Irritated, itchy eyes aren't necessarily just a problem for those with sensitive skin - here's how to find a mascara that amplifies lashes without the discomfort
A sensitivity to mascara could be due to any number of reasons; the ingredients themselves, the material or harshness of the brush, or even a poor formula - because frankly if it's going to dry up, make your lashes brittle and flake into your eyes, it probably will cause discomfort whether you're sensitive or not. I'm lucky that I don't tend to react to makeup, and have only ever reacted to one mascara - but as someone who suffers with allergies and hay fever, I know that a poor formula will only add to my streaming, itching eyes.
Before I delve in though, a disclaimer: firstly, I think whether or not a mascara works for you is very much down to the lashes you're working with (which is why if you ask a group of women for their favourite, it'll vary wildly). Secondly, I think it's fairly universally acknowledged that this is one area where organic and natural brands are still falling a little behind. They've improved dramatically, but if drama is what you're looking for in a mascara then they may leave you disappointed - but, perhaps, with less irritation. We are not yet in a beauty world where we can have it all. Or are we?
Personally, I use a synthetic formula with a plastic wand - I find bristle brushes in mascaras a bit itchy in themselves, and they don't seem to comb through my lashes in the same way. However, Mother Nature was not kind and my weedy lashes need all the help they can get; if you have a fuller set, you'll have more choices at your disposal.
Know your no-nos
So where to start? As always with sensitivities, ingredients are key. Imelda Burke , Content Beauty's founder, agrees. Though sometimes it's even the colour pigments in a product that can cause issues, there are some less obvious culprits that everyone would do well to steer clear of:
Number one on the hit list is of course the bane of all sensitive souls' lives, perfume. "Why anyone would need their lashes to be perfumed I don't know," Imelda tells me. Quite. "But often fragrance is an ingredient used for masking other scents, so the concentration may be higher than you would imagine in your mascara."
"Many people who are gluten-intolerant or coeliac may not realise that some mascaras actually contain wheat particles, which can be a problem if you are sensitive to gluten in your diet," explains Imelda. If this is one you're wary of, be warned - it crops up even in some organic brands. Check your ingredients lists, twice.
"This is widely used as a gelling and thickening agent, making it ideal to add to mascara formulations but it is also one of the main ingredients in the solution used to make soap bubbles. Literally like putting soap in your eyes, for the sensitive," warns Imelda. Ouch. Again, I found this in one or two organic brands - so don't be fooled by natural claims.
"The concentration may be low in your mascara but EWG cite this as of high concern for irritation of the skin, eyes, or lungs," says Imelda. "If you are particularly sensitive, avoid this as it is often used as a solvent in perfume making and as a pesticide-free treatment against head lice, which works by dissolving the wax that covers the exoskeleton of head lice, killing them by dehydration. Dry, irritated eyes anyone?"
Finding a formula
But what if it’s not the ingredients that are the problem, but the way they work? "Most formulas are based on colour and wax which is why lashes can feel brittle or crunchy,” says Nina Leykind, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Eyeko. These more common formulas paint the lashes, but can often flake or feel dry once on.
So-called tubing formulas, however, coat the individual lashes in small tubes, going on wet, and then kind of shrink-wrapping and binding to your natural lashes, staying there come rain, sweat, cry or shine until you want to remove it - making it far less likely to irritate sensitive eyes.
"With Eyeko mascaras we use a combination of water, oil and wax combined with botanical blends that form ’tubes’ around the lashes and can be easily removed with warm water,” explains Nina. Most tubing mascaras advocate this kind of removal, too - despite being waterproof, with enough pressure (i.e. from your fingertips) the tubes will come away from your lashes, theoretically meaning you won’t need to worry about finding an eye makeup remover for your sensitive skin (though only if you’re wearing nothing but mascara, surely).
The best tubing mascaras
The irritating (excuse the pun) thing about this is that unlike Eyeko , brands rarely refer to themselves as using a ‘tubing’ formula - so it’s hard to know where to shop. A few of my other favourites are:
Clinique’s Lash Power Mascara, £20 - All of their products are fragrance free which is an excellent start, but this mascara is also fabulous for definition and separation. The GTG team also agree that their High Impact Mascara is probably the best we’ve ever used - if you want drama, this will give it to you by the bucketload (but not in the usual rash-filled way we sensitive folk have to experience).
Blinc Mascara , £18.50 - This brand is said to be the original tubing mascara and on its wonderfully informative website (three cheers for that, am I right?) explains how it works and why it’s great for sensitive fol.
Superdrug B Volumising Mascara in Waterproof , £9.99 - This range is really an unsung hero - budget-friendly and full of products that really deliver. This has a bristle wand which has managed to convince me that plastic isn’t always fantastic because the voluminous result was so impressive. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free.
The best organic mascaras
OK, so they probably won’t give you that false-lash effect that non-organics can, but if you care about your ingredients and a brand’s green credentials then organic mascaras are worth investigating. They are improving, too - the organic market is booming and brands know that mineral and organic makeup is the one they need to crack to convince beauty buyers to make the swap.
But are they really better for sensitive eyes? It’s debatable. As ophthalmologist, oculoplastic surgeon and leading aesthetic doctor Dr Maryam Zamani tells me, “I generally think the less ingredients, the better.” ‘Natural’ products usually have a far shorter list, making reactions less likely. But as with skincare, nature isn’t always a safe bet. "Just because some ingredients are good to eat does not mean they are good for the face. Almond, apricot kernal, avocado, cocoa butter, and sunflower can be culprits. Look out for anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe vera and oatmeal instead.”
Much like skincare for sensitive skin, only a test of the product will truly confirm whether it’s right for you - though of course it’s a little harder with lashes. For new mascaras I test them on my lower lashes only - it’s easier to swipe it away if an itch starts to form and there’s no other makeup there causing confusion as to the culprit. Application is also key, as Dr Zamani explains: "Most importantly when buying and using eye makeup products is to keep your cosmetics clean and do not share your products. Toss old makeup, and do not use mascara that has dried out. Try to use the mascara 1mm away from the base of the lash so that the mascara is only on the lash, not the root of the lash. Be careful with the colour of the eye products, particularly if you are using any reds - they often contain significant allergens."
Want a more natural option? Here are my favourite tried and tested organic mascaras:
Ilia Pure Mascara , £22 - My favourite of the natural bunch, this has an impressive plastic brush that’s thicker on one side than the other. It lengthens and thickens lashes surprisingly well and is free from synthetic preservatives.
Odylique Essential Care Mascara , £17.50 - Approved by the Soil Association, you can tell from first whiff that this is an organic product - it has a very herby, greenhouse-like scent. But if that’s what takes your fancy it’s a decent mascara - the fine bristle brush really grabs every single lash.
RMS Beauty Volumizing Mascara , £26 - A combination of organic plant waxes and raw minerals make this mascara formula - be warned, it does contain wheat starch so if you’re avoiding it this one isn’t for you. The fluffy bristle brush creates a very feathery, natural look on lashes, while still adding definition.
Neal’s Yard Remedies Lengthening Mascara , £16 - This 78% organic offering has a great plastic brush and really does provide both length and curl - I’d definitely opt for this one if I was going eyeliner free for a doe-eyed effect.
What’s your favourite mascara for sensitive eyes? Let me know in the comments!