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Photo: Wix

What exactly is mascara?

For a product, we wear routinely and so close to our eyes, it makes a lot of sense to know what's inside the tube! Basically when you break it down mascaras have five main ingredients:
  • Water

  • Waxes

  • Emulsifiers

  • Preservatives

  • Pigments

Related | Dr. Erum Ilyas discusses Magnetic Lashes with Teen Vogue


By changing the percentage of each ingredient, the final product will create a different effect. Waterproof, volumizing, lengthening, etc. - regardless of what is listed as the effect, the overall ingredient label will likely be pretty similar with just different concentrations of each ingredient.
The other thing that contributes to these properties would be how dense the bristles on the applicator brush are. The more densely packed the bristles the more likely it is a volumizing product.
In terms of whether or not this contributes to the clumping still boils down to product exposure to air resulting in drying out prematurely resulting in clumping.
If the bristles are dense, then more product can technically accumulate. However, if the product is well maintained this shouldn’t be an issue!

Why does mascara clump?

Mascara clumping - so many reasons why!

  • Overloading the applicator with product. New bottles, pumping the wand up and down(bringing air into the bottle to dry out the mascara faster), having excess product on the tip of the applicator, and not swiping the mascara on the edges of the bottle builds too much product on the wand. This will clump on your lashes! Wipe off excess on the side of the container before applying.

  • Applying too many coats. I have watched so many YouTube makeup tutorials (purely for research:)) - I notice that they routinely apply numerous repetitive coats of mascara to give the appearance of thicker lashes. This can be done but to avoid clumping it helps to allow a coat to dry before applying a new coat or changing the formula of mascara for each coat (for example lengthening types for the first coats and thickening for the next)

  • Only applying in one direction can lead to clumping- changing up the direction (upwards, downwards, zig-zag) will help avoid clumping from build-up of product in one direction

  • Expired mascara will dry out and clump. Once a new container is opened it is best to write the date on the side with a black sharpie. Toss it in 3 months. Two big reasons why- first it dries out and will clump. The second reason is that once you open a new mascara, bacteria can start to enter the bottle gradually over time. One of the most common ‘cosmetic injuries’ is accidentally jabbing the eye with the mascara wand (think of women putting it on while at red lights and in traffic) or accidentally scratching the cornea. If the mascara is particularly old the bacteria that gets into the eye can cause some damage!

Most mascara will last for 3 months but if it does start to dry out sooner you can add saline eye drops to the bottle to restore some moisture to reduce clumping.

What is the best way to remove mascara?

For clumping mascara that was just applied- if you can catch this while still wet then simply using a tissue to gently wipe away excess will help. Getting some separate clean applicators to just brush out the excess in the lashes can help. Also, an eyebrow brush can be used to brush through eyelashes to help reduce clumping and separate the lashes.

For daily removal of mascara- this has become one of the most common reasons to see patients for eyelid rashes in the past few years! There are tons of makeup removers on the market. They do a great job of removing makeup. They also can dry the skin on the eyelids quite a bit. No one ever seems to trace their rashes back to their cleansers and makeup removers and is surprised when I mention it. These removers can irritate the thin eyelid skin quite a bit.

If you can tolerate routine makeup removers then it’s reasonable to use them. It even helps to apply Vaseline or Aquaphor after using a makeup remover to help soothe the skin.
However, I find the simpler things are cheaper, more effective, and far less irritating. This would be using ‘no more tears’ shampoos to gently wash the eyelashes. Another simple safe method is to use a cotton swab with white petroleum jelly or olive oil or baby oil to gently wipe away the mascara. It’s so gentle and far less irritating.
The concerns that come up with patients recently have mostly been eyelash fallout. When removing mascara, many get so aggressive that the delicate eyelid skin gets irritated or inflamed resulting in the loss of some eyelashes. It can take 1-3 months to get these back!
Most people that are aggressive with mascara removal are usually being aggressive because of the clumping. It’s basically an attempt to wipe away mascara from eyelashes that are sticking together!
If you can avoid clumping then you will probably be far less aggressive with your makeup removal! Choosing gentle techniques for makeup removal will help tremendously.

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