Finding a mascara that doesn’t run or smudge can be hard enough, but throw eye sensitivity into the mix, and it can feel downright impossible. As Dr. Yuna Rapoport explains to Bustle, if your eyes are already prone to experiencing things like tearing and dryness, mascara can make symptoms worse. “Waterproof mascaras have more chemicals, and when those chemicals fall onto the cornea, they can make eyes more irritated,” she says, adding that even a mascara’s scent can cause irritation. While it’s not realistic to avoid every potential irritant out there, the best waterproof mascaras for sensitive eyes are, at the very least, free from fragrance and the preservative benzalkonium chloride (BAK). Sensitivity-friendly waterproof mascaras may also be easier to identify by looking for an “ophthalmologist-tested” seal. “I think something that is ophthalmologist approved or tested has some weight to it because we’re able to look at ingredients and say what is more irritating or what will be less irritating,” Dr. Rapoport says.
Dr. Yuna Rapoport, M.D., M.P.H., is a board-certified ophthalmologist and founder of Manhattan Eye in New York City. She completed her ophthalmology residency at Vanderbilt Eye Institute in Nashville, Tennessee, and completed additional training as a corneal and refractive surgery fellow at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Rapoport serves as Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine.
How To Tell If You Have Sensitive Eyes
Dr. Rapoport points out that eye sensitivity is subjective, but there are some medical symptoms to look out for. “I would say that if your eyes are light-sensitive, or if you have tearing, dryness, or grittiness, those are signs of ‘sensitive’ eyes,” explains Dr. Rapoport. She adds that having some sort of underlying dry eye condition (ocular surface disease), which can be “blepharitis (clogged oil glands)” or “evaporative or aqueous deficiency dry eye,” would predispose someone to being more sensitive to mascara.
How To Treat Sensitive Eyes
In addition to sticking with mascaras that are free from common irritants like BAK and fragrance, and looking for ophthalmologist-tested formulas, how you remove your mascara (and other eye makeup) is key. “Oil-free is always better,” Dr. Rapoport says of using gentle formulas like Cetaphil’s Oil-Free Makeup Remover.
Even more importantly, Dr. Rapoport says you need to be treating the main issue: the underlying dry eye. Visiting a board-certified ophthalmologist will likely be necessary to do this, but too much screen time and even the humid air your face mask creates are common culprits when it comes to dry eyes. “Our typical blink rate is between 16 to 18 blinks a minute, but when we’re on a computer or phone screen, it drops to four to six blinks a minute,” Dr. Rapoport says. To help prevent this from causing dry eyes, she recommends keeping your screen below eyelid level so that you’re looking down, and keeping lubricating eye drops by your side. “There’s also the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds,” she recommends.
Shop The Best Waterproof Mascaras For Sensitive Eyes
In a hurry? Here are the best waterproof mascaras for sensitive eyes:
- Best Volumizing Waterproof Mascara: Essence I Love Extreme Volume Waterproof Mascara
- Best Lengthening Waterproof Mascara: Almay Multi-Benefit Mascara
- Tie: Best Prestige Waterproof Mascara: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Waterproof Mascara
- Tie: Best Prestige Waterproof Mascara: Buxom Lash Waterproof Volumizing Mascara
1. Best Volumizing Waterproof Mascara For Sensitive Eyes
If it’s bigger, bulkier lashes you’re after, Essence’s I Love Extreme Volume Waterproof Mascara uses an oversized fiber brush to pump up lashes with just one coat. It has more than 4,000 five-star ratings from Amazon reviewers for its ability to give their lashes long-lasting drama, and in addition to being ophthalmologist tested and free from irritants like parabens, BAK, and fragrance, it’s also cruelty-free and vegan.
Relevant Review: “I have been searching all over for the perfect mascara for my sensitive eyes and finally found this stuff! Its amazing! [The] wand helps it not clump and stretches the mascara out to the end of the lashes. Stays on and doesn’t run. This stuff is perfect! Get this stuff!!!
2. Best Lengthening Waterproof Mascara For Sensitive Eyes
Another drugstore favorite with over 1,000 five-star ratings from Amazon shoppers, Almay’s Multi-Benefit Waterproof Mascara does it all without the risk of irritation. You’ll get both length and definition to fake longer lashes, plus a bit of volume thanks to the fiber brush. Hypoallergenic and ophthalmologist tested, and free of both fragrance and BAK, the mascara is also infused with keratin, vitamin E, and panthenol to condition and nourish your lashes.
Relevant Review: “This is my ‘holy grail’ mascara. I have extremely sensitive, dry eyes, and this is the only mascara that doesn’t cause my eyes to itch or have me ripping out my contacts mid-day. […] Great for people with dry, sensitive eyes, and who wear contact lenses.”
3. Tie: Best Prestige Waterproof Mascara For Sensitive Eyes
Those with sensitive skin are probably already familiar with La Roche-Posay for their gentle, yet effective skin care products, all of which feature the brand’s thermal spring water sourced from their namesake town in France. If you have sensitive eyes, too, their fragrance- and BAK-free Toleriane Waterproof Mascara promises to give you budge-proof definition while still being easy enough to remove without having to rub and tug at your eyes. As well as being both dermatologist and ophthalmologist tested, the mascara has been allergy tested to further ensure that it won’t irritate your skin or eyes.
Relevant Review: “I am thrilled by this mascara for one main reason: It does not irritate my eyes, even wearing [it] from morning to night. This is a very rare experience for me, even with other ‘sensitive’ brands. Aside from being able to wear it for more than an hour or two, this is a nice mascara, though it does have a tendency for me to clump my lashes together. I get no flaking or other problems I’ve had with other mascaras.”
4. Tie: Best Prestige Waterproof Mascara For Sensitive Eyes
The volumizing secret behind this mascara is its plastic wand that combs and separates every last lash (even the hard-to-reach inner and outer corner lashes) as it coats them in glossy black pigment. Buxom’s Lash Waterproof Volumizing Mascara is free from synthetic fragrances, synthetic dyes, BAK, and petrochemicals, and instead contains conditioning ingredients like bisabolol and vitamin E to gently moisturize your lashes. It’s also an Amazon favorite with more than 2,500 five-star ratings.
Relevant Review: “This is my favorite mascara ever. I have tried many different kinds over the years. I have really sensitive eyes and allergies that cause eczema on my eyelids. This mascara doesn’t bother my issues at all. […] It doesn’t flake, and it lasts all day.”
You May Also Like: Best For Post-Waterproof Mascara Use
“I always recommend for patients to do a warm compress and [use] OCuSOFT foam after removing makeup,” says Dr. Rapoport, who adds that “you can just put it onto a cotton wipe and wash off the eyelid.” The fragrance- and alcohol-free formula was developed to remove any last traces of oil, pollen, and makeup that can contribute to eye irritation, and it’s safe for people with eye sensitivities and allergies.
Relevant Review: “Works great! Removes my eye makeup and relieves the itchiness to my eyes.”
Dr. Yuna Rapoport, M.D., M.P.H., board-certified ophthalmologist and founder of New York City’s Manhattan Eye.