The Hidden Dangers of Mascara (and what to do about it!)

dangers of mascara
I may receive a commission if you purchase something mentioned in this post.
See more details here.

I love mascara. In truth, I rarely leave my house without it and a bit of tinted moisturizer with SPF, concealer (thanks baby;) and a quick brow pencil.  I’ve written about cleaning up my beauty products after becoming pregnant, but was shocked to learn about the hidden dangers of mascara

We know what we put on our body is just as important as what we put into our body. Remember that fun fact: whatever we put on our skin is absorbed within 26 seconds. Don’t believe me…try rubbing a clove of garlic on the bottom of your feet  (I dare you!) You’ll taste it in about 10 seconds!

Many of us are working on using safer soaps, deodorants, shampoo, etc. But makeup is hard. Most of us have our favorite brands and it’s hard to make a change. If you’re not ready to change, please head over to the Skin Deep database and check the safety of what you’re currently using.

Hint: if it’s not listed, there’s a strong chance the company making your mascara may not be very transparent and it’s likely not safe. This is the exact reason I have partnered with Beautycounter. They are transparent and committed to producing safe personal care products.

Conventional Mascara Ingredients

FORMALDEHYDE RELEASING PRESERVATIVES –  Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15. Used in a variety of cosmetics. Slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde, which causes cancer. 

PARABENS – Used as a preservative and is an endocrine disrupter that messes with your hormones. They’ve also been found in breast tissue of women with breast cancer.(1) 

BHA and BHT: Used as a preservatives and is an endocrine disruptor and may cause cancer and damage the liver. These are also found in some foods. 

PROPYLENE GLYCOL:  Linked to acne, eczema, and other skin allergies.

RETINYL ACETATE (VITAMIN A ACETATE) – Biochemical or cellular level changes, Cancer, Developmental/reproductive/organ system toxicity DNA damage, speeds growth of tumors, and birth defects. (2)

ALUMINUM POWDER – Considered a neurotoxin and linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other cancers.

PHTHALATES– found in synthetic fragrances, phthalates are responsible for a host of health issues, most notably infertility and birth defects.

PARFUM (a.k.a. fragrance) –even found in some products marketed as “unscented.” Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies, asthma, and acne, linked to cancer and neurotoxicity, and are harmful to fish and other wildlife.  Why do you need fragrance on your eyes – that’s the definition of crazy. Oh, it’s to cover up the smell of coal tar! 

COAL TAR DYES- potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.

MERCURY (THIMEROSAL)- FDA has banned the use of mercury compounds in all cosmetics except those used around the eyes, where levels are limited to 65 parts per million (ppm). It can accumulate in the body and may cause allergic reactions, skin irritation, or neurotoxic manifestations. Mercury is considered particularly toxic to the developing brain during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood.

*Ingredient research provided by The Environmental Working Group*

dangers of mascara

Which Mascaras Are Safe? 

*Please note…this study showed NO mascara is safe after 3 months as bacteria, such as staph, strep and spores, are likely to be present after that time period.

Beautycounter Mascara’s

Volumizing: This mascara has cult like following. I love how full this mascara makes my lashes look and is definitely ideal for a more dramatic look. It’s easy to get off and I haven’t had issues with smudging. I start with one coat of volumizing on my upper and lower lashes and then a second coat of Beauctycounter lengthening mascara (details on that formula below) to draw my lashes out and make them look longer. Here’s what it looks like (no eyeliner or shadow.)

Lengthening: I love that one coat of this mascara gives me long pretty lashes all day. I like the sleek tube and that it does not clump. It’s really nice for that daytime  ‘I’m not wearing much makeup’ look. It’s easy to remove and stays put. No running or dripping down my face.

The brush is also very small and according to top Hollywood makeup artist Genevieve Garner, “I prefer smaller brushed because you can wiggle the mascara onto lashes with less mess. The brushes don’t dry out as fast because you aren’t pushing as much air down into the tube. However, you should still replace your mascara every 3 months because of bacteria growth and to prevent eye infections.”

Is it safe? 

Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Cera Alba/Beeswax/Cire d’abeille,Citric Acid, Gluconolactone, Glycerin, Iron Oxides, Isododecane, Lecithin, Panthenol,Polyglyceryl-3 Polyricinoleate, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Sodium Benzoate, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Trimethylsiloxysilicate, Calcium Gluconate, Ceresin, Cera Carnauba/Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax/Cire de carnauba,Disteardimonium Hectorite, Euterpe Oleracea (Acai) Fruit Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Cera Microcristallina/Microcrystalline Wax/Cire microcristalline, Polyglyceryl-3 Diisostearate, Polyglyceryl-6 Polyricinoleate, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Seed Oil, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, VP/Eicosene Copolymer. *Organic/Biologique

Beautycounter carefully selects ingredients based on level of toxicity, choosing safer preservatives. I’m pleased this mascara contains lots of organic and botanical ingredients and is free of the toxic ingredients we talked about above.

Bottom line: I feel great about using it and it works!

Price: $29

Get Beautycounter Lengthening and Volumizing Mascara here.

dangers of mascara

100 Percent Pure

I love how this mascara smells and like that it adds nice volume to my lashes. The downside is it tends to smear a bit compared and is not as lengthening as my Beautycounter mascara.

Is it safe?


Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Wax, Extracts of Rubus Fruticosus (Blackberry) Fruit, Ribes Nigrum (Blackcurrant) Fruit, Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Fruit, Coconut Stearic Acid, Pantothenic Acid (Pro-vitamin B5) and Fucus Vesiculosus (Seaweed) Powder, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Passiflora Alata (Maracuja) Seed Oil, Extracts of Aloe Barbadensis (Organic Aloe Juice) Leaf*, Oryza Sativa Germ Powder (Rice Powder), Theobroma Cacao Extract (Cocoa Powder), Coffea Arabica Seed (Coffee Beans), Origanum Vulgare (Oregano) Leaf, Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Flower/Leaf, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Flower/Leaf/Stem, Hydrastis Canadensis (Goldenseal), Passiflora Alata (Maracuja) Seed, Lonicera Caprifolium Flower and Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower, Vegetable Glycerin, May Contain Iron Oxides * Certified Organic

100% Pure uses safe botanical ingredients and preserves with ingredients like rosemary and thyme.

Bottom line: I feel so comfortable with their makeup that I’d let my daughter (if I had one) wear it.

Price: $25

Get 100% Pure Mascara here.

dangers of mascara

Pacifica Beauty

I used Pacifica Beauty products for many years prior to pregnancy. I felt like I was using a more natural brand that performed fairly well. They are a mid-priced brand that uses some botanical ingredients.

I really like the mascara from a volumizing and lengthening perspective with 2-3 coats.

Is it safe?

Ingredients: aqua, glyceryl stearate se, jojoba esters, glycerin (vegetable), myristoyl pentapeptide-17, tapioca starch, stearic acid (vegetable), cellulose, phospholipids, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, copernicia cerifera (carnauba) wax, euphorbia cerifera (candelilla) wax), arabic/acacia gum, potassium cetyl phosphate, cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, panthenol (vitamin b), gluconolactone, macrocystis pyifera (brown kelp) extract, hydrolyzed lupine protein, hydrolyzed oryza sativa (rice) protein, sodium benzoate. May contain: Iron oxides CI 77499.

You’ll see the ingredients aren’t perfect, but it’s free of parabens and seems to be free of phthalates and the other harmful ingredients we discussed and also contains some lash-nourishing ingredients like jojoba.

Bottom line: I may feel fine using it if I weren’t nursing or hoping to get pregnant again, but there are cleaner options.

Price: $16

Get Pacifica Beauty Mascara here.

What’s your favorite brand of natural mascara? Please share your picks!

CLICK HERE to Pin this Post:

dangers of mascara


Melissa Schollaert is a Holistic Health & Nutrition Counselor and founder of Real Nutritious Living. Helping others achieve their health goals to attain their healthiest, happiest life is her greatest ambition.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive montetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. However, I only recommend products or services I have personally used myself and trust.
 MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: This content is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, or as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult with your advising physician before starting any treatment for a medical condition. Real Nutritious Living, LLC shall not be held liable or responsible for any misunderstanding or misuse of the information contained on this site or for any loss, damage, or injury caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by any treatment, action, or application of any food or food source discussed in this site.

Author: Melissa Schollaert

I'm Melissa—Holistic Health Coach & loving mama. My passion is to help others thrive through strategic eating (not dieting), living a toxic free life & creating healthier families.

17 thoughts on “The Hidden Dangers of Mascara (and what to do about it!)”

  1. Oh my goodness! This makes me so glad I don’t wear any makeup. I’m definitely sharing this with my mom, she’s allergic to formaldehyde and wears mascara daily. 🙁

    1. You’re welcome Megan! SO glad you’re loving Beautycounter. They really are such a solid, safe and transparent brand.

  2. I’ve heard great things about Beauty Counters mascara! I just have yet to try it! I use a natural one made by a local friend, but it’s not waterproof and I hate that! It doesn’t have to have those nasty “waterproof” ingredients, I just dont’ want black running down my cheeks! 😉

    1. Oh wow! I haven’t embarked on homemade because the new Beautycounter formulas are so incredible. You will LOVE them!

  3. This all makes total sense to me. I struggled for most of my adult life trying lots of different high street brands of mascara, and they’d all make my left eye water spontaneously, and go itchy for some reason. I switched to Green People natural mascara and it’s never happened since! It’s a shame all this is usually kept quiet – thank you for pointing it out! 🙂

  4. Love both the first two! One thing I found about 100% Pure mascara is if your eyes water at all or you cry even a little, it will smudge! Also at least with my lashes, it will not hold a curl with 100% pure either. Otherwise I love it for everyday! And that it smells like berries!

    1. Oh thanks for your feedback Katrina! I had smudging issues with 100 percent pure as well, but mmm, the smell!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *