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What Is Water-Based Mascara?

By Dee Jones
Updated May 21, 2024
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There are two commonly used types of mascara — Waterproof or oil-based mascara is long lasting and smudge resistant, while water-based mascara is easier to apply and remove. One of the biggest advantages of water-based mascara is its natural potential hydrogen (pH) levels, making it a healthier option for use near the delicate skin around the eyes. It also doesn’t contain some of the chemicals and additives found in waterproof mascara, making water-based mascara an ideal choice for those who have sensitive eyes or skin allergies. A third type of mascara is mixed variety mascara, although it is not as commonly used. Mixed variety mascara is a combination of water-based and waterproof mascara, and shares many advantages and disadvantages with both.

For many years, waterproof mascara was more popular than water-based. Waterproof mascara lasts longer, so it doesn’t have to be reapplied as often. This type of mascara doesn’t smudge as easily, meaning it will survive tears, perspiration, and even a vigorous swim. Lengthening and thickening mascara is often oil-based. Also, many find it necessary to use three or four coats of a water-based variety to get the same effect provided by just one or two coats of oil-based mascara.

There are many advantages to using water-based mascara. While waterproof mascara won’t smudge and lasts longer, it is also much harder to remove. Harsher mascara removers are required for this type of makeup, which can be damaging to the lashes.

Water-based mascaras are much easier to remove using a gentler, mascara remover, or even soap and water. Mascara that is water based dries faster, and won’t cause the eyelashes to clump or stick the way oil-based mascara can. Those with skin allergies or sensitive eyes are often encouraged to use water-based mascara. Waterproof mascara often contains substances like petroleum distillates that can cause irritation or breakouts.

Mascara that is water-based is ideal for those looking for natural eye makeup alternatives. Contact wearers should choose a water-based mascara that is hypoallergenic, or labeled “for sensitive eyes.” For those with eyelash extensions, using oil-based could dissolve the bonding agents used to affix the extensions to the eyelashes. These consumers should choose mascara that isn’t only water-based, but is made especially for those with extensions. Anyone who wishes to grow longer and thicker lashes should avoid using oil-based mascara, because removing waterproof mascara can damage the eyelashes in a way that can prevent them from growing as desired.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Jan 05, 2013

What's the best type of mascara wand for applying water based mascara?

By literally45 — On Jan 05, 2013

@donasmrs-- I understand where you're coming from, but for some people, like me, water based mascara is a better option.

I have extremely sensitive eyes and I often experience allergic reactions to eye makeup and eye infections. I have to use water based mascara because it's more natural and since it removes easily, it doesn't cause buildup of product on my lashes.

When I use oil based mascara, the product remains on my lashes, clogs the oil glands around my lashes and eventually causes an eye infection. It has happened many times and my eye doctor has forbid me to use oil based mascara. I have to use water based mascara with natural ingredients and make sure I take it off before I go to bed. I have not had any eye infections since I've started doing this.

By donasmrs — On Jan 04, 2013

I don't like water based mascaras. I hate that they leak, flake and become messy through the day. I don't have the patience or the time to clean and redo eye makeup. I like doing my makeup in the morning and I want it to last all day without the need for touch-ups.

I get so frustrated when I go to the restroom at work and see leaked mascara around my eyes. That's why I've switched to oil based waterproof mascara completely. I just can't deal with water based mascara.

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