For those with sensitive eyes or skin, finding the best mascara takes a little more care and attention.
Whether you’re going for understated, bare-faced chic or night-on-the-town drama, you’re almost certain to finish your makeup look with a slick (or three) of mascara. The power of this eye-opening product can be illustrated by the fact that, in the UK alone, one of Maybelline’s most-loved mascaras sells every 2 seconds. That said, picking out this makeup essential isn’t that simple for everyone; those with skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea or those who are sensitive to dust, allergies and contact lenses know this firsthand. As the eyes (and the delicate skin surrounding them) are more susceptible to redness and itching than other parts of the face, it makes sense to spend time finding the best mascara formulated for sensitivities – meaning one that’s gentler, and therefore less irritative.
Skincare brands such as Clinique and La Roche-Posay, which have reputations for understanding and caring for all types of skin, apply the same rigour to their makeup ranges – the result being some standout mascaras for sensitive eyes. But they aren’t alone in this corner of the makeup market, as we are about to see.
How to choose the best mascara for you?
If you have sensitive skin or eyes and already know the culprit, be sure to give the ingredients list a good scan before parting with your cash. But, if you’re not actually sure what it is that causes you irritation, going fragrance-free is a good plan of action, as is choosing a mascara that’s labelled hypoallergenic.
Labelling to look out for
Generally, a product marked as ‘hypoallergenic’ has been created using ingredients that typically cause fewer allergic reactions. It’s worth noting, however, that there aren’t strict regulations around the usage of the term in relation to cosmetics, so while a hypoallergenic product might reduce the chances of a reaction, the absence of irritation is not guaranteed.
For some added peace of mind, other useful terms to look out for on packaging include ‘allergy tested,’ ‘ophthalmologist tested’ and ‘ophthalmologically tested.’
The best way to test
Before committing to a new mascara, it could be worth carrying out a patch test. Simply swipe a little on your outer lashes and leave it there for a few hours. If it doesn’t give you any discomfort, take it as a green light to apply it all over your eyelashes or, if you’re still anxious, apply it from the mid-lengths upwards.
Bin products that are past it
As a general rule, you should throw out mascaras that are more than six months old (discard them sooner if they’ve started to dry up) and always avoid sharing them. Kept too long and mishandled, mascaras can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, and no-one wants an eye infection!
Preparation is key - application and removal
What’s in your mascara is only one piece of the puzzle – another is how it’s applied and removed. According to makeup artist Kenneth Soh, a few small tweaks to your technique could make a world of difference. “I would always start with a good lash curler,” he says. “You’ll be amazed at how much more defined your lashes will look, which means you will only need a light coat of mascara.” Kenneth also recommends applying mascara as close as you can get to the root, without actually allowing the product to come into contact with the skin of the eyelid.
When removing your mascara at the end of the day, take extra care and give it time – excessive scrubbing or several rounds of heavy-handed cleansing will only worsen sensitivity. Waterproof mascaras are a great option for those whose eyes water at the drop of a hat (a common occurrence for the sensitive) but try swapping traditional formulas for a tubing mascara instead. They work by wrapping lashes in a fine film of flake-proof polymers and are easily removed with warm water. Your eyes will thank you.
Want more specifics? Here are eight of our favourite mascaras, designed with sensitive eyes in mind.
The best mascaras for sensitive eyes you can buy right now
1. Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes 4-in-1 Mascara
Best mascara for: An all-rounder
Looking for high impact? Then you’ll love this vegan pick. Ophthalmologist and dermatologist-tested, it’s a great all-rounder; it volumises, curls, lengthens and conditions thanks to the combination of its super-black pigment and ‘lash-lifting’ brush (made up of short and long bristles). Rest assured, no lash will be left behind.
2. Essence Lash Princess False Lash Effect Mascara
Best mascara for: Value
Coming in at under a fiver, this mascara provides an ample amount of lash for your cash. It’s conical-shaped tapered brush makes it adept at a multitude of skills, namely boosting volume, lift and length in one fell swoop.
It’s ophthalmologically tested and, unlike mascaras with chunkier wands, is narrow enough to make even the smallest lashes stand out.
3. Honest Beauty Extreme Length Mascara + Lash Primer
Best mascara for: A two-in-one option
This two-in-one option – with its dual-ended packaging, containing both primer and mascara – takes lash lengthening to the next level.
Also ophthalmologist tested, it’s stiff competition for the other sensitive mascaras out there; simply apply the primer, wait 30 seconds and then flip the tube to swipe on the ultra-rich mascara. It feels surprisingly lightweight.
4. Clinique Lash Power Mascara
Best mascara for: A smudge-free finish
This allergy- and ophthalmologist-tested tubing mascara is kind to eyes from application to removal. Its slim yet dense wand is great at lengthening lower and upper lashes and providing smudge- and waterproof definition, ensuring that – whether you’re applying or removing it – you needn’t compromise on comfort to get results.
5. Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Nourishing Mascara
Best mascara for: Clump-free lashes
If you’re looking for a clump-free look that’s more understated daytime drama than late-night glam, this one’s for you.
Ophthalmologist-tested, and with a wand that provides great separation, this mascara’s nourishing formula contains a conditioning cocktail of jojoba oil and glycerin to keep lashes hydrated.
6. La Roche-Posay Toleriane Volume Mascara
Best mascara for: Volume
When it comes to sensitive skin, La Roche-Posay knows its stuff. One of the best skincare brands around for those prone to irritation and redness, its skills extend to its makeup line too.
Particularly great for volume, this mascara’s allergy-tested formula is also enriched with a lash health-boosting serum to provide eye-opening results (both short- and long-term). Interesting fact: it was used by makeup artist extraordinaire Val Garland on a very mascara allergic Dame Judi Dench for her Vogue cover shoot.
7. Glossier Lash Slick
Best mascara for: Lengthening
With clever Japanese fibre tech for length, vegan biotin for health and shine polymers for glossy looking lashes, this mascara offers both style and substance.
Ideal for perfecting a feathery, fanned-out flutter, its formula is also allergy-, dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested to ensure it’s incredibly comfortable to wear.
8. Hourglass Unlocked Instant Extensions Mascara
Best mascara for: A tubing option
If your skin is particularly sensitive to eye makeup removers, this fantastic vegan tubing mascara provides the perfect solution. It can be removed with warm water alone, but provides weather- and flake-proof protection to ensure that it doesn’t come off until you’re ready for it to.
Not only does this ophthalmologist-tested product provide brilliant length, lift and separation but, for those suffering from gluten-related sensitivities, it’s also gluten-free.