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!
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:
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. But first, let’s talk a little more about why ingredients matter.
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.
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).
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
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!)
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.
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.
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?!
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.
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: “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.”
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. Also just doesn’t compare volume, length, definition-wise to my top picks.
Fitglow Beauty can do no wrong when it comes to mascara (hello 3-in-1 conditioning, growth promoter and aesthetic GOAT) and they really outdid themselves with their latest color collection release including shades of navy and brown. Shades look subtle on camera, but trust me, when the light hits, it’s go time. The only downside is with this custom wand, it’s hard to get the inner corners of lashes. But if you are looking to channel your inner Tiffany via a grownup blue mascara, this one’s for you.
This new release comes with a primer and a mascara (same as the original). But this primer is a bright, neon blue, which Honest says creates a bolder, blacker lash. This wasn’t the standout for me as, let’s be honest, black is black when it comes to mascara. But what did stand out was the volume. The combo of the primer and the chunky wand deliver big volume and I love it.
The only downside is with that chunky volume, it’s hard to layer. Once the first coat dries, you are not going to get a smooth second coat. It’s like raking dried ground. And it did flake a little on me. But overall worth a try if you want dramatic lashes for less.
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.
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. Also it tends to clump in the tube and on lashes… (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.”)
Saie Mascara 101 is marketed as a thick, buildable formula that’s conditioning, strengthening, moisturizing and lengthening. We are here for all of that, but during testing found that it can wear a bit thin and a bit clumpy. We wish the wand gave more separation and the formula wore more voluminous.
Tower 28 markets this mascara as a sensitive eyes vegan mascara that volumizes, lengthens and defines. We can’t testify to the actual application on sensitive eyes (Nicolle, our resident sensitive-everything team member, hasn’t tried it). A lot of the hype here is around their “breakthrough Triple-Wave Wand” and I don’t think I got to try that with their sample size. Regardless, after trying, we can attest it wore virtually clump free, volumizing and delivered decent separation. For $20, this is a needle in the haystack find.
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?) They did just reformulate it though (used to have beexwax, now it’s vegan), and we haven’t tried the most up to date one, so it could be better! We’ll sample it and let you know.
For $58, this mascara should knock a bag of chips off the counter 9 feet away if I glance right. Can I get a witness?! Love the uber chic packaging and the luxe vibe, but in the end, two coats delivered a spidery, thin and clumpy look. It also flaked off easily. Wouldn’t repurchase.
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
AILLEA: NEWKNEW15 will save you 15% on your first order online or in store.
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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!