We should be careful with everything we rub and dab on our skin, but we should take special care with products that go on places like our lips and eyes, as those areas tend to be more absorbent. I recently made the switch to clean beauty brands and honestly it was painful because I had to give up some of my favorite products from some expensive brands like Dior & Mac. But it was necessary because even though I only wear makeup occasionally, and it's often very minimal, it's important to me to keep my body free from unnecessary toxins, especially since I would like to birth little humans one day. Our environment is already heavily polluted, from the air we breathe to the water and food we ingest. I have to breathe, eat, and drink water; I do not, however, have to wear makeup. Makeup is simply something I like wearing and have no desire to sacrifice. Since I've happily chosen vanity, I will also choose more eco-friendly and nontoxic makeup alternatives.
Questions you should ask before purchasing mascara:
Is it sustainably packaged?
Think: stainless steel, metal, bamboo, glass, recycled paper
If it's plastic packaging, does the company offer a recycling option?
Wands for Wildlife will accept your mascara wand donations and repurpose them for use by wildlife rehabilitators in cleaning and grooming wild animals.
Does it contain PFAS?
Most waterproof mascaras do, so it's best to stay away
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are man-made forever chemicals that persist and accumulate in our bodies with use. According to the CDC, exposure to high levels of some PFAS can lead to an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancers, changes in liver enzymes, decreased infant birth weights, increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, increased cholesterol, a weakened immune system, and adverse effects on metabolism, insulin resistance, obesity, and decreased vaccine response in children. PFAS deserve their own article and I will write one about them, so subscribe to my blog to find out more!
Does it contain Talc?
Talc could be contaminated with asbestos fibers according to EWG. I know you're thinking, surely asbestos was banned in the 'Murica...you would be wrong. Since the American government is owned by corporations, attempts to ban this cancer-causing chemical have all failed. So, we're still exposed to asbestos frequently. While not all talc may have asbestos, no amount of asbestos is safe...at all! So why not just stay away from it if you can?
Does it contain coal tar or petrolatum-based products or byproducts?
Coal tar and other petrolatum-based compounds are often used as the primary dyes in many conventional mascaras. These compounds usually contain heavy metals, many of which are carcinogenic. Please avoid mascaras containing these substances as much as you can.
Does it contain any ingredients I'm allergic to?
Many ingredients are listed in their scientific form on the labels of these products; a quick EWG or google search should reveal their common names (when available) and help you identify what you may be allergic or sensitive to.
Are the ingredients low-toxic according to the EWG database?
Ingredients rated 1-2 are considered the safest for cosmetic use. Certain ingredients that are plastic-based may be in this number, so keep that in mind if you are choosing to abstain from contributing to plastic pollution. In addition, certain compounds may have a 3 or 4 (moderate toxicity) rank, due to their concerns regarding allergies or immunotoxicity. If you do not have any allergies to the product or immune concerns, this might not be a considerable factor for you.
Is it Vegan....? It doesn't necessarily have to be.
Hear me out: despite being in complete adherence to a plant-based diet, I don't believe that all products need to be vegan in order to be considered eco-friendly. There are many products that wouldn't be considered vegan because they contain (sustainably sourced) beeswax. I do not believe in boycotting such products because they are ethically sourced and effective, and did not involve the killing or maiming of any bees in the process. Now, if this is a complete no-no for you, that is perfectly alright. Simply read the ingredients of each product prior to purchase, to ensure that it is completely free of any animal products or byproducts.
Here are my recommendations for non-toxic & eco-friendly mascaras:
(from least to most expensive)
Clean Faced Organic Mascara $18.99
You can find this mascara on Etsy, along with their other zero-waste beauty products. This product has the simplest ingredients of all, with just charcoal, aloe vera, bentonite clay, and vitamin E comprising its ingredients list. It's packaged in a glass bottle with a stainless steel cap and ships with a bamboo wand. Although the owner doesn't specify this, it is most likely that the bristles are made of nylon - most bristles are nylon-based unless otherwise specified, including the bristles in your conventional toothbrush!
This mascara is packaged in a glass vial with a bamboo wand and a metal lid with a built-in spoolie. Zerra & Co also offers refills, as well as a container return program. With a very short ingredient list (12 ingredients) that are listed as safe via EWG, you can't go wrong with this product. Sure, it won't give you that fake lashes look that certain mascaras do, but it will do the job and make your lashes look fuller, while not contributing to plastic waste and pollution.
This mascara has some solid reviews and the videos show that it works on a variety of lash types. It contains ingredients that are mostly natural, many of which are hydrating - like glycerin and panthenol (vitamin B5). There is one ingredient on the list - sodium hydroxide which has some use restrictions according to EWG because it has concentration limitations for cosmetics. Overall, it appears to be a safe and effective mascara and is priced similarly to more high-end mascaras.
The tube is a plastic tube, and the mascara wand is made of nylon fibers - which is a type of plastic. Ilia works with Pact Collective to recycle its products. U.S. customers can mail in up to 10 empty beauty products per month - their brand or another brand's, and Ilia will recycle those empty products, preventing them from ending up in a landfill. Alternatively, you can simply drop off the empty container in a Pact Bin near you.
This is the priciest mascara on the list, however, you can get 3% cashback on your purchase at Package Free while shopping through this link. This company ships this item in a prepaid mailer that allows you to return the tube & the plastic wand to the vendor for use in their closed-loop program or recycle in plastic recycling. You can download your return label here to enable product recycling. The ingredients of this mascara are similar to other non-toxic mascaras, with water, glycerin, and seed oils in the recipe. No ingredient stood out as toxic on the EWG database; allowing you to feel safe while utilizing this product, as long as you do not have any allergies to its components.
As with most things, finding sustainable and non-toxic mascara isn't very easy. However, as shown above, there are options that will suit most people. Choosing non-toxic and sustainable beauty products helps you stay safe, while also reducing the massive amounts of pollution that the beauty industry inflicts on the planet every day.
Remember, the goal is not perfection, just little changes that will later snowball into big changes. Do the very best that you can, whenever you can, and encourage others to do the same; that's how we make positive changes for our bodies and for our planet.