Say hello to my current favorite natural mascaras! These are my top three picks taking formulation, sustainability, budget and packaging into consideration while prioritizing performance.
By: Lisa Fennessy
Reviewed by: Kate Noonan
IN THIS POST:
- Why choose natural mascara
- What is natural mascara made of?
- The best natural mascaras in 8 categories
- My favorite natural mascaras
- The B list: Mascaras that are also great
- Natural mascara pro tips
Mascara. It’s most people’s “desert island” makeup pick and for good reason. Even without doing anything else, throw on a couple coats and it’s drab to fab. Right?!
Per ush, I’ve tried a crap ton of better-for-you mascaras but I wanted to keep this list to my top three picks only, which is NOT EASY! As the ethical beauty realm continues to boom, formulas improve and competition gets tighter and tighter. There are SO MANY great formulas out there now that deliver across all categories making this list a true challenge to curate.
I love this “top 3 format” which you will continue to see more of here on the blog because giving you a list of “24 natural mascaras that work” just leaves people feeling confused. On the other hand, highlighting just three (very different, yet all high-performing mascaras) helps you narrow down your choice while feeling confident and satisfied. In other words, consider this post a “natural mascara easy button” if you will.
But before we continue, let’s make sure we are on the same page. Here’s what’s important to me in a mascara:
- Performance. I want my mascara to actually work the way I want it to work.
- Ingredients. I want a formula free from concerning ingredients or better yet, I want a mascara that actually works to support and nourish lashes too.
If that sounds good to you, lessssgo. There is a little something for everyone here including best picks for vegan mascara, budget friendly mascara, volumizing mascara, waterproof mascara, lengthening mascara and more. But first, let’s talk a little more about why ingredients matter.
Why choose natural mascara?
I’m a proponent of choosing a better-for-you mascara and the only way to help you do the same is to highlight some concerning ingredients you may see in conventional mascaras. LFG.
- Aluminum Powder (CI 77000): Aluminum is a human biological toxicant that enters the body through contact with skin and eyes, and is stored in nearly every organ, mostly the kidneys and brain (1–5). Dr. Kawahara, of Kyushu University and the Japanese National Institute of Health, states, “Aluminum inhibits more than 200 biologically important functions and causes various adverse effects…Considering its long half-life in the body, unnecessary exposure to aluminum should be avoided for human health” (6).
- Diazolidinyl urea: A formaldehyde-releasing cosmetic preservative that is a confirmed mutagenic compound (7,8). Formaldehyde is one of the most documented human carcinogens and it is unsafe at any exposure level (9).
- Parabens: Parabens are a category of cosmetic preservatives that are genotoxic xenoestrogens (10,11). More here.
- Irritants like chloroxylenol, chlorphenesin, tropolone, propylene glycol, phenoxyethanol, calcium aluminum borosilicate (12–21).
- Carbon black (listed as Ci 77266), contains unacceptable levels of mutagenic impurities called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs cause this nano-pigment to test positive in mutagenicity assays (22,23,24).
RELATED: My Favorite Makeup Brushes.
What is a natural mascara made out of?
So what can brands formulate with instead? Check out this skeleton formula from Molecular Biologist and Cosmetic Chemist Kate Noonan. This would be what a basic natural mascara would look like.
I find this super interesting and helpful to peep because you can appreciate how natural formulas deviate, i.e. adding conditioning and growth promoting agents to their formulas. And at the same time, we can appreciate that a mascara can still function without the addition of concerning ingredients👆.
Kate explains, a typical natural mascara is roughly formulated around:
- 20-30% plant wax or beeswax
- 8-15% fatty acids or plant butters
- 30-40% water
- 0.4-4% of an Ecocert emulsifier like polyglyceryl-6 distearate
- 4-6% Ecocert thickener like xanthan, guar gum, cornstarch, cellulose
- 2% organic glycerin or propanediol
- 0.4-1% Ecocert preservatives like glyceryl caprylate and phenethyl alcohol
- 8-12% iron oxide black Ci 77499 (Ecocert approved for purity)
The best natural mascaras for….
Before we dive into my faves, if you are looking for something specific, check out these TNK category winners. Here are my top recommendations for:
🏆Best natural waterproof mascara (this actually wears more water-resistant than waterproof but it’s the only one in clean beauty marketed at “waterproof ” and most likely the closest you will find right now)
My favorite natural mascaras
And, here they are! My current favorite natural mascaras. These are listed in order with my top pick listed first. (We update this post annually so be sure to bookmark it and check back!)
Violin shaped wand, cruelty-free, formulated without gluten, black only
This is my go-to mascara currently and what you will see me wearing most days on social media. Whenever I wear this mascara, I get asked, “What mascara are you wearing?” It happens without fail. And for good reason.
This mascara is a BEAST when it comes to volume. At first I thought it was too clumpy, but after using it for a few weeks, I got used to the fatty wand and then at some point, it started making all my other mascara options seem wimpy in comparison. Now I’m obsessed and it’s my daily go-to.
Love the addition of arginine and provitamin B5 to help deliver long lasting moisturization, thicken, add shine and improve the condition of damaged hair (25). Dries quickly and is mega layerable. Four layers of this and you are taking out city blocks with a shifty side eye, lol.
Smudge free, flake free, easy to remove.This mascara is so bold, it’s the closest thing I’ve found that can compare performance-wise to anything conventional.
The only drawback is it may be a little too much for some people; the brush is a little cumbersome at first and it can take some getting used to especially to avoid clumping.
For more, including application pics, check out my full review here.
Rectangle silicone dual-sided wand, cruelty-free, formulated without gluten, soft black only
Consider this mascara the Jackie O of natural mascaras. A refined stand-out where the perfection lies in the details.
Wand: Above all, the ILIA Long Lash Mascara wand has been engineered to perfection. This patented, dual-sided wand has a shorter side to deliver product while the longer comb side lengthens and separates like a 🏆.
Length: The first thing you will notice when you apply this mascara is length. But what I really admire about this wand/formula combo is it’s über buildable. One coat, two coats, three coats…I mean, you can just keep going for longer and longer lashes.
Separation: Again, this wand delivers the ultimate performance in separation. No clumping or spidery lash looks. Nothing compares.
So in the end you are left with long lashes that are perfectly separated. Doesn’t flake, smudge or fallout. I actually wore it one day when I ended up crying the entire day on and off and this mascara stood the test of tears. Still no smudging, flaking or fallout. Also it’s practically weightless and lashes feel light and flexible.
Key ingredients here include arginine to fortify lashes, organic shea butter to condition and beeswax to nourish. Made with 25% organic ingredients.
The only drawback is it’s a little short on volume.
For more, check out my full ILIA Review.
Skinny-cone plastic brush, cruelty free, comes in black only
Gaaaah. This is my top budget pick, and every time I break out a new tube of Honest Beauty’s Mascara, I’m like dang this is so good—why did I ever stop?! The cheapest place to grab this is on Amazon (where you can sometimes find it for as low as $10), but you can most likely find it at your local Target too.
The Honest Beauty Extreme Length Mascara comes with a primer on one end and mascara on the other. Use the primer first for more volume and more length—most of the time, I use just the mascara and it still delivers.
Here we see good separation, volume, length and definition. It’s also easy to layer. Honestly? How is this mascara $17?!
The B List
I was going to leave this part out, but then I thought it was important to see what I measured my top 3 against and why these didn’t make the cut for me. Keep in mind what doesn’t work for one person could be another’s holy grail. Hopefully this will help bring clarity to your process or inspire a new fave.
- 100% Pure Black Tea Fruit Pigmented Mascara – I appreciate the ingredient innovation here. I find the brush to be too densely packed to get good separation.
- Antonym Lola Lash Too Mascara – I actually really like this mascara. Volume is a strength here so when I have it on hand I will apply one of my faves and then top it off with this and BAM. So much volume.
- Clove + Hallow’s FlexLash Mascara – This is a barely-there formula. I personally prefer more va-va-voom.
- Clover Maxed Out Mascara – Nicolle’s top budget pick. She loves it because it’s super liquidy and the wide bristles deliver a ton of product. I like Honest better because it’s not as goopy and I get more separation. (Nicolle jumping in here: “I’m allergic to beeswax, and it’s HARD to find a killer mascara that uses plant waxes instead of beeswax AND has a brown shade for those of us with lighter coloring. Clover’s has become my fave for daily use. Well, I don’t use any mascara daily, but I take this one when I travel, and that says A LOT.”)
- Ere Perez Avocado Waterproof Mascara – Not waterproof. Resistant at best. Also just doesn’t compare volume, length, definition-wise to my top picks.
- Erin’s Faces Matcha Mascara – Great volume and length. Love the addition of green tea to help promote lash growth. Also love the recyclable glass tube. One of my top picks.
- Fitglow Vegan Good Lash+ Mascara – The wand on this mascara got updated and it is now similar to the ILIA Limitless Lash wand. Good length and volume plus helps condition lashes. This is a dry formula and is tough to layer.
- Hynt Beauty Mascara – This was a favorite for a long time. Super feathery and pretty application. I still love this formula; it’s just not as bold as my top picks. Could be perfect for you.
- Inika Vegan Long Lash Mascara – My fave for several years, this makes lashes pop in such a pretty way with length being a strong suit.
- Izzy Zero Waste Mascara – The Rent the Runway of mascaras. Once you use up your tube, you send it back in a zip bag, Izzy cleans, refills and reuses the stainless tube and you get a refill sent back to you. Flakes a little and I don’t love all the ingredients but this is by far the most sustainable option on the block.
- Lily Lolo Natural Vegan Mascara – This formula dries up on me so quickly. I feel like I can never use it long enough to get my money’s worth.
- RMS Beauty Defining Mascara – Smudgy and doesn’t do much for lashes in terms of volume or length.
- RMS Beauty Mascara Volumizing – Tends to clump in the tube and on lashes.
- RMS Straight Up Mascara – Love the wand which brings all the drugstore fatty wand feels. Decent performance. Just doesn’t compare to my top picks when it comes to volume or length. (Nicolle jumping in: “This is my top pick for a beeswax-free black mascara. I find that I can get it to give me great volume, but I don’t need much length support—my lashes are LONG.”)
- Vapour Mezmorize Mascara – Not enough volume or length for my preference. This tube also feels very light in my hands.
- W3LL PEOPLE’s Expressionist Volumizing Mascara – This formula stung my eyes. I’m still trying to figure out what ingredient is causing this reaction for me. (Maybe it’s castor oil?)
- Zuzu Luxe – A good budget pick. Honest Beauty is just way better. (Love that it comes in Navy).
Look for mascaras that are formulated without the use of aluminum powder, Diazolidinyl urea, parabens, carbon black and irritants like chloroxylenol, chlorphenesin, tropolone, propylene glycol, phenoxyethanol, calcium aluminum borosilicate. Learn more here.
Swirl, don’t pump the wand into the tube.
Don’t add water to your mascara.
Try layering different mascaras.
Toss mascara after 3 months.
Recycle your mascara once done using.
Learn more here.
Per Kate Noonan, Molecular Biologist and Cosmetic Chemist, a natural mascara should be formulated with:
20-30% plant wax or beeswax
8-15% fatty acids or plant butters
0.4-4% of an Ecocert emulsifier like polyglyceryl-6 distearate
4-6% Ecocert thickener like xanthan, guar gum, cornstarch, cellulose
2% organic glycerin or propanediol
0.4-1% Ecocert preservatives like glyceryl caprylate and phenethyl alcohol
8-12% iron oxide black Ci 77499 (Ecocert approved for purity)
Learn more here.
What’s your favorite natural mascara?
TNK Team Note: This article contains affiliate links. TNK uses affiliate links as a source for revenue to fund operations of the business and to be less dependent on branded content. TNK stands behind all product recommendations. Still have questions about these links or our process? Feel free to email us.
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