Everyone has a desert island beauty product. One with transformative superpowers that can pull your whole look together in seconds. For many of us, it’s mascara. A quick coat can make you look bright eyed and awake, even when you’re not feeling it. But if you have sensitive eyes, mascara can be a can't-live-with-it-can't-live-without-it daily struggle. After all, bloodshot eyes, swollen lids, stinging, itching and burning (or all of the above) isn’t exactly the wide-eyed look you’re going for.
"There are many conditions that can make someone's eyes more sensitive than others," says Catherine Orentreich, M.D., a New York City-based board certified dermatologist and guiding dermatologist for Clinique. From skin conditions like eczema and rosacea to seasonal or topical allergies, eyes are exceptionally susceptible to irritation. "Eyelid skin is extremely thin and has fewer oil glands than other areas of the skin," says Dr. Orentreich. This causes a two-fold problem: thin skin is more easily damaged, while less oil means drier skin, which is more easily irritated.
So can mascara really work for someone who has sensitive eyes? Absolutely. Here are eight mascara for sensitive eyes tips that can make daily wear a breeze, even if you're prone to full-blown mascara meltdowns.
1. Better safe than sorry.
Many things can cause sensitivity to mascara. To play it safe, look for one that's allergy and ophthalmologist tested, and fragrance free. Hint: all Clinique mascaras pass the test, which is why they are among the most recommended mascaras by dermatologists and ophthalmologists. Every single formula is meticulously tested, and if there's even one reaction, it's reformulated. But choosing a safer mascara doesn't mean you have to sacrifice wow-factor. Have it all with High Impact™ Mascara, an ophthalmologist-tested volumising mascara for sensitive eyes that kicks up the volume and length of each and every lash, giving you all the drama with no irritation.
2. Patch test it.
Just as dermatologists recommend to test a new hair dye on a small area of skin to see if you develop a reaction before using, do the same with your mascara. Swipe just a little on your outer lashes and wait a few hours. All good? Then finish up a full application.
3. Don't get too close.
When applying mascara, avoid getting too close to your sensitive lashline. Instead, wiggle your brush into the very middle of your lashes, then gently sweep out to the tips. Think you can't wear mascara on your bottom lashes? Think again. Bottom Lash Mascara™ has a tiny, micro-precision brush that's perfect for detailing at a distance, and the Advanced Thermal Technology formula defines lashes without smudging, flaking or seeping into your eyes.
4. Skip nail polish.
Your manicure might be the last thing you'd suspect to be an eye irritant, but it's completely possible. Formaldehyde, often found in nail polish, gives off fumes that trigger sensitivity in eyes. Try going polish-free for a while to see if wearing mascara becomes less irritating.
5. Stick to fragrance-free creams.
According to Dr. Orentreich, fragrance is one of the biggest eye irritants, so take care to also avoid scented eye, face and hand creams. A great eye cream for sensitive skin? Try All About Eyes™ – the fragrance-free gel cream formula soothes, smooths and de-puffs the delicate under-eye area, without any irritation.
6. Remove with care.
Whatever you do, avoid rubbing your eyes while wearing mascara throughout the day. Likewise, when it comes to removing your eye makeup (which you always do before bed, right?), Dr. Orentreich says the less rubbing, the better. "Remove mascara and eye makeup in separate steps to minimise the tugging," she suggests. Firstly, saturate a cotton ball with a dual-phase, emulsifier-free makeup remover like Take The Day Off™ Makeup Remover For Lids, Lashes & Lips, and gently press over your lashes for 10 seconds. This way, the remover has time to break down the mascara, which means fewer sweeps to get the job done. Once all of your mascara is off, remove the rest of your makeup with a double cleansing routine.
7. Or remove with warm water.
To make removal even easier, choose a tubing mascara that rinses off with just warm water, like High Impact Zero Gravity™ Mascara. This lifting and curling mascara for sensitive eyes stays put for 24 hours, but its innovative poly-thermal technology means it slips off with warm water at the end of the day. Lash Power™ is another great option if you’re looking for a mascara with warm water removal.
8. Live by the six-month rule.
Don't forget that mascara has an expiration date. Toss it after six months, no matter what, and crack open a fresh tube.
Clinique mascara for sensitive eyes reviews.
"Best mascara EVER! This mascara is one of the best around. Kind to my eyes, as I'm a contact lens wearer. It is a must have beauty product in everyone's make up bag!" – Sam from Dewsbury on High Impact™ Mascara.
"I wouldn't use anything else! This mascara for sensitive eyes ticks all the boxes for me. It goes on smoothly with no clumping, separates eyelashes beautifully and best of all, it doesn't irritate my eyes. I have very sensitive eyes and I have absolutely no irritation with this – brilliant!" – Liz from Perth on High Impact™ Mascara.
"Absolute dream everyday mascara. I created an account so that I could leave this review... I have oily hooded eyelids and struggle to find a mascara that doesn't smudge but is also easy to remove and doesn't hurt my sensitive eyes. This is that and more. It is beautiful. Long, fluttery lashes, perfectly shaped brush, curls and lengthens in a pretty (not over-done) way... And, most importantly, stays put all day and then just rinses off with warm water (exactly as advertised). Not a smudge in sight and happy happy eyes." – Sara from Glasgow on High Impact Zero Gravity™ Mascara.
"Love it! This mascara is a gamechanger! Doesn't smudge no matter what I do all day, its so nice to be able to workout, especially outside, and not look like a panda by the end of the day. The brush is really small which makes application easy at the side of the lashes." – Liv from Steyning on Lash Power™.
Photo: Yasu + Junko | Words: Kristen Bateman with Dr Catherine Orentreich, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist. Updated May 2023.