The New Clean Exa ten18 Mascara Is a Slam Dunk

Here's what makes it stand out from the rest.

CLEAN SLATE: The New "Clean" Exa ten18 Mascara is a Slam Dunk

Credo/ InStyle

If two of my favorite mascaras, Kjaer Weis Mascara Im-Possible Mascara and Gucci L'Obscur, had a baby, it would be exa ten18 Mascara.

As a Dior Diorshow Mascara devotee since the age of sixteen, I certainly take my volumizing mascara seriously. Everyone has their personal preferences when it comes to lash products, but mine has always been an inky black, lengthening formula with just enough stickiness to hold a curl. I loathe when mascaras are too runny; but if they are too sticky, they come out clumpy. I enjoy the texture of a formula with a dryer consistency and slightly sticky texture, but tubing mascaras are not my cup of tea because they feel too bulky for everyday use. I am also partial to medium-large brushes that comb lashes neatly and can be wiggled right at the base to separate and fan them out when applied; but nothing oversized or too petite.

I also love tracking the evolution of the beauty space, from eco-conscious brand practices to the development of cleaner formulas. Just as each new generation pushes the social boundaries of their parents, I see clean beauty as a business expression of this social phenomenon. Plus, I used to joke as a teenager that mascara ran in my blood, so it's worth looking into what exactly all that use entailed. 

That said, when Credo Beauty's in-house brand launched the market's first fiber mascara, exa ten18, to meet their clean standard (which omits 2,700 different ingredients), I had to try it out. I am surprised and pleased to admit that I was smitten upon first application. It has just the right amount of tack, stays put, and holds a curl, yet does so with a formula that clean beauty fans will approve of. It stood out to me among clean formulations, so I had to quadruple confirm my findings. Below, I checked-in with experts in cosmetic wear and formulation to find out what they had to say.

What celebrity makeup artists are saying

Long story short: they were also impressed; naming its dark black pigment, buildability, texture, and brush as selling points. "When I am looking for a mascara, I am generally looking for something jet black (which can be hard to find), and something that won't smudge, flake, or be too 'wet' and runny," says celebrity makeup artist Katrina Klein. "I also like a brush that allows me to build volume while keeping the lashes separated." Her first impression was positive aside from one potential worry. "I really liked how black the mascara was and how you could easily build volume with it. It's amazing that it's vegan and 'clean,' but my only worry would be its staying power."

Celebrity makeup artist Delina Medhin agrees that its buildability is impressive. "I think that one of the first things I noticed was how buildable it is," she says. Next she named its efficacy in simultaneously lengthening and volumizing. "People typically choose something that is either volumizing or lengthening, but I look for something that does both," she says, noting that because this product contains fibers in the formula it creates lashes that are both thicker and longer. As for the brush — which has a curvy hourglass shape — Medhin finds that it grips the lashes very well. "It's big enough to grip the top lashes, but when you do the bottom lashes, it's not too big that you can't get detailed with it," she says. "In my experience, that's how you can tell if you like the brush: by how well it performs on the bottom lashes."

I really wanted to find out if she agreed that it seemed to outperform the other clean category mascaras on the market. "Typically, my experience with clean mascaras is that they give a more natural effect, but don't grip the lashes very well or build enough," Medhin explains. "But this new mascara from exa is extra black-black, so it really stands out, and I think it holds up to traditional mascaras very nicely." But how?

What makes it clean?

To understand the challenges of creating clean mascara formulas, I reached out to cosmetic chemist Krupa Koestline, founder of KKT Consultants, who specializes in creating formulas that adhere to "clean" standards and sits on the Credo Clean Beauty Council. "Mascara falls into a category of products that are extremely technical to formulate and need a specialized chemist to get it right. It is extremely difficult to achieve the staples of a good mascara — volume, thickening, separation, non-clumping, long-wear, and smudge-proofing — with a clean ingredient selection," she says. As opposed to conventional formulas, she explains that "clean" variations omit ingredients like synthetic polymers and film-formers; ingredients' lists do not include things like PVP, nylons, PTFE, waxes like paraffin, and pigments like carbon black.

Allie Compton, the Head of Product Development at Credo, weighed-in on how. For starters, in the place of ingredients like cyclic silicones they opted for plant-based film-formers like "carnauba wax, acacia senegal gum, and rice bran wax" for structure. Darkening the formula also called for some creative thinking in order to omit carbon black, which Koestline points out that the entire industry is moving away from. "Black iron oxide alone does not impart the jet-black color that we wanted, [so] to increase the intensity and definition of the formula, we added a black charcoal made from bamboo with iron oxide as a colorant alternative to carbon black."

The fibers in the formula are one of the most important parts, responsible for the way the mascara grips the lash. To innovate, they formulated with orange peel cellulose fibers which are naturally black in color (plus impart vitamins A and C to the lashes as a perk).  Compton also explains that the buildability, which was remarked upon by two celebrity makeup artists, comes down to the formula's ratio of water to emollients, conditioners, and film-formers. "This ratio gives it a dryer formula with a buildable consistency that makes it easy to layer, amplifying lash volume without having to wait for the product to dry in between coats," she says. Part of the reason for the brush's unique shape was to control the transfer for seamless, clump-free buildability and lash separation.

By now, it should go without saying that this is my new favorite clean mascara while being the most affordable pick among my all-time faves. All that remains to be seen is how long the tube lasts before drying out, and whether it officially receives the waterproof stamp of approval.

Should you choose to give this new mascara a try, you now know how and why it does things differently. With a tube made from 100% post consumer material and a bio-resin brush made from castor beans, you can feel good about coating your lashes in a product by a brand that strives to be socially responsible.

The New "Clean" Exa ten18 Mascara is a Slam Dunk


To shop: $24;

From non-toxic makeup and skincare to sustainability practices, Clean Slate is an exploration of all things in the green beauty space. Find out what's really in your products — and what's being left out.

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