Most mascara is not bad for you. However, some brands contain potentially toxic ingredients. And if you leave any kind of mascara on for too long or use it past its expiration date, it can do serious harm to your lashes and eyes.
For centuries, mascara has been used to thicken, lengthen and darken lashes and enhance the eyes. The beauty staple dates back to ancient Egypt; records from around 4000 B.C. indicate that both men and women used a thick, black kohl to mask their eyes and prevent evil spirits from entering their soul.
So, since mascara has been around for centuries—it can’t be that bad for you, right?
Not necessarily. Though mascara is used commonly (it’s an everyday product for many women), it can be potentially dangerous in a few different ways.
For one, not all mascara is the same. Different kinds are specially formulated to achieve specific results: curl, lengthen, lift, color, etc. For this reason, they contain different ingredients—not all of them are safe.
Like several other cosmetics and toiletries, some mascara contains parabens, which are preservatives that help prolong the product’s shelf life. For mascara, in particular, parabens are used to prevent bacteria growth within the tube. Although these preservatives have good intentions, the Breast Cancer Fund reports that parabens have been linked to a disruption of estrogen production in the body. Researchers aren’t exactly sure what this means quite yet... but parabens have been found in human breast tumors, so it’s likely that a correlation exists.
Mascara can also contain other harmful ingredients like aluminum powder (a neurotoxin) and propylene glycol (a known skin irritant). Fortunately, it’s easy enough to find toxin-free mascara. Read product labels and find out how your products stack up online: the Environmental Working Group (EWG) runs a “Skin Deep” website which ranks beauty products from most to least harmful. You can search the site or download the app to scan product barcodes while shopping in stores.
But even if you’re using a “safe” mascara, it doesn’t mean you can leave it on for days at a time. It’s important to properly remove mascara every night before going to bed. If you don’t, the product may mattify and dry out your lashes, which can cause them to break and fall out.
Finally, mascara should be thrown away after three months—even if there is still product remaining in the tube. Because of its packaging and close proximity to the eyes, mascara has the shortest shelf life of all cosmetics. Every time you apply mascara and then place the wand back in the tube, it increases the odds of bacteria growth. That’s why using mascara for longer than three months can easily lead to serious eye irritation, conjunctivitis, and even staph infections.
Possible short-term side effects
- skin irritation
- lash breakage/loss
- staph infection
Possible long-term side effects
- estrogen disruption
- breast cancer
Ingredients to be aware of
- aluminum powder
- propylene glycol
- mascara free of the ingredients mentioned above