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Allergic to your

Mascara? By Jen MacDougall


ascara is one of the top-selling cosmetics, yet a great many women experience irritation or allergic reaction to it. Having been in cosmetics manufacturing for the past 10 years, I am often asked if we manufacture hypo-allergenic mascara. I always find the question interesting. What exactly does the term mean, anyway? Surprisingly, most hypo-allergenic products are allowed to contain fragrance. “Hypo-allergenic” does not mean you won’t react to the product; it is simply a phrase used by manufacturers, for which they have their own interpretations. Through my own experience in the field, I can attest to the fact that most mascaras contain extreme eye irritants and some potentially toxic ingredients. Mascaras with petroleum are likely to cause allergic reactions in people with sensitive skin. Parabens and talc are known to cause skin, eye and lung irritation. Another potentially toxic ingredient found in some mascaras is thimerosal, which is essentially a mercury-based preservative. Anyone who is sensitive or has current health issues should completely avoid products with thimerosal. Fragrance is a whole other issue. Since fragrance is considered a trade secret, companies don’t have to tell us what’s in it – often dozens or even hundreds of synthetic chemical compounds. It’s no wonder women are having reactions to their mascara! And then there’s waterproof mascara… a great concept, right? Not necessarily. Waterproof mascara is able to adhere to

lashes and stay smooth thanks to a chemical called dimethicone copolyol, a known eye irritant. Also, most waterproof mascaras are silicone based. To fully understand the effects of silicone on the eyes, think of it as wrapping plastic wrap several times around your eyelashes! Another downside of waterproof mascaras is that they require harsh solvents for removal. These products can also remove sebum – the oily substance produced by the skin that is designed to create a barrier to protect the skin from chemicals, irritants and pollutants. When the sebum is removed it can lead to skin infections, cause extremely dry skin, and could also lead to premature aging.

“Hypo-allergenic” mascara does not mean you won’t react to it. Whenever people inquire about hypoallergenic mascara, I always encourage education. We need to read labels and understand what we are reacting to. The bottom line is, if you suffer from allergic reactions, eye irritations, or are concerned about toxic ingredients in general, read product labels! While it might be impossible to learn the name of every synthetic ingredient, if you can avoid just a handful of the nasty ones, you can find products that are close to natural and should cause less irritation. Where possible, avoid the ingredients we’ve already discussed, including petroleum,

parabens, talc, thimerosal, dimethicone copolyol and fragrance. Also watch out for mineral oil, petroleum, synthetic colours FD&C, synthetic parfum, and synthetic carriers such as glycols and polysorbates. If you are unsure about an ingredient, check the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database at This site is a great resource and offers a wealth of information. The good news is there are now several natural mascaras available in the marketplace. Try several brands to find one that works best for you. I recommend one that is parabenfree, uses only natural wax, and offers eyesoothing ingredients such as aloe. Natural mascaras are not as thick as their synthetic counterparts; they offer a more natural look and are also a lot healthier. Some natural mascara formulas actually offer herbs that promote eyelash growth. They can provide nice length and separation, and although they may not be as thick as wax- and silicone-based mascaras, your eyes will thank you! If you decide to go the natural route with your mascara, don’t be discouraged if the first brand you try doesn’t live up to your expectations. Remember, not all natural mascaras are created equal. Try looking for natural mascara at your local health food store, and do your organic grocery shopping while you’re at it!

Jen MacDougall is a co-founder of Earth Lab Cosmetics.



Vista Magazine Issue 84  

VISTA Magazine is a bimonthly publication dedicated to nutrition, health and wellness.

Vista Magazine Issue 84  

VISTA Magazine is a bimonthly publication dedicated to nutrition, health and wellness.