consider using natural mascara.
Because it’s better for your eyes.
The eyes are an extremely delicate part of the body, and chemicals are readily absorbed through them. There are thin mucous membranes that lead directly to the bloodstream, and conventional mascaras often contain chemicals like parabens, petrochemicals, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances, all of which can be harmful to your health.
Because it’s better for your lashes.
Using clean, all-natural mascara can help improve lash health and encourage longer growth. When you use healthy mascaras that don’t contain harmful chemicals and toxicants, you can lessen your lashes’ exposure to irritants and soothe the delicate skin on and around your lashes.
Using clean mascaras can also help strengthen and protect eyelashes over time because they nourish lash follicles with natural oils and other ingredients.
Because it’s better for the environment.
When you use clean, green beauty products like organic mascaras, not only are you nourishing your skin and hair with healthful ingredients, but you’re also using fewer chemicals that could contaminate the environment.
Clean mascaras are an excellent alternative to conventional mascaras because they contain safe, natural ingredients and are the least likely to contribute to adverse health effects.
The Problem With Waterproof Mascara
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of over 9,000 human-made chemicals that have been used since the 1950s in many consumer products, including cosmetics. PFAS are added to cosmetics like lipstick and mascara to make them more durable, water-resistant, and long-lasting.
A 2021 study out of the University of Notre Dame tested 231 frequently-used makeup products, including liquid foundation, concealer, blush, lipsticks, and mascara.
Of the 32 mascaras tested—47% of them contained high levels of total fluorine, indicating likely PFAS presence.
The researchers looked at a total of 11 waterproof mascaras, and a whopping 82% of them tested positive for fluorine. Additionally, the chemical analyses also identified many different types of PFAS within a single mascara product so many mascaras contain mixtures of PFAS.
PFAS have been linked to a number of potential health problems, including:
- Suppressed immune response and increased risk of infections
- Liver toxicity, including increased liver enzymes, fatty liver disease, and liver cancer
- Kidney toxicity, including reduced kidney function and kidney cancer
- Reproductive and developmental toxicity, including reduced fertility, pregnancy-induced hypertension, low birth weight, delayed development
- Cancer, including testicular, kidney, pancreatic cancer
- Obesity and metabolic disorders, including insulin resistance and diabetes
- Endocrine disruption, including effects on estrogen, androgen and thyroid hormone levels
Poor Disclosure of PFAS
The study unmasked a distressing lack of transparency in the labeling of PFAS within product ingredients. An alarmingly meager 3% of the 29 products that identified PFAS in the study were found to disclose the presence of any PFAS components on their labels.
This pervasive use of PFAS, coupled with inadequate labeling, particularly in everyday beauty products like mascaras, raises serious concerns over potential human and environmental health ramifications.
The researchers sternly highlight the need for substantial improvement in PFAS labeling protocols and intensification of regulatory oversight for these substances within the personal care product industry.
Not All “Clean” Mascaras are Actually Non-Toxic
The truth is that not all mascaras are created equal, and even if you’re using a clean mascara, there’s no guarantee it’s free of potentially harmful chemicals.
While many companies advertise their products as natural and clean mascara, although they contain toxic ingredients, some truly craft high-quality, non-toxic mascaras made with nourishing ingredients.
In an unregulated industry, it’s hard to know which brands are genuinely producing quality products free from toxicants and irritants. This is why at Better Goods we dive deep into the ingredients and claims in specific products to find the actual best natural mascara products.
Ingredients to Avoid in Conventional Mascara
Preservatives like methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben are commonly found in cosmetic products, listed innocuously on ingredient labels. However, research has raised concerns about their safety, linking these compounds to cancer, hormone disruption and reproductive harm at high concentrations.
Parabens can be absorbed through the skin, yet they are not prohibited under the USDA’s National Organic Program. This regulatory loophole allows parabens to be included in products labeled “organic”—something savvy consumers should watch out for. Most importantly, the most recent review on paraben safety in cosmetics shows that although concentrations of parabens are quite low in individual products, using many different cosmetic products simultaneously could result in adverse health outcomes.
In contrast, the European Union has banned parabens in cosmetics since 2012, due to the potential risks.
Parabens may also be listed on ingredient lists as:
Artificial fragrances are commonly added to cosmetics, including mascara, to give the product a pleasant scent or to mask the smell of other ingredients.
However, these fragrances often contain a mix of numerous chemicals, many of which are not disclosed on product labels due to being considered trade secrets.
This lack of transparency can lead to exposure to potentially harmful substances, which typically result in eye irritation, without consumers’ knowledge.
Low levels of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are included in cosmetics as these chemical compounds slowly release formaldehyde over time. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can cause asthma and skin rashes at certain concentrations.
Some examples of these ingredients include (but aren’t limited to):
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
- Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol )
The potential risks of dyes in makeup products—as opposed to food—remain uncertain. However, since mascara is used around a sensitive area (the eyes), we recommend avoiding it.
Carbon black pigment provides the rich, dark color we expect from volumizing mascara. But this popular ingredient also carries health concerns—it’s a possible carcinogen and one form is no longer approved for use in eye makeup. Other forms of carbon blackmake it into many conventional mascaras.
Protect your eyes by choosing clean mascaras made with safer alternatives like iron oxide, mineral pigments, black tea extract and coconut-derived black pigments.
Triethanolamine (TEA) serves several functions in cosmetics, acting mainly as a surfactant, a pH adjuster, or a preservative. It’s important to note that regulatory bodies in the European Union and Canada have implemented strict guidelines regarding the concentration levels and usage of TEA in beauty products, reinforcing the need for caution.
There is a degree of evidence indicating that triethanolamine could be carcinogenic at elevated doses. While oral carcinogenicity studies have not found TEA to be cancer-inducing in rats or mice, it has been linked to kidney toxicity in rats, with female rats exhibiting increased susceptibility.
Additionally, it has been found that TEA is safe at low concentrations but should not be used in combination with n-nitroso compounds so be on the look out for products with TEA and n-nitroso on the ingredient list. This evidence underscores the necessity for careful scrutiny of ingredients, especially in products used in sensitive areas like the eyes.
The Importance of Preservatives in Mascara
Preservatives play a crucial role in mascara by preventing the growth of bacteria, mold, and other microbes. Without effective preservatives, mascara would quickly become a hotbed of contamination.
When used around the sensitive eye area, preservatives are especially important. Contaminated mascara can lead to eye infections and inflammation if harmful bacteria or fungi build up in the formula. Proper preservation ensures the mascara stays fresh and safe to use for its entire shelf life.
Better preservatives: Look for ingredients like sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, or ascorbic acid for safer alternatives.
The Best Natural Mascaras, Analyzed by Better Goods
We took a deep dive into the ingredients to find the best clean mascaras you can feel safe using.
We looked at social media, popular online shops, and reviews across the review 25+ of the most popular mascara brands labeling themselves as clean beauty. They’re rated on this scale:
– These products are the best of the best. They contain all-clean ingredients, are non-toxic and are often the best choice for our environment.
– These products are typically quite good, but don’t go above and beyond like our best choices.
– These products are typically okay, but have some issues that make us unable to give them a “Good” rating. Often times they contain ingredients that are questionable.
– These products typically have toxic ingredients or issues that make them dangerous or unsuitable to use. These products should typically be avoided.
How We Analyze Products
At Better Goods, we’re passionate about offering dependable, evidence-based insights to help you make informed and safe buying decisions. We recognize how complex and misleading marketing can be, so we ensure our product advice is clear and grounded in research.
We scrutinize each ingredient found in the items listed in our extensive Better Goods database. This review involves careful analysis of data from trusted sources like the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), EU’s CosIng, and peer-reviewed studies. This rigorous procedure ensures we provide you with recommendations for products that prioritize safety and quality.
August 2023 update: added 5 new products:
- e.l.f. Cosmetics – Big Mood Mascara
- Flower Beauty – Warrior Princess Mascara
- Rose INC. – Ultra-Black Lash Lift Serum Mascara
- Tower 28 Beauty – Make Waves Lengthening & Volumizing Mascara
- Saie – 101 Lengthening and Lifting Mascara
All Mascaras Rated: Best
Of the 15+ clean mascaras we looked at, these were the best of the best.
This mascara from Burt’s Bees has a clean list of ingredients and is reasonably-priced. Beeswax makes up a large amount of the formula of this product, making it non-vegan.
Lili Lolo’s Natural Vegan Mascara easily meets our standards for a non-toxic and clean mascara. The formulation contains no ingredients we recommend avoiding, and as a bonus, it’s 100% vegan.
This clean mascara from RMS Beauty has a great list of ingredients, many of which are organic. None of them are on our list of ingredients to avoid, making this a safe choice for a clean mascara.
Pacifica’s Stellar Gaze Mascara is a clean mascara you can feel safe using. It’s also safe for sensitive eyes, and contains no irritating ingredients in the formulation.
This mascara from Physicians Formula is an example of a great clean mascara with natural ingredients. It should be noted that it contains beeswax, making it a non-vegan product. It’s also very affordable, making this one of our top recommendations for a clean mascara.
All Mascaras Rated: Good
These mascaras are safe to use but don’t quite go above and beyond like the products we rated Best.
You’ll find a clean list of ingredients in the Limitless Lash Mascara from Ilia. While more expensive than others we reviewed, this is a cult favorite that we can recommend.
The Honest Company
The Honest Company’s Extreme Length Mascara + Lash Primer has a clean formulation with only glyceryl behenate standing out. While not technically an unsafe ingredient, it is a recognized irritant and you may wish to avoid it if you have sensitive skin or eyes.
Glyceryl behenate is the only ingredient that stands out in a list of otherwise great ingredients. This ingredient can be irritating to sensitive eyes, so you may wish to avoid it if this applies to you.
This waterproof mascara is made from a clean list of ingredients, making it a clean mascara worth giving a try.
La Bouche Rogue
Le Sérum Noir from La Bouche Rouge is a clean mascara with a safe list of ingredients. Glyceryl behenate is the only ingredient to watch out for, as it can be an irritant to sensitive eyes and skin.
Sappho New Paradigm
Sappho New Paradigm’s vegan mascara has a clean list of ingredients, and its only real downside is that it’s more expensive than other comparable mascaras we reviewed.
Josie Maran’s Argan Black Oil Mascara is a clean mascara with no ingredients we recommend avoiding. It contains 100% organic argan oil, and beeswax is a main ingredient, making it a non-vegan product.
This mascara from Saie meets our standards for clean and non-toxic, and comes recommended.
This mascara from Rose Inc. meets our standards for clean mascara. You might notice that it contains two iffy ingredients—these are both preservatives which we consider okay at Better Goods. It’s extremely important for mascara to have preservatives of some kind, so we give this one a good rating.
All Mascaras Rated: Iffy
These mascaras had a few issues that make us unable to recommend them over those with better ingredients.
This mascara from W3LL People has a relatively clean list of ingredients, with titanium dioxide being the only one that’s remotely iffy. Because many of the other mascaras we reviewed have better ingredients, we have to rate this product lower than others.
Because this mascara contains titanium dioxide, we recommend avoiding it and using one of the better rated mascaras we reviewed.
Although the ingredients of this mascara from Tarte are okay, it contains cyclopentasiloxane. For this reason, we cannot recommend it over other mascaras we reviewed that had safer ingredients.
Aminomethyl propanol isn’t toxic in itself, but it can sometimes be contaminated with nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. While the risk of this is small, because other clean mascaras we reviewed didn’t have this ingredient, they are safer choices.
Tower 28 Beauty
Unfortunately, aminomethyl propanol stands out amongst an otherwise clean list of mascara ingredients. While this is only an iffy ingredient, there are many other mascaras we reviewed that don’t have this one, so we cannot recommend it.
Drew Barrymore’s Flower Beauty comes so close in terms of offering a clean mascara. However, the inclusin of aminomethyl propanol—an ingredient that can be contaminated with toxicants—makes us unable to recommend it over others we anallyzed.
Unsurprisingly, this mascara from Elf doesn’t meet our standards for safety. With several ingredients we recommend avoiding, we cannot recommend this product.
All Mascaras Rated: Avoid
Four of the mascaras we reviewed received a rating of Bad. This is because they contain ingredients that we always recommend avoiding.
This elf mascara has both triethanolamine and carbon black, two chemicals on our list of ingredients to avoid. Therefore, we also strongly recommend avoiding this mascara as well.
This mascara contains triethanolamine, a toxic ingredient. For this reason, we recommend avoiding this mascara.
There’s nothing clean about this mascara from Clinique. We recommend avoiding this mascara and purchasing one with better ingredients.
With both triethanolamine and several parabens, this mascara from Neutrogena is one we recommend avoiding.
When it comes to finding a safe and clean mascara, you have plenty of options. We’ve analyzed the best of the best so that you can feel confident about what you’re putting on your lashes.
Any of the clean mascaras we rated best and good are safe to use, and we recommend looking through our specific reviews for more detailed information.
Do you know of a product we haven’t covered? Let us know! Join the discussion below.