Mascara is supposed to give you long lashes for days — but if you've got sensitive eyes, the beauty staple can be tricky.
The stinging and watery eyes resulting from specific formulas might be enough to make some stop wearing mascara altogether. Still, you don't have to miss out on its impressive prowess just because your eyes are a little sensitive.
Shop TODAY turned to celebrity makeup artists to see which mascaras they rely on for clients dealing with sensitive eyes. We also talked to an optometrist for their insight on what causes irritation, along with some helpful tips on how to best take off your makeup.
What's the best kind of mascara for sensitive eyes?
"The best mascaras for sensitive eyes are those that are hypoallergenic and are not waterproof," said therapeutic optometrist Reena Patel, O.D.
To avoid any allergic reaction or irritation with other mascaras, Patel recommended doing a patch test and checking for expiration dates and outdated products that "can cause allergic reactions and bacterial buildup on the eyelids."
From drugstore finds to indulgent picks, the experts' recommendations include an option for every budget.
Best mascaras for sensitive eyes, according to experts
"This is the classic go-to product most mascara lovers can’t live without, and many beauty lovers have had a long relationship with it," celebrity makeup artist Brandy Allen said. "Not only is it ideal for contact lens wearers, it’s also hypoallergenic and ophthalmologist-tested."
One Target shopper said they even use it for their eyebrows. "My brows are very hard to tame for a good period of time but this mascara hold my brow hairs in place all day doesn't flake off," they wrote.
"This vegan mascara contains vitamin C to help condition your lashes and keep them strong and healthy. The mascara brush also makes your lashes look thicker and longer," said celebrity makeup artist Archangela Chelsea.
Made without parabens, sulfates or phthalates, the brand says it contains Amazonian clay to "hydrate and replenish dry and brittle lashes to prevent fallout" and even calls it a "lash treatment and mascara in one."
"It builds volume and length plus keep lashes hydrated without drying up, which can make sensitive eyes more irritated,” said celebrity makeup artist Nick Barose.
Available in both waterproof and non-waterproof formulas, this pro pick boasts benefits like being hypoallergenic, fragrance-free and non-irritating.
"This is one of my favorite mascaras, and achieves a luscious look with just one stroke. It has natural beeswax that delivers instant volume without irritating the eye," said Allen.
Defined by the brand as a "high-precision mascara," this luxe designer option has a brush that is designed with both long and short bristles to give you a full-fanned lash effect. "This mascara loves my eyelashes and they love it," raved one Macy's reviewer.
The unique S-shaped brush is designed to make sure no eyelash is left behind, according to the brand. It touts benefits like no clumping or flaking and keeping your eyes free of the dreaded raccoon look.
"Eyeko mascaras use tubing technology, so each eyelash is essentially shrink-wrapped in a sheath of the product. This means it won't flake or dry out and crumble once applied," said celebrity makeup artist James McMahon.
This mascara is packed with powerhouse ingredients to offer a variety of benefits: caffeine to "wake up lashes," shea butter and castor oil to nourish and biotin to thicken lashes, just to name a few.
"This mascara is in every makeup artist's kit," said Rumsey. "The formula and the wand are perfection. It never dries out or flakes, which is key for sensitive eyes."
It boasts a unique formula that builds lashes to five times their natural length. It contains panthenol and a ceramide to help protect and condition lashes, according to the description.
“The tubular, smudge-proof, flake-free formula is great for sensitive eyes, and has a lot less ‘run off.’ It’s my secret weapon!” said Los Angeles-based makeup artist Brett Freedman.
According to the brand, this long-wearing formula lasts 24 hours through any conditions including rain, sweat, humidity and even tears. One Ulta reviewer said they put it to the test during a two hour heated yoga class and the mascara successfully stayed put the entire time.
"This mascara offers a beautiful application and contains more than 90 percent natural and naturally-derived ingredients. It contains vitamin B5 and natural oils and waxes to condition your lashes," said Ashley Humphreys, makeup artist and owner of the beauty line Nude & Noir Cosmetics.
One reviewer said they've been using it for years and it "never clumps, washes off easily but doesn’t smear or flake, and they love the brush" for the way it separates lashes easily.
"This mascara is infused with coconut oil and vitamin B to hydrate, lengthen and strengthen each lash," Humphreys said. "The supernova color is a beautiful jet black and does not clump or flake."
The vegan brand says its their bestselling mascara and shoppers are raving about how well it works. One Ulta reviewer even called it an "excellent mascara for mature women."
"The shea butter and keratin in this mascara hydrates and strengthens your lashes. The wand is great for a one-swipe application," Rumsey said.
Made without parabens, this water-resistant tubing mascara boasts color and hold that lasts for more than 12 hours. According to the brand, it doesn't run, smudge, crumble or flake, so you can enjoy the day (or night) without constantly searching for a mirror.
"99.8 percent of the agriculturally-derived ingredients in the Kjaer Weis Mascara are from organic sources and are safe for sensitive eyes," said Humphreys. "It is a higher price point for mascara, but they do offer a refill for a lower price once you finish your initial product."
The brand says the wand is precise enough to deposit "just the right amount of mascara for smudge-resistant, flake-free flutter."
Best mascaras for sensitive eyes, according to shoppers
With a formula that the brand says is 99 percent naturally derived, it's deemed to be gentle enough for sensitive eyes and contains ingredients like shea butter and keratin to help give your lashes a boost.
"I rarely leave reviews but for this item I had to!" one enthused Amazon reviewer wrote. "I have sensitive eyes and no irritation at all! This product makes my lashes the longest and fullest I've ever seen (without looking clumpy)."
Get that false lash effect with this iconic mascara from Essence. The product features a conic shape fiber that delivers dramatic volume and added length, plus the vitamin E and phenoxyethanol in the formula help your lashes last all day without a smudge. Almost 209,000 customers gave this product five stars for its long-lasting results.
"Let me put this in perspective: I live in Florida, and I wore this mascara to work every single day for the last year in the heat/humidity (including all through the summer) and they stayed on my lashes better than any other brand of mascara I've used," said one Amazon customer.
This Covergirl mascara is designed to give you a fuller look and more volume, thanks to the brush that evenly coats each lash without leaving clumps behind. Your mascara will stay put even if your eyes get watery thanks to the added phenoxyethanol, while the formula's vitamin E should ensure a smear-proof and conditioned set of lashes.
One Amazon reviewer said this mascara "does not fade and it doesn't ever flake on my under eye even in very hot humid weather."
Make your eyes look bigger with this volumizing mascara. The product goes on smooth on the lashes and gives them a thicker look, and the combination of hydrogenated jojoba oil and palm oil are essential to add that extra vitamin to your lashes. Most Amazon reviewers also love how this mascara leaves no clumps even though it adds a fake effect.
"I'm always looking for a mascara than thickens my lashes without being clumpy. This one fits the bill and I will definitely buy again," said one shopper.
Frequently asked questions
Why do my eyes burn when I wear mascara?
According to Patel, most mascaras usually contain fragrances, preservatives and dyes, which makes the formulation a common culprit that causes irritated eyes and eyelids.
"Some mascaras even contain nickel and other metals, so those that are allergic to nickel may experience a negative reaction," she said.
What is the best way to remove mascara?
The best way to remove mascara is with a cotton pad to ensure "that individual cotton fibers don't break loose and enter the eye," Patel advised.
She also suggested using a "cleansing oil and wiping the mascara off in the direction of your lashes, from top to bottom rather than rubbing from side to side." If you wear contact lenses, she mentioned that it's a good idea to remove them before wiping off the mascara.
"The oils from makeup removers can build on the contact lenses and create a film over the lens, leading to a blurry and uncomfortable...experience," she added.