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7 Gentle Ways to Remove Waterproof Mascara

Figuring out how to remove waterproof mascara without rubbing your lashes off is the bane of every nighttime skincare routine.


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As cosmetic chemist and president of SOS Beauty Charlene Valledor describes them, traditional waterproof mascaras are made with either water-in-oil or anhydrous formulas (a.k.a. water-free). When the waterproof mascara coats the lashes, Valledor says it will create a film that can’t be penetrated by water and can withstand sweat on the most humid days, tears for when you get overwhelmed, leisurely water activities by a pool, etc.

But longwear makeup comes at a price, and in this case it means that your regular cleanser and warm water may not cut it when it’s time to wash it off. “It can actually do more harm,” says celebrity makeup artist Andrea Tiller. “[Using just soap and water] can irritate the skin around the eyes [and your lashes] when you rub aggressively to remove [ waterproof product].”

Good news: the art of removing waterproof mascara is not hard to master. You most likely already have the products you need for a thorough cleanse. Bad news: you might need to add an extra step in your skincare regimen—but it’s definitely an extra step worth adding. “The best thing to do here is remember to be patient,” says celebrity makeup artist Kirin Bhatty. “Choose formulas that are good for the surrounding eye area as well as for your lash health.” With that, see the seven foolproof ways to remove waterproof mascara below.

Makeup remover

An obvious choice, all experts recommend turning to a liquid makeup remover to take off your stubborn mascara. But choosing the right one is key for a thorough removal that won’t irritate your lashes or your skin. “Traditional waterproof mascaras require oil-based or bi-phase formulations that contain a good amount of oil to soften and dissolve the waterproof film around each lash,” says Valledor.

Tiller recommends using something like Lancome’s Bi-Facil Double Action Eye Makeup Remover for Sensitive Skin (“I personally use this and think it’s the best,” she says) or the Charlotte Tilbury Take It All Off Makeup Remover which works on all skin types. For a wallet-friendlier option, she likes the Sephora Collection Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover.

Cleansing oils

Valledor explains that oils dissolve the waxes and polymers that create the waterproof film on your lashes. So if you want to skip the makeup remover and go straight to the cleansing part of your routine, then a cleansing oil is what you need to basically combine two steps into one. “Oil is gentle while effective,” adds Bhatty. “As you’re removing makeup, you’re not scrubbing or pulling at the lashes and eye area. Instead you are essentially breaking down and dissolving the makeup in a gentler way.” She likes to use the EADEM Dew Dream Cleansing Balm, as it’s made with nourishing ingredients such as tiger grass, allantoin, and moringa seed oil to take care of the skin while giving your face a thorough cleanse, or the Mara Chia + Moringa Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil.

Valledor recommends opting for lighter formulations that won’t leave heavy residue behind and says to look for oils such as jojoba, camellia, or rice bran oil in formulations to enjoy skincare benefits (such as hydration for dry skin) as you’re removing product. If you want to go the all natural route for your waterproof mascara remover, Tiller recommends using coconut oil as it will be gentle on your skin and lashes.

Makeup wipes

While they do get a bad rap, makeup wipes provide a super quick solution for removing waterproof makeup with just one swipe. Tiller likes the classic Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, which does a good job of removing these long-lasting formulas and being gentle on the skin, while Bhatty recommends Sofie Pavitt’s Micellar Cleansing Pads.

Double cleanse

For those heavy-duty smudge-proof waterproof mascaras, using a makeup remover or wipe alone might not be enough. That’s where a double cleanse comes in. “A double cleanse is your friend when it comes to [waterproof] makeup,” says Bhatty. “It’s the most effective and protective way to remove it.”

“I always love to double cleanse,” adds Tiller. You’ll first want to use an oil-based cleanser like the Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm to break down product. Then follow with either a gel or cream-based cleanser, like the Tatcha The Matcha Cleanse Daily Clarifying Gel Cleanser or Pond’s Cold Cream Cleanser, to remove any excess.

Micellar water

With classics such as the French girl favorite Bioderma Sensibio H20 Cleansing Micellar Water, micellar water has long been a staple for removing dirt and impurities. It also becomes quite handy when wanting to clean off makeup without irritating the skin. Bhatty says you’ll want to soak a cotton pad and gently place it on the eye for a few seconds so that it loosens up the mascara. Then you can gently wipe product off.

But Valledor says micellar water might not be strong enough to remove some really tough waterproof formulas, so it may be best to consider it as the first part of a double cleanse.

Press and roll, don’t rub

Regardless of which cleansing option you go for, all experts agree that you’ll want to be very gentle with your lashes—especially if you have sensitive skin. “The less rubbing the better,” says Tiller.

With makeup remover, Valledor says to soak soft cotton pads or soft reusable cloths with product and press them against the lashes for a couple of seconds. She explains this will dissolve the makeup so you can gently wipe it away. With your oil-based and cream cleansers, you’ll want to use circular motions with your fingers to gently roll the product off for a thorough cleanse.

Find gentle waterproof mascara formulas

Half the battle in taking off waterproof mascara takes place even before you put any makeup on. Being mindful of which type of to use will help tremendously in the removal process. Bhatty recommends a tubing mascara, which contains polymers that create a tube around the lash for easy removal. Her pick is the Victoria Beckham Vast Lash Mascara, which she calls a “dream to remove,” while we love the Milk Makeup Kush High Roll Tubing Mascara for a water-resistant formula that’s also super easy to take off for even the most sensitive eyes. For gentle formulation, Tiller likes Chanel’s Le Volume de Chanel Waterproof to give your lashes long-lasting color and lift.

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