The clean beauty market has been making serious waves in the industry over the past few years, with consumers becoming increasingly more mindful of the ingredients found in product formulations.
Yet, when it comes to mascara — which is arguably one of the most commonly used beauty products in North America — options are extremely limited.
“Mascara is notoriously hard to create because it is truly a union between three things: brush, wiper, and formula,” Dianna Ruth, co-founder of Milk Makeup, tells InStyle. “Getting all three to work in harmony is a challenge in itself. Clean mascara is a specific challenge because of the need to remove synthetics or parabens.”
Despite the hurdles, Milk Makeup, along with brands like Kosas and Ilia, have all gotten their formulas down pat, and even crafted the perfect wipers and brushes — and consumers can’t get enough.
What Ingredients Go Into a Clean Mascara?
Since there are no strict FDA regulations around these cosmetic formulations, ingredients can vary from brand to brand. However, to be considered “clean,” there’s a general standard of what’s left out.
“A brand needs to prepare and share ‘free – of,’ ‘no-no’ beauty ingredient list that prohibits the use of those ingredients in your products,” says Ruth.
Milk, Ilia, and Kosas are all free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and over 50 other potentially harmful ingredients.
But it is important to note that not all clean formulas contain vegan ingredients.
Why Should Certain Ingredients Specifically Be Left Out of Clean Mascara?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created a list featuring a plethora of potentially toxic ingredients found in personal care products that may be linked to cancer and other serious health concerns. This is why Sheena Yaitanes, founder of Kosas, along with the other founders believe it’s incredibly important to be mindful of what goes into mascaras.
“Your eye is a mucous membrane. It’s very vascular and very delicate and things can easily absorb there,” she explains. “We’ve all heard of the most popular ingredients to avoid in products, but the biggest thing that caught my eye when I was first reading the ingredient lists on my mascaras, was the liberal use of plastics and formaldehyde releasing agents like acrylates. Think of the plastic bags you get at the grocery store or acrylic nails.” (!)
How Are Clean Mascara Formulations Crafted Without Traditional Ingredients?
“We worked hand-in-hand with our formulating team to address concerns and find clean swaps for each of them,” Ilia Founder, Sasha Plavsic shares about the creation of the brand’s Limitless Lash Lengthening Mascara. “The amazing thing was that we found swaps to help maintain consumer performance expectations, but they also had other great benefits, like easy removal and less weight on the lashes.”
Yaitanes, who has long loved the look of “massive, almost fake looking lashes,” adds that she wanted to ensure consumers could get an ultra-bold finish by creating a formula for The Big Clean that not only gave them unforgettable results, but also would work to nourish their lashes. Turns out it was no easy feat.
“It took our research and development team 104 iterations to get this formula right,” she explains. “We tested the formulas on different people, different eyes shapes, and during different activities. I personally did a lot of sweaty yoga, others would sleep in each formula to test the morning-after impact, and one the members of our product development team tested during her MMA training. By the way, no mascara survives MMA — but we love that she tried.”
In the end, they were able to create a product that became an instant hit, which included lash care components like castor oil, pro vitamin B5, and biotinyl tripeptide. All used at a serum concentration.
But for vegan formulations, like Milk Makeup’s KUSH High Volumizing Mascara, which don’t include key binding ingredients like beeswax, everything has to be taken up a notch.
“My team had the idea of using hemp-derived cannabis seed oil in addition to synthetic beeswax,” says Ruth. “In doing so, we found that hemp-derived cannabis seed oil was the perfect addition — plus it had conditioning benefits for hair and skin.”