Two cruelty-free and non-toxic mascaras by The Honest Company and Ere Perez shown side by side on a wooden table surface with plants and mug in the background.
December 20, 2023
 in 
Beauty

9 Quality Cruelty-Free and Non-toxic Mascara Brands for Glamorously Eco-Friendly Lashes

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here is an unfortunate assumption that caring about the planet somehow means that you can’t care about “frivolous” things like makeup. Of course, as many of us know, there is absolutely nothing frivolous about the lash and mood-boosting properties of a great mascara. Though not medically proven to cure hangovers, they are sometimes the only way some of us can fake looking awake for a Monday meeting.

However, we also can’t deny the negative impact that many mascaras have on the environment. Nasty formulations, animal testing, and wasteful packaging all contribute. Making it even more confusing are the vague advertising terms often used around products, especially in the world of “clean” beauty.

In this article, we’re going to break down what phrases like “non-toxic” actually mean, as well as nine go-to beauty brands offering more eco-friendly mascara options. We’ll look at cruelty-free credentials right alongside anti-clumping claims so that you don’t have to compromise glamour for sustainability, or vice versa. Bat those lashes baby, there’s a lot we need to look at:

Table of  Contents

What Is “Cruelty-Free” Mascara?

Six of the cruelty-free logos to look for when shopping for cruelty-free mascara shown against white background.

In 2003, Reese Witherspoon gave this stirring speech as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde 2 and spoke up for animals who could not speak for themselves:

The film highlighted a shockingly commonplace practice: the testing of cosmetics on innocent animals. It’s been decades since that film was released but animal testing remains an issue in the beauty world. Limit your Sephora or Ulta search to “cruelty-free” products only and it whittles pages of results down to just a handful. 

But what even is a “cruelty-free mascara”? When we see phrases like “cruelty-free” and “not tested on animals” on mascara packaging, most of us assume that the item was made without harming animals. The reality is a little murkier. According to an article from the FDA, “cruelty-free” and “not tested on animals” are unrestricted terms with no legal definition. As such, it’s very easy for beauty brands to use them misleadingly. For example, a mascara can have “cruelty-free” written on the packaging and it only mean that the final product wasn’t tested on animals. Raw materials may have still undergone animal testing through contract laboratories.

For some, “cruelty-free” simply means that the ingredients aren’t currently being tested on animals. Many cosmetic materials will have undergone testing in the past and of course, current brands can’t undo that. There’s also little point in penalizing them for that.

What is important, however, is that brands are transparent about what makes their “cruelty-free mascara” cruelty-free in the first place. It’s a far more subjective term than most realize.

Many beauty brands have helped bolster their “cruelty-free” status by partnering with organizations like Peta which gave this answer when asked how they certify companies:

“Companies listed either signed PETA’s statement of assurance or provided a statement verifying that they do not conduct or commission any animal tests on ingredients, formulations, or finished products and that they pledge not to do so in the future.”

Next time you’re considering a vegan, cruelty-free mascara, check if the brand has any certifications or extra information that explains how the terms apply to them. It’s not as dramatic as Elle Woods getting a bill passed to stop animal testing, but it’s a great way to join the fight.

What Is Non-Toxic Mascara? What Ingredients Should You Avoid and Why?

As with animal testing, the term “non-toxic” isn’t a legal or FDA-guided one and thus differs from brand to brand. As a general rule of thumb, however, we’d argue that a non-toxic mascara should at least avoid these known irritants and harmful ingredients:

  • Harmful Preservatives: Parabens are some of the most widely used preservatives for cosmetic products such as mascara, despite studies showing that they may be endocrine disruptors. This means that they can alter how our hormones function, and negatively impact health as a result. Other preservatives that crop up in mascara formulations include Formaldehyde, a carcinogenic, and Thimerosal, a mercury-based product that can be absorbed through the skin and is especially unsafe for children and pregnant people. “Toxic” is a very broad term but each of these preservatives in some way has the potential to do harm to our bodies and thus warrant avoiding wherever possible.
  • Synthetic Fragrances: Synthetic fragrances, depending on how they’re produced can pose a risk to both your well-being and the planet’s. Many involve the use of petroleum, which is rife with environmental issues. Synthetic fragrances can also be major irritants on the skin and, because the FDA does not require companies to disclose the ingredients in their proprietary fragrances, can easily hide a host of additives that are best avoided.
  • Synthetic Colorants: Ever wondered what gives black mascara its rich color? Unfortunately, many formulas rely on pigments that contain aluminum or iron oxide. Some brands will disclose the exact color index (CI) number used which you can Google to double-check that it doesn’t contain heavy metals. Synthetic dyes in many cosmetic products are also guilty of releasing “amines” to the skin which can be carcinogenic.
  • Toxic “conditioning” ingredients: Mascaras will often contain “conditioning” agents meant to soften the lashes. One of the most popular conditioning ingredients to use is retinyl acetate, a synthetic form of retinol (Vitamin A). Considering that it’s a potential carcinogen and harmful to pregnant people, we wish fewer formulations relied on it. There are plenty of ingredients that can condition lashes, with far less potential to cause harm.

Beyond scary words like “hormone-disruptors” or “carcinogenic”, many of these ingredients are also known skin irritants. If you struggle with eczema, dermatitis, etc. choosing a non-toxic mascara can majorly reduce reactions and improve your overall skin health as a result.

With the ingredients listed, we also want to note that limited studies have been done on the exact impact they can have when used in cosmetics. Some have argued that small amounts of known carcinogens are unlikely to be harmful but lawsuits like the 53,311 currently pending against Johnson & Johnson regarding the cancer risks associated with their Talc-based powder are a reminder that caution is not a bad thing.

As we’ll explore in the next section, non-toxic mascara isn’t just a better choice for your health. There are also environmental benefits to going toxic-free.

How Are Cruelty-Free and Non-Toxic Beauty Products Eco-Friendly?

Animal testing and the use of known toxins in cosmetics aren’t just bad for people and bunnies, there’s an environmental cost too. The laboratories that run animal testing involve the use of large amounts of energy and water to keep animals at controlled temperatures, etc. These facilities also tend to incur significant waste.

Choosing cruelty-free mascara doesn’t just allow consumers to take a stand against the ethics of animal testing, but the negative environmental impact of these laboratories too. This is what ultimately makes cruelty-free beauty items more eco-friendly.

When it comes to the eco-friendliness of something like a non-toxic mascara, it’s all about formulations that don’t include petroleum or heavy metals. The mining, refinement, and transportation of toxic chemicals like these tend to incur high amounts of carbon emissions and generally exist in environmentally damaging industries. These ingredients are also not biodegradable which means when they enter water systems, soil, and landfills, they will accumulate over time.

The full impact of this on human and environmental health isn’t yet clear. However, having known carcinogens and endocrine disrupters entering the environment certainly raises red flags. As this academic paper illustrates, things like parabens have been found to accumulate in water systems and aquatic animals, with early research just beginning to show the damage it may be causing.

What Is an Eco-Friendly Mascara?

Like so much in the clean beauty space, claims like “eco-friendly mascara” get thrown around with little criteria to support it. Here’s how we define an eco-friendly mascara: one that isn’t tested on animals, is EWG certified (we’ll explain that in a moment), and is from a brand that actively tries to reduce waste or contribute to sustainability in some way. In other words, its eco-friendly attributes cover:

  • Testing
  • Formulation
  • Packaging, shipping, waste management, etc.

It’s a 360-degree approach we’re asking for but when it comes to being eco-friendly, that’s the only way to do things properly.

What Does “EWG Verified” Mean?

EWG Verification trademark.
EWG verification trademark

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a highly influential nonprofit organization that spotlights various issues around the use of pesticides and toxic chemicals in food and cosmetic products. They have advocated for legislative changes regarding these issues and have made it their mission to educate people about the legal loopholes that may be putting human and environmental health at risk.

What does all this have to do with finding the best clean mascara? Well, the EWG does two important things for the cosmetics industry:

  1. It provides a wealth of information regarding common ingredients and their relative safety.
  2. They run an increasingly popular certification program.

You’ve almost definitely seen the signature “EWG” verified stamp on an item. Here’s what that bit of verification on clean mascara brands actually means: 

  • The item avoids EWG’s ingredients of concern and can’t contain anything from their “unacceptable” list. In other words, you get to rest easy knowing that your on-toxic mascara has a formulation free of anything associated with serious health or ecotoxicity concerns.
  • To be verified, products have to meet the EWG standards of ingredient disclosure with each ingredient listed clearly on the product label, including their fragrance. That last aspect is very important as it’s something the FDA doesn’t require. It’s one of the many ways the EWG is encouraging brands to go above and beyond in terms of keeping their consumers informed and safe.
  • Manufacturing processes also have to meet certain standards to ensure that the final products are safe and free of contamination.

Going through the EWG verification process is no small thing for a beauty brand. It shows a real commitment to transparent manufacturing and formulations, as well as to the protection of their customers.

The EWG website is also a hugely useful resource to check if you’re ever unsure about an ingredient and want to see the research surrounding it. For more specific information, check out their guide to Skin Deep® ratings and how they determine the “hazardous” level of cosmetics.

Buying Tips for Cruelty-Free and Non-Toxic Mascara

Read the fine print. That’s the best advice we can give you when shopping for cruelty-free or non-toxic mascara. The best clean mascara will have some kind of certification or verification regarding their cruelty-free or non-toxic status, or at least will offer proper transparency regarding ingredients.

9 of the Best Brands for Good, Cruelty-Free Mascara that Still Performs!

The best organic mascara. The best plastic-free mascara. The best vegan, cruelty-free mascara. We’ve got everything you need to know about buying a product that will do right by the planet, and still have your lashes looking lush all day long.

Here are 9 of the best clean mascara brands, the effect they provide on the lashes, and their sustainability factors:

Honest Beauty

Honest Beauty's best cruelty-free and EWG Verified, extreme length mascara.

Founded by actress Jessica Alba Honest Beauty’s Extreme Length Mascara is a fan favorite with our team and beauty lovers around the world. It’s technically a 2-in-1 product with a lash primer included and won the Reader’s Choice Allure Beauty award in 2021. It was also the #1 clean mascara on Amazon for that year and has an over 4-star rating on all the major beauty sites with thousands of rave reviews. Here’s why it lives up to the hype:

The Lash Effect:

  • The formula lifts and lengthens lashes, while also being long-lasting. The only downside is that it isn’t waterproof.
  • Ophthalmologist-tested.

The Sustainability Factors:

  • EWG verified. This nontoxic mascara skips out on parabens, synthetic fragrances, and paraffins.
  • Peta certified Animal Test-free
  • The mascara cartons are FSC-certified and made from 100% recycled pre/post-consumer waste materials.

Where to Buy: Directly from their site, from Amazon, or Ulta.

Ere Perez

The Vegan and cruelty-free avocado waterproof mascara by Ere Perez.

The Avocado Waterproof Mascara from Ere Perez is another team favorite here. Not only is it one of the best cruelty-free waterproof mascara options (they’ve won awards from Vogue and Marie Clare for the smudge-proof formula), but ingredients include mamey and avocado oils to help strengthen and regenerate lashes. In that way, it acts as both makeup and haircare for your lashes all at once.

The Lash Effect:

  • Seriously smudge-proof and long-lasting.
  • Both lengthening and volumizing effect.
  • The formula feels very light on lashes.
  • Suitable for sensitive eyes (alcohol-free).

The Sustainability Factors:

  • It’s one of the best vegan mascaras and contains many natural ingredients.
  • The brand is certified cruelty-free by PETA and Choose Cruelty Free Australia.
  • GMO-free ingredients and a focus on using organic wherever possible.

Where to Buy: Directly from their site or various stockists.

Ilia

Ilia's cruelty free and low waste Limitless Mascara.

Ilia’s Limitless Lash Mascara is the stuff of clump-free legends. Just look at this application:

With 99% naturally derived ingredients it’s also one of the best natural mascaras on the market. It is a little on the pricier side than most but with 9 beauty awards to back it up, it may be worth the spend. The combing effect on the patented dual-sided wand gives a clean, lifted look with the only disappointment being that this isn’t a waterproof formula. It is flake-resistant but won’t be as long-lasting as the Ere Perez mascara, for example.

The Lash Effect:

  • Lengthened, volumized, and separated lashes.
  • Ophthalmologist tested and safe for sensitive eyes.
  • Organic shea butter and keratin-containing Arginine also help boost lashes long-term.

The Sustainability Factors:

  • Organic ingredients.
  • Leaping Bunny Certified cruelty-free.
  • Part of the 1% for the Planet initiative focused on reforesting the Amazon.
  • They recently updated their packaging to be a mono-material tube which reduces carbon emissions and waste. The company also runs a recycling program for empties.

Where to Buy: Directly from their website or Sephora.

Tower28

Vegan make waves mascara formulated for sensitive eyes by Tower28.

If you’re looking for a vegan, cruelty-free mascara that will give you full, long lashes in just a few swipes – look no further. The Tower28 MakeWaves™ Mascara won an Allure Beauty Award in  2022 and is one of the few beauty brands verified to be compliant with the National Eczema Association guidelines.

The Lash Effect:

  • Lengthening and volumizing.
  • Ophthalmologist tested and safe for sensitive eyes.

The Sustainability Factors:

  • Vegan and cruelty-free.
  • Fragrance-free, as well as free of various other irritants.
  • Ingredients are tested extensively to be safe and effective, and the brand is also compliant with California Prop 65 and EU Cosmetic Regulations.

Where to Buy: Directly from their website or Sephora.

Saie

Cruelty-free Mascara 101 made with organic ingredients by Saie brand.

Mascara 101 from Saie is a no-makeup favorite online. This cruelty-free mascara won’t give you big lashes but instead creates an extra fluttery, French girl look that is perfect for everyday glamour. It’s also won beauty wards from Women’s Health, HelloGiggles, and PopSugar,

The Lash Effect:

  • Lifted and lengthened lashes.
  • Includes ingredients to strengthen and condition.

The Sustainability Factors:

  • True commitment to ingredient transparency with a breakdown on their website of each ingredient and why it’s included– not a common occurrence! This non-toxic mascara is free of things like parabens, GMOs, and synthetic fragrances.
  • Certified climate-neutral and plastic-negative.
  • Leaping Bunny certified.
  • Donates to 1% for The Planet.

Where to Buy: Directly from their website or Sephora.

100% Pure

Fruit Pigmented Ultra lengthening, natural and cruelty free mascara by 100% Pure.

This clean mascara brand is perhaps best known for its Fruit Pigmented® Ultra Lengthening Mascara. What makes this one of the best natural mascara options is its innovative use of black tea, berries, and cocoa to provide natural, plant-based pigment. We love that it comes in multiple shades too from midnight black to a fun blueberry hue.

The Lash Effect:

  • Lengthens and separates without clumping or smudging.
  • Water-resistant

The Sustainability Factors:

  • Cruelty-Free (but not externally verified).
  • This non-toxic mascara is free from synthetic dyes and other problematic ingredients.
  • The brand is part of multiple charitable partnerships.

Where to Buy: Directly from their website.

Elate

Essential mascara by Elate with refillable glass tube.

Unfortunately, a completely plastic-free mascara does not yet exist but Elate comes extremely close with their Essential Mascara. Besides providing a natural, sweat-resistant pigment to the lashes, this buildable mascara also comes in a recyclable glass and bamboo tube.

The Lash Effect:

  • Volumizing and lengthening.
  • Sweat-resistant but still easy to wash off.

The Sustainability Factors:

  • 75% organic ingredients.
  • Vegan and cruelty-free.
  • Meets EU standards for ingredient safety.
  • 95% of packaging is reusable or recyclable.
  • Ethical supply chain.

Where to Buy: Directly from their website.

Erin’s Faces

Natural and allergen free Matcha mascara by Erin's Faces.

It’s extremely hard to find an organic, waterproof mascara as most brands don’t offer products with fully organic ingredients. Erin’s Face, however, is one of the best organic mascara options as its lead ingredient, Matcha, is sourced organically. See it in action from Erin herself, a make-up artist:

The Lash Effect:

  • Lengthens, volumizes, and is flake-resistant.
  • Contains lash serum ingredients for long-term lash health.

The Sustainability Factors:

  • Peta-certified animal test-free.
  • No synthetic dyes, fragrances, or parabens.
  • The packaging is glass for easy recycling.
  • Carbon-neutral shipping.

Where to Buy: Directly from their website and various stockists.

Rose Inc.

Vegan Lift Serum mascara by Rose Inc. with recyclable tube.

Founded by model Rosie Huntington-Whitely in partnership with a Amyris, a leader in sustainably made cosmetic ingredients, Rose Inc. has quickly become a powerhouse in the clean beauty space. Their Ultra-Black Lash Lift Serum Mascara has won beauty awards from Essence, Allure, and Bustle thanks to the nourishing, long-wearing formula it provides.

The Lash Effect:

  • Lengthens and defines for a very natural curl.
  • Peptides and various plant oils help strengthen lashes over time and prevent damage.
  • Clinically tested ingredients.

The Sustainability Factors:

  • Plastic compact made from 50% post-consumer recycled waste.
  • Recyclable carton made from FSC-certified paper and printed with soy-based ink.
  • Vegan and cruelty-free.
  • Committed to the use of clean, transparent ingredients.

Where to Buy: Directly from their website or Sephora.

Get Ready to Lash Out

Famed supermodel, Iman, once said that “glamour never takes a day off”. Neither does the planet. Pick any one of the sustainable mascara brands listed and you’ll still have the fluttery, gorgeous lashes other non-sustainable choices provide but with less environmental damage to worry about.

Even just shopping less often and more consciously and checking ingredient lists next time you’re in a beauty aisle can save your skin some irritation and keep toxic chemicals out of water systems. By paying more attention to your beauty choices, you’re already part of the change.