2023 Buying Guide: The Best Natural Mascaras

June 18, 2020 (updated April 27, 2023)

Mascara can be a HARD swap to make when it comes to buying better beauty. What should you consider when it comes to ingredients and how can you tell if a mascara is gonna work before you throw down your credit card to scoop one up? This best natural mascara buying guide is here to help, including my TOP picks and a detailed lookbook to give you up close and personal pics of what each one looks like applied. Get ready to shop!

A close up of a woman applying mascara to her lashes.

By: Lisa Fennessy

Reviewed by: Kate Noonan

IN THIS POST:

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 highlight my top three picks with in-depth reviews, 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 three (very different, yet all high-performing mascaras) while also providing short reviews + real pictures of the most popular better beauty mascaras helps you narrow down your choice while feeling confident and satisfied. PLUS, we’ve compiled best picks for vegan mascara, budget friendly mascara, volumizing mascara, waterproof mascara, lengthening mascara and more.

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:

  1. Performance. I want my mascara to actually work the way I want it to work. 
  2. 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. But first, let’s talk a little more about why ingredients matter. 

RELATED: These are the ingredients we always say NO THANKS to.


A woman holding a collection of natural mascaras in her hand.
A few of my favorite natural mascaras.

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 (15). 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 (1221).
  • 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.


A woman holds up a tube of natural mascara.
What are natural mascaras made from? There’s always a base of waxes and butters, with water, emulsifiers, preservatives and colorants added in—but we’re looking for the best of each of these.

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)

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 regularly so be sure to bookmark it and check back!)




Every natural mascara we’ve tried: a lookbook

It can be SO HARD to choose a mascara without seeing what it actually looks like applied, so we created this lookbook to showcase what I measured my top 3 against and why some popular formulas 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.

Also all testing pics are TWO COATS on the top lashes, one coat on the bottom lashline. Wanted to level the playing field so you could see each one in true comparison. I apologize in advance for the eye closeups, lol.



A listing of tips for using mascara.

Natural mascara FAQs

What is the safest mascara to use?

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.

How can you get the most out of your natural mascara?

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.

What should a natural mascara be formulated with?

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
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)
Learn more here.


Coupon codes for natural mascara

  • AILLEANEWKNEW15 will save you 15% on your first order online or in store.
  • The Choosy ChickTHENEWKNEW will save you 10%.
  • The Detox MarketTNK15 will save you 15% on your first order.
  • Erin’s FacesNEWKNEW will save you 10% on a one-time purchase.
  • FitglowNEWKNEW20 will save you 20% sitewide.

To save on other ethical beauty and lifestyle brands, check out our EXCLUSIVE coupon codes!


After reading this, most people bought…


What’s your favorite natural mascara?

xo, lisa in cursive

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.

References:

1. Genuis S.J.; Birkholz D.; Rodushkin I.; Beesoon S.; Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements; Archives of environmental contamination and toxicology, 2011 Aug;61(2):344-57; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21057782/

2. Yokel R.A.; The toxicology of aluminum in the brain: a review; NeuroToxicology, v. 21, issue 5; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11130287/

3. Fernandes R.M.; Eiró L.G.; dos Santos Chemelo V.; Alvarenga M.O.; Lima R.R.; Aluminum toxicity and oxidative stress; InToxicology, 2021 Jan 1 (pp. 127-135); Academic Press; https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Aluminum-toxicity-and-oxidative-stress-Fernandes-Eir%C3%B3/0a3f5a5c7ba1d6428d58029c85f8b361aa9c011c

4. Liu P.; Cui Y.; Liu M.; Xiao B.; Zhang J.; Huang W.; Zhang X.; Song M.; Li Y.; Protective effect of mitophagy against aluminum-induced MC3T3-E1 cells dysfunction; Chemosphere, 2021 Nov 1;282:131086; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34119729/

5. Wang L.; Entry and deposit of aluminum in the brain; InNeurotoxicity of Aluminum 2018 (pp. 39-51); Springer; Singapore; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30315448/

6. Kawahara M.; Konoha K.; Nagata T.; Sadakane Y.; Aluminum and human health: its intake, bioavailability and neurotoxicity; Biomedical research on trace elements, 2007 Oct 1;18(3):211-20; https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/brte/18/3/18_3_211/_article

7. Pfuhler S.; Wolf H.U.; Effects of the formaldehyde releasing preservatives dimethylol urea and diazolidinyl urea in several short-term genotoxicity tests; Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis, 2002 Feb 15;514(1-2):133-46; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11815252/

8. Emeis D.; Anker W.; Wittern K.P.; Diazolidinyl Urea: Quantitative 13C NMR spectroscopic studies on the equilibrium of formaldehyde with its releasing cosmetic preservatives; Analytical chemistry, 2007 Mar 1;79(5):2096-100; https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ac0619985

9. International Agency for Research on Cancer; IARC Monographs on the Identification of Carcinogenic Hazards to Humans; Formaldehyde; https://monographs.iarc.who.int/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/mono100F-29.pdf

10. Güzel Bayülken D.; Ayaz Tüylü B.; Sinan H.; Sivas H.; Investigation of genotoxic effects of paraben in cultured human lymphocytes; Drug and chemical toxicology, 2019 Jul 4;42(4):349-56; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29281926/

11. Hager E.; Chen J.; Zhao L.; Minireview: Parabens Exposure and Breast Cancer; International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2022 Jan;19(3):1873; https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/19/3/1873/pdf

12. Capkin E.; Ozcelep T.; Kayis S.; Altinok I.; Chloroxylenol: Antimicrobial agents, triclosan, chloroxylenol, methylisothiazolinone and borax, used in cleaning had genotoxic and histopathologic effects on rainbow trout; Chemosphere, 2017 Sep 1;182:720-9; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28531838/

13. Lee E.; An S.; Choi D.; Moon S.; Chang I.; Chlorphenesin: Comparison of objective and sensory skin irritations of several cosmetic preservatives; Contact Dermatitis, 2007 Mar;56(3):131-6; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17295686/

14. Sweet D.V., et al.; Tropolone: Registry of toxic effects of chemical substances; US Department of Health and Human Services; Public Health Service; Center for Disease Control; National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; 1728; https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/97-119/pdfs/97-119.pdf

15. Lim T.Y.; Poole R.L.; Pageler N.M.; Propylene glycol toxicity in children; The journal of pediatric pharmacology and therapeutics, 2014;19(4):277-82; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25762872/

16. Birnie A.J.; English J.S.; Phenoxyethanol: 2‐phenoxyethanol‐induced contact urticaria; Contact Dermatitis, 2006 Jun;54(6):349-; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16787464/

17. Hernandez B.; Ortiz‐Frutos F.J.; Garcia M.; Palencia S.; Garcia M.C.; Iglesias L.; Phenoxyethanol: Contact urticaria from 2‐phenoxyethanol; Contact dermatitis, 2002 Jul;47(1):54-; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12225420/

18. Lujan D.; Hernandez-Machin B.; Peñate Y.; Borrego L.; Phenoxyethanol: Contact urticaria due to phenoxyethanol in an aftershave; Dermatitis: contact, atopic, occupational, drug, 2009 Jul 1;20(4):E10-; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19804693/

19. Chasset F.; Soria A.; Moguelet P.; Mathian A.; Auger Y.; Francès C.; Barete S.; Contact dermatitis due to ultrasound gel: A case report and published work review; The Journal of Dermatology, 2016 Mar;43(3):318-20; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26346708/

20. Orjales R.N.; Vazquez C.C.; Gonzalez F.C.; Paris M.B.; Phenoxyethanol: 2-phenoxyethanol-induced contact urticaria and anaphylaxis; Journal of investigational allergology & clinical immunology, 2010;20(4):354-5; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20815317/

21. De A.; Chakrabarti M.; Ghosh I.; Mukherjee A.; Calcium aluminum borosillicate: Evaluation of genotoxicity and oxidative stress of aluminium oxide nanoparticles and its bulk form in Allium cepa; The Nucleus, 2016 Dec;59(3):219-25; https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Evaluation-of-genotoxicity-and-oxidative-stress-of-De-Chakrabarti/585ff7b6ed798e730ad896b1a2839b39ec6dcd85

22. Rubio L.; Guerra E.; Garcia-Jares C.; Lores M.; Body-decorating products: Ingredients of permanent and temporary tattoos from analytical and european regulatory perspectives; Analytica Chimica Acta, 2019 Nov 4;1079:59-72; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31387720/

23. Tsai P.J.; Shieh H.Y.; Lee W.J.; Lai S.O.; Characterization of PAHs in the atmosphere of carbon black manufacturing workplaces; Journal of hazardous materials, 2002 Apr 26;91(1-3):25-42. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11900904/

24. Sahu D.; Kannan G.M.; Vijayaraghavan R.; Carbon black particle exhibits size dependent toxicity in human monocytes; International journal of inflammation, 2014 Jan 1;2014; https://www.hindawi.com/journals/iji/2014/827019/

25. Science Direct; Pantothenic Acid; https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemistry/pantothenic-acid

By Lisa Fennessy

Lisa is the founder of The New Knew. Passionate about clean beauty, organic eats and nontoxic lifestyle, Lisa writes to create awareness. Conscious consumerism and informed decisions will impact the marketplace, our health and THE WORLD!

23 Comments

  1. Reply

    Margot

    First – I LOVE your hair. Second – so so happy that you are enjoying INIKA Long Lash – there is a bit of a craze for it right now – so word is spreading about it…. Thank you!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Thanks! I am loving my hair too! I probably talk about this mascara every day! Contributing to the craze! : ) I love it!

  2. Reply

    Stacey

    I’ve been using Hush + Dotti’s mascara now for about two weeks. I have to tell you that I’m presently surprised how well it works. Love the size. It fits into my clutch perfectly.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Yes girl! It’s so nice right!!?? Love it. Let us know how long it lasts!

  3. Reply

    Francie

    Thanks for these great reviews! Mascara is one of my favorite makeup items, and I’m always on the hunt for the best one. I really like the Inika when I put it on, but I have never (among dozens of traditional mascaras and a few green ones) had any mascara flake like it does on me. I’m currently using the Fitglow. I’m not crazy about the brush, but I like the mascara and am curious to see if the serum aspect works.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Bummer! Yeah the Inika doesn’t flake on me – and I haven’t gotten that feedback from others – but it does depend on several factors..eye shape, application, oiliness of skin…Sorry to hear that! I love the Fitglow too – the more coats the better! : )

  4. Reply

    Kate

    I love how detailed you are in your reviews, it makes me feel so much better about a purchase.
    Have you tried Crop mascara? I have only found it at Credo but I absolutely love it!

    1. Reply

      Lisa

      Hi Kate! I haven’t tried Crop but I will look into it – thanks for the tip! xo, Lisa

  5. Reply

    Kelly

    Have you come across a clear mascara option? My 12 year old daughter has been wanting one for special occasions so that she can feel like she’s putting something on her lashes to add a little something extra without being very noticeable. I haven’t come across anything natural.

  6. Reply

    Leah

    I’m surprised you didn’t try out Kosas new Big Clean. Any thoughts on that one?! I’ve heard good things but really trust your reviews so was hoping you were testing 🙂

    1. Reply

      Lisa

      Hi Leah! I did! I need to add that in. Kosas gives a pretty look with added volume and length but not as much separation. It also didn’t stay as well as ILIA or Erin’s Faces ; )

  7. Reply

    Mel

    Did you figure out what ingredient in W3LL P3OPLE was stinging your eyes? I just got it to try and I’m having the same problem 🙁

    1. Reply

      Lisa

      Hi Mel! I haven’t…I wonder if it is the castor though. If you read up on castor you will see why it’s a suspect! xo, Lisa

  8. Reply

    Vee

    Well People makes my eyes burn too!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      I’m wondering if it’s castor oil that makes my eyes burn…I have to look to see if it’s in this mascara too… ; ) Lisa

  9. Reply

    Kayla

    Thank you for this thorough review! I have eyes that water easily – I know that each individual will react differently to each product – curious, do you think the Erin’s Faces Matcha Mascara or the ILIA has better staying power? Are they both for sensitive eyes? TIA!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hmmm, good question. I think the ILIA Limitless Lash might stay the best. And although I like the ILIA Volumizing Mascara, it has stung my eyes before at the end of the day. And I’ve had no irritation from Erin’s Faces. This is so individual…I hope this helps! xo, Lisa

  10. Reply

    Stacy anderson

    I am loving Beautycounter think big mascara definitely should try it! Clean ingredients!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Thanks! I personally don’t love the phenoxyethanol in that formula. You can check out why on our No Thanks List ; ) – L

  11. Reply

    Frances

    Thanks for this great advice. Just bought Ilia mascara and eyeliner and LOVE them. I love how chunky the tube is too..

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      RIGHT?????!!!!!!! 🏆🏆🏆

  12. Reply

    Akanksha

    I love the Ilia mascaras! I tried the big bang athyr mascara but found it super clumpy right off the bat.

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