What Goes Into a Clean Mascara — and What’s Left Out?

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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

INSTYLE article

Buzzy Beauty Ingredient of the Moment: Squalane

It seems like every day brings with it a new beauty ingredient we, as a civilization, must know about. (Cue: Eva Longoria over-pronouncing “hy-a-lur-on-ic acid” at us on repeat!) But every now and then, a substance comes along worth really, truly knowing. Hyaluronic acid is certainly one of them — particularly for anyone who favors a hydrated complexion without an oily, slick feel — but what we’re here to focus on right now is a slightly more old-school ingredient enjoying somewhat of a resurgence in the beauty world of late: squalane.

“Squalane is a saturated and stable hydrocarbon. It’s a form of squalene oil (which is a natural component of human skin sebum), which means it’s not subject to auto-oxidation, so that makes the shelf-life longer,” explains Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist at Day Dermatology & Aesthetics in New York City. In other words, squalane is a more stable ingredient derived from less-stable squalene, just in case you were about to Google “what is the difference between squalane and squalane?” Got that?

In the past, both ingredients have typically been derived from shark liver oil (like, from actual sharks), but most formulas now rely on cruelty-free, vegan (and much more sustainable!) alternatives made from olive or rice bran oil. It’s these innovative new formulas that have reinvigorated the industry’s interest in squalane, particularly as consumers seek out vegan and cruelty-free products (not to mention dewy, hydrated aesthetics that rely on intense moisture).

Dr. King notes that squalane “has emollient properties which make it a good moisturizer, able to help skin barrier function and prevent loss of hydration that impairs dermal suppleness.” She recommends it for a range of different skin types and concerns, beyond just those associated with moisture. “It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so it can help soothe inflammatory skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and inflammatory acne.”

Cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson agrees there are many benefits associated with squalane in skin care: “It is a great product for all skin types to provide moisture; at high enough levels it has anti-wrinkle properties,” she says. She also notes that while many squalane formulas are thick oils and creams, there are also other options for those who don’t want to feel greasy. “It can be made to feel lighter or heavier on the skin depending on what it’s mixed with. It’s a versatile ingredient,” says Wilson, who also notes that there are few risks associated with it on the whole.

Not all experts are fully sold on the ingredient for every skin type, though. “It can be used across almost all skin types, but I am cautious in recommending it to people with acne because it may contribute to breakouts,” notes dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital.

Dr. King also points out that there are times when squalane itself may not be enough, particularly for those coping with severely parched skin. “If the skin is very dry and the environment is very dry, a stronger, heavier occlusive may be needed in addition to or instead of the squalane to lock in the moisture and ensure that hydration is not evaporating from the skin,” she advises.

Fashionista article

What Are Parabens & Why Are We So Afraid of Them?

What are parabens, and why are they used in cosmetics?

Parabens are a family of related chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products. Preservatives may be used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold, in order to protect both the products and consumers.

The parabens used most commonly in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben.

Product ingredient labels typically list more than one paraben in a product, and parabens are often used in combination with other types of preservatives to better protect against a broad range of microorganisms.

What kinds of products contain parabens?

Parabens are used in a wide variety of cosmetics, as well as in foods and drugs. Cosmetics that may contain parabens include makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, and shaving products, among others. Many major brands of deodorants do not currently contain parabens, although some may.

Cosmetics sold to consumers in stores or online must have a list of ingredients, each listed by its common or usual name. This is important information for consumers who want to find out whether a product contains an ingredient they wish to avoid. Parabens are usually easy to identify by their name, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or ethylparaben.

Does FDA regulate the use of preservatives in cosmetics?

FDA doesn’t have special rules that apply only to preservatives in cosmetics. The law treats preservatives in cosmetics the same as other cosmetic ingredients.

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, do not need FDA approval before they go on the market.

However, it is against the law to market a cosmetic in interstate commerce if it is adulterated or misbranded. This means, for example, that cosmetics must be safe for consumers when used according to directions on the label or in the customary way, and they must be properly labeled.

FDA can take action against a cosmetic on the market that does not comply with the laws we enforce. However, to take action against a cosmetic for safety reasons, we must have reliable scientific information showing that the product is harmful when consumers use it according to directions on the label or in the customary way.

Why are parabens thought to be bad for us?

While the FDA continues to conduct research regarding the effects of various Parbens on our health, other organizations have conducted their own studies to come up with the following conclusions.

‘Parabens allow products to survive for months, even years, in our bathroom cabinet; however when you use these products, they can also enter your body through your skin’, explains Tom Oliver, Nutritionist & Personal Trainer.

In 2004, a British study found traces of five parabens in the breast tissue of 19 out of 20 women studied. The study didn’t prove that parabens can cause cancer but identified that the parabens were able to penetrate the skin and remain within tissue.

Parabens are believed to disrupt hormone function by mimicking oestrogen. Too much oestrogen can trigger an increase in breast cell division and growth of tumours, which is why paraben use has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues.

Why are parabens bad for the environment?

Parabens aren’t just bad for humans, they impact the environment too. ‘A scientific study reported that parabens have been found for the first time in the bodies of marine mammals’, reveals Tom, ‘Researchers believe that it is likely these parabens come from products we use that are washed into the sewage system and released into the environment.’

So we should stop using parabens ASAP, right? 

Don’t panic. It’s important to note that the percentage of preservative in a formulation is generally very small.

‘It’s difficult to say if parabens are categorically “bad” for us,’ says Michelle, ‘but there are many other preservatives now available so it’s no longer necessary to use them. 

‘Manufacturers are creating new and effective preservatives all the time so there is a greater choice currently available.’

Some people assume that paraben-free and natural products are simply not as effective. ‘Paraben is cheap to mass-market,’ explains Tom, ‘but there are so many synthetic-free products on the market that are just as effective, I don’t see the need of using artificial ingredients which can cause irritation and stress, especially to sensitive skin types.’

The conclusion? Make an educated decision about what you put on your skin.

The term ‘paraben-free’ isn’t always the final answer. 

Tom warns that we should remain sceptical. ‘Although it looks as though many beauty companies are responding to the public’s concerns about parabens, some may be merely “greenwashing” – a term used when a “paraben-free” company markets themselves as a natural alternative, when in fact they contain other synthetic ingredients that may cause harm or irritation to the skin.’

In general, never take marketing and adverts at face value. With so much information available, it’s easy to educate ourselves on the label content of our beauty products. 

For an approved preservative listing, refer to ECOCERT – a certification body for the development of standards in natural and organic cosmetics.

FDA article
ELLE article
Paula’s Choice article
EWG article