Waterproof Mascara Ingredients That May Make You Think Twice Before Using It Again

Waterproof mascara is a popular choice for a lot of people, and for good reason. Not only can it last all day without smudging, but it can also be used in a mascara hack that will keep your lashes curled longer. This is a product that's been in most people's beauty arsenal for decades, originally marketed by businesswoman Helena Rubinstein in 1939, per Dazed Digital. First made with more than 50% turpentine, the product has since gone through some major transformations, per My Beautiful Flaws. Today, it's a popular beauty tool that most people keep in their makeup bag and is extremely accessible — some of the best waterproof mascaras are available at the drugstore.


However, it's recently come to light on social media that this product might not be so harmless. The ingredient that makes our mascara waterproof can actually cause several health complications, according to TikTok user @thelawyerangela, who gives advice based on her legal knowledge. The Harvard School of Public Health backs this up by explaining that toxic chemicals such as poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are found in many waterproof mascaras, as well as foundations and liquid lipsticks.

The dangers of waterproof mascara

PFAS are used for their water-resistant properties and were originally made for the military to make grease-proof pans and coats (via Environmental Health News). The problem with this compound, as @thelawyerangela explains in her TikTok video, is it's linked to a myriad of health issues including cancer, impaired immune function, and obesity, among other conditions. A 2021 study published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters showed that after testing multiple cosmetic products, it was found that the highest numbers of PFAS were in waterproof products. This can be especially concerning considering applying mascara to your eyes every day gives you direct exposure to this dangerous chemical.


The University of Rhode Island reports that Harvard professor of environmental science and engineering Elsie Sunderland explained, "At this point, there is very little regulatory activity related to PFAS in cosmetics ... The best thing to happen now would be for consumers to indicate that they prefer products without PFAS and to demand better transparency in product ingredient lists."

How to spot PFAS in your products

The idea of throwing out a good mascara might be hard, but you might thank yourself in the long run. Instead of going for waterproof mascara, shop for clean beauty products that are PFAS-free. While the cosmetic industry is notoriously underregulated when it comes to PFAS, there are easy ways to spot the toxic chemical. The first is to look for "long-lasting" or "waterproof" anywhere on the packaging. Since this is the main ingredient to keep your makeup lasting forever, it's also a trigger word to signal what's in it.


Graham Peaslee of the University of Notre Dame explained to InStyle that there is also a simple test to see if your product has PFAS, other than looking for packaging which points to "remarkable properties of being long-lasting or waterproof." Take your mascara and drag it along a piece of paper. Afterward, add some water on it, and leave it for a while. If the water doesn't bleed through, then it has PFAS and should be discarded or replaced.