The 9 Best Clean Mascaras of 2022 That Won't Run Down Your Face

We like that the Ilia Limitless Lash Mascara is buildable, doesn't flake, and separates well.

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Best Clean Mascaras

Pacifica Beauty

From face serums to eyeshadows, clean beauty products have become increasingly popular in recent years. People love the idea that their products are made only from natural ingredients, especially those who battle sensitivity and can benefit from the absence of harsh chemicals.

This interest in clean beauty has extended to mascaras as well, and there are tons of options to choose from that perform just as well as traditional formulas. That said, what makes a mascara — and any beauty product, for that matter — "clean" is not cut and dry.

Generally speaking, "clean" mascaras are free of many chemicals and preservatives found in traditional formulas. These can include carbon black (a dark powder used for pigment that comes from coal tar and can contain heavy metals), parabens, phthalates, silicones, and synthetic dyes and fragrances. However, with no FDA regulations on what constitutes "clean beauty," brands are able to define the term based on their own standards. Many go with the guidance of third-party organizations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) or the European Commission's regulation on cosmetics, which has more ingredient restrictions than the U.S.

We set out to uncover the best clean mascaras on the market, looking for formulas that are long-lasting, well-tested, and feature high-quality ingredients. One of our favorites is Ilia's Limitless Lash Mascara.

Ahead, our 9 favorite clean mascaras for every lash look.

Best Overall: ILIA Natural Limitless Lash Mascara

ILIA Natural Limitless Lash Mascara

ILIA

What We Love: The brush picks up the perfect amount of product for a clump-free finish every time.

What We Don’t Love: If you're looking for volume, you'll have to use this in conjunction with a volumizing mascara.

Hands down, the brush makes Ilia's beloved lengthening and curling mascara so special. The brand tested over 100 prototypes before landing on the unique design: a tool with dual-ended bristles that cleverly separates lashes, while ensuring no lash gets left behind. The rest of the packaging is thoughtfully designed, too — as you pull the wand out, it automatically scrapes off excess product against the sides of the tube, which means it's virtually impossible to end up with a clumpy finish. 

I have length for days when I use this mascara, and I love how buildable the formula is. This isn't necessarily the mascara I'd reach for if I'm donning a more dramatic look (though if I pair it with a volumizing mascara, it certainly gets the job done), but for an everyday mascara that enhances, lifts, and separates my lashes with just one coat (using lash-hydrating beeswax and shea butter, at that), it's a definite winner.

Price at time of publish: $28

Size: 0.27 oz | Color: 1 | Intention: Lengthening, curling, lifting

Best Budget: Pacifica ACTIVIST VOLUME Volume & Curl Mascara

Pacifica Activist Volume Volume & Curl Mascara

Amazon

What We Love: While most affordable mascaras come in a plastic bottle, this one is glass to make it more sustainable (and, let's be honest, prettier).

What We Don’t Love: This is a drier formula, which means layering on a few coats might be a recipe for clumps.

Don't feel like shelling out the money for a makeup product you have to replace every three months? We hear you. That's why this pick from Pacifica made it to our list, because, sure, it comes with a wallet-friendly price tag, but you'd never know it by looking at the sturdy glass bottle. The formula is insanely black — a major plus if you have blonde lashes. Plus, it's made with plant oils, waxes, and fibers that volumize lashes all while conditioning them. If you, like I, struggle with midday mascara running, you can rest assured this formula neither smudges nor flakes, yet comes off beautifully with some micellar water and a cotton pad at the end of the day. And for an added bonus, it's cruelty-free.

Price at time of publish: $16

Size: 0.24 oz | Color: 1 | Intention: Curling, volumizing

Best Splurge: Aleph Beauty Lift & Lengthen Mascara

Aleph Beauty Lift & Lengthen Mascara

Aleph

What We Love: The tube is clear so you can easily see how much product you've gone through (and when you need a restock).

What We Don’t Love: There's a slight scent to the mascara.

This New Zealand-made mascara from Aleph Beauty is infused with a blend of waxes that keep it slightly wet. While this might sound like a recipe for smears and smudges, a little bit of moisture actually keeps the mascara on your lashes and prevents it from getting flaky. Swipe it on and enjoy longer, lifted lashes for as long as you want. 

Packaging wise, I'm a total fan. I appreciate that the bottle is clear (which allows me to see how much product I have left) as well as how the top is matte (which allows me to get a good grip on the for more precise application and less accidental smudges). In terms of formula, I like that it's slightly wet — it gives me some playtime in between coats to ensure my lashes are separated. Overall, for the longwear formula and sleek packaging, this mascara is definitely worth the splurge.

Price at time of publish: $64

Size: 0.28 | Color: 1 | Intention: Curling, lengthening

Best for Sensitive Eyes: Twenty/Twenty Clean Sweep Mascara

Twenty/Twenty Clean Sweep Mascara

Twenty/Twenty

What We Love: Twenty/Twenty is a brand designed by a board-certified ophthalmologist, so you can rest easy knowing this mascara won't irritate your sensitive eyes.

What We Don’t Love: This doesn't do a great job of separating.

You want bold lashes, but your sensitive eyes are standing in the way — the struggle is so real. Cue Twenty/Twenty's Clean Sweep Mascara, an ophthalmologist-formulated mascara that has what it takes to make your lashes stand out, but without the irritation that traditional formulas leave behind. Made with nourishing ingredients found in your favorite skincare products, like hyaluronic acid and vitamin E, this clean buy hugs dry, brittle lashes in addition to lifting and lengthening lashes. Whether you have dry eyes, sensitive eyes, or wear contact lenses,

Personally, my sensitive eyes have run the gamut of issues — styes, redness, and dryness in addition to poor vision. This mascara thickened my lashes without causing irritation — not to mention, it applied smoothly and without clumps.

Price at time of publish: $28

Size: 0.33 | Color: 1 | Intention: Lengthening

Best Lengthening : Tower 28 Beauty MakeWaves Lengthening & Volumizing Clean Mascara

Tower 28 MakeWaves Legthening + Curling Clean Mascara

Sephora

What We Love: The curved shape of this wand is what sets this mascara apart from the rest — it makes it easy to catch every lower lash hair.

What We Don’t Love: This formula is prone to flaking.

If you're looking for a lash lift in a bottle, you've found it. Tower 28 Beauty's mascara has a lot going for it (including makeup artist Jamie Greenberg's stamp of approval), but the curved wand is what really sold me. It lifts the base of my lashes beautifully, making it the perfect product to use on rushed mornings when the last thing I have time for is curling my lashes with a curler. The curved design of the wand also makes it foolproof to apply the product onto my lower lashes (no smudging or clean-ups necessary). Thankfully, the goodness of this mascara doesn't end with the wand — the formula is noteworthy too. It's vegan and made with a mixture of panthenol, vitamin B5, and castor oil to condition and strengthen lashes, which is nice if you're looking for a mascara that does more than make your lashes look good.

One con we have to mention: it tends to flake off after a few hours, so keep this on deck for quick errands or brunch with friends versus a long night out or a special event.

Price at time of publish: $20

Size: 0.29 oz | Color: 1 | Intention: Lengthening, curling

Best Volumizing : Honest Beauty Extreme Volume Mascara + Bold Lash Primer

Honest Beauty Extreme Volume Mascara + Bold Lash Primer

Honest Beauty

What We Love: This mascara is dual-ended with a primer on one end and the mascara on the other for full, flattery lashes.

What We Don’t Love: We wish the wand on the primer end was longer to minimize the risk of accidental smudges.

Sure, it may feel like just another step, but the primer side of Honest Beauty's Extreme Volume Mascara is worth the extra swipes if volume is what you're after. If you have a problem with smudging, Greenberg, who's a fan of this formulation, says priming before mascara application will help. The mere shape and size of the primer wand (and the fact that it has three lengths of natural fibers) makes it the ideal first step to prep, separate, and curl your lashes. The primer goes on blue in order to make the black shade of the mascara more black for that same full, two-dimensional look your favorite pair of falsies gives. Lashes are never left looking dry or brittle with this pick — that's all because of the castor oil that leaves your lashes moisturized. Honest has omitted parabens, paraffins, silicones, mineral oil, synthetic fragrances from its cruelty-free formula.

Price at time of publish: $20

Size: 0.27 oz | Color: 1 | Intention: Volumizing, curling

Best Colored: ITEM Beauty By Addison Rae Boost Juice Dual-Ended Lash Primer & Colored Mascara

ITEM Beauty By Addison Rae Boost Juice Dual-Ended Lash Primer & Colored Mascara

Sephora

What We Love: You can wear each color on its own, layered together for more color, or underneath a black mascara for midnight-black lash look.

What We Don’t Love: We wish this came in more colors.

For eye-popping color payoff, this under-$20 pick from Item Beauty might be for you. The dual-ended mascara gives you two products for the price of one — use the lilac end to boost volume and prep lashes for even, smooth application, then apply the blue end for dramatic length and definition. You can let one color have its own moment by wearing it alone, or create a customized lash look by picking either the lengthening or volumizing end and pairing it with your everyday black mascara. Either way, the formula is made with good-for-your lashes ingredients, like rice bran to separate, sunflower wax to condition, and bamboo extract to pump up the volume. And let's not forget about the gorgeous watercolor-esque packaging that you'll never want to tuck away in a drawer.

The lilac-blue combo would look exceptional on everyone (especially those with brown eyes), but we would love to see this offered in more shade variations.

Price at time of publish:: $18

Size: 0.3 oz | Color: 1 | Intention: Volumizing, lengthening

Best for Short Lashed: Luv+Co Natural Lift Mascara

Luv+Co Natural Lift Mascara

Luv+Co

What We Love: This is a great special event mascara — it lasts hours without smudging, clumping, or flaking.

What We Don’t Love: You'll need several coats to get length.

What do you get when you mix coffee powder, rice powder, and sunflower seed oil? A long-wearing, smudge-proof, and natural mascara that'll amplify short, stubby lashes and make you feel good about putting it on. Developed by a beauty researcher and former makeup artist who struggled with severe skin sensitivities, the Luv+Co Natural Lift Mascara is non-irritating and uses a medley of organic ingredients that condition your lashes as it delivers volume and a hint of length. 

The formula is just right — not too dry, not too wet, but it does require a few coats to bring out the length (thankfully, it doesn't clump in the process).

Price at time of publish: $29

Size: 0.26 oz | Color: 1 | Intention: Lengthening, volumizing

Best Flake-Free: Kosas The Big Clean Volumizing + Lash Care Mascara

Kosas The Big Clean Volumizing + Lash Care Mascara

Credo Beauty

What We Love: This mascara is a triple threat — it gives volume, length, and separation for even the most stubborn lashes.

What We Don’t Love: The formula can feel drying.

Kosas' debut mascara became a cult-classic overnight for good reason: The brand tried 104 versions of the formula before landing on one that's just right. Powered by ingredients commonly found in haircare, the mascara strengthens and conditions lashes on top of providing instant volume and fullness. The brush also deserves a callout, as it features an innovative rainbow shape that catches every single lash hair. It's also worth noting the formula doesn't contain mineral oil, carbon black, acrylates, parabens, sulfates, or phthalate — instead, it's laced with ingredients like castor oil, peptides, and vitamin B5, which work together to restore brittle lashes and deliver maximum volume.

Price at time of publish: $26

Size: 0.32 oz | Color: 1 | Intention: Volumizing, lengthening, separating

What to Keep in Mind

Brush

The formula of your mascara will help you achieve the lash look you're after, no doubt, but the brush is equally as important. "If you want volume, go with nylon, and if you want lengthening and separating, go with silicone or rubber," says Greenberg. As far as the shape of the brush, Greenberg says that curved brushes are best for curling your lashes, while a ball tip brush is great for getting tricky angles for hard-to-reach areas. "An hourglass brush is great for getting more volume — the shape is similar to that of your actual eye, so it disperses mascara in the spots that add dimension," Greenberg notes. "A cone or tapered brush is good for if you want long lashes (great for those with tiny lashes), while a pinecone brush also lengthens the outer corner of your eyes — perfect for a cat eye or if you want to widen small eyes."

Ingredients

When it comes to ingredients, there are a few to avoid if you're looking for a cleaner mascara, and a few to seek out. One to steer clear of? Carbon black. "Carbon black is a pigment that some brands use to give the eyelashes a fuller, more dramatic look and length," explains Megan Douglas, founder of The Organic Skin Co. "However, it’s also a known possible carcinogen and classified as potentially toxic to humans." 

Parabens are another one to avoid. "Because mascaras are applied near the eye area, chemists want to make sure the formulations are well preserved to avoid any issues from repeated use," says clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants, Krupa Koestline. "Parabens, because they are broad-spectrum and an inexpensive choice, are often used in mascara formulations," but they're also known hormone disruptors.

Your Questions, Answered

What makes a mascara "natural" or "clean"?

What makes a mascara — and any beauty product, for that matter — "clean" is not cut and dry. Generally speaking, "clean" mascaras are free of many chemicals and preservatives found in traditional formulas. These can include carbon black (a dark powder used for pigment that comes from coal tar and can contain heavy metals), parabens, phthalates, silicones, and synthetic dyes and fragrances. However, with no FDA regulations on what constitutes "clean beauty," brands are able to define the term based on their own standards. Many go with the guidance of third-party organizations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) or the European Commission's regulation on cosmetics, which has more ingredient restrictions than the U.S.

What are the benefits of using natural mascara?

There are several benefits of using natural mascara. For one, many of them are made using ingredients that can be nourishing for your lashes. "The number one ingredient for me in a natural mascara is organic castor oil, which helps to moisturize the eyelashes and make them appear thicker," says Douglas. Organic aloe vera is another ingredient to look for in a mascara — Douglas touts its ability to moisturize the lashes as well as promote growth. To put it short, a good natural mascara will use quality ingredients that improve the state of your lashes long-term all while improving the look short-term.

Does natural mascara smudge easily?

"Natural mascaras can smudge a little more readily, especially on their initial application until they dry on the lashes," says Douglas. This is because traditional, non-natural mascaras use nylons and other synthetic ingredients to hold the pigments in place. Though this may make the formula dry quicker and potentially hold longer, Douglas says this blend of ingredients can leave the eyelashes damaged, dry, or irritated — not to mention, they require harsh scrubbing and rubbing to remove, which can damage the sensitive eye area. So, yes, natural mascaras are more prone to smudging, but with a little awareness  not to blink too much or rub your hands over your eyes for one minute post-application, you'll be golden.

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Michelle Rostamian is a freelance beauty, wellness, and lifestyle writer with nearly 10 years of experience in the beauty industry and bylines at PEOPLE, Byrdie, Real Simple, InStyle, and more. For this story, she worked with InStyle beauty editor Erin Lukas and interviewed celebrity makeup artist Jamie Greenburg, clean beauty expert and , founder of The Organic Skin Co Megan Douglas, and clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants, Krupa Koestline.

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