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10 Chemical and Cruelty-Free Mascaras
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

It is unfortunate, but those of us who use a lot of personal care items are exposed to many more chemicals and toxins than those who go without. These days almost all mainstream products contain several harmful ingredients, and when the products come into contact with our skin these ingredients are absorbed. One of the biggest culprits is make-up and one of the most commonly used make-up products is mascara.

When choosing which mascara to use, we’re often focused on what the superficial benefits are, such as whether it’s lengthening, volumizing, or water-proof. We tend not to pay much attention to what these products contain, but we should do. The more mascara we apply, the more of these harmful ingredients are absorbed by our bodies; so, in addition to caring about our appearance, we should consider what medium- to long-term damage our mascara is causing.

What’s the Problem?

Mascara contains several ingredients that are harmful to our health, such as parabens, phthalates, various ureas, petrolatum, and sodium laureth/sodium laurel sulphate.

Parabens are one of the most harmful ingredients because they mimic the hormone estrogen. Used for their antibacterial and antifungal properties, the big downside is the fact that they’re linked to breast cancer. Common parabens in mascara include ethylparaben and methylparaben, both of which are considered carcinogenic by the European Union (and therefore banned) as well as endocrine disruptors.

Phthalates are chemicals that cause damage to the kidneys, liver, and lungs, as well as the reproductive system. They have also been classified as potential carcinogens. Then there are several ureas, such as Diazolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinyl urea, Midazolininyl urea, and Quaternuim-15. These chemicals act as a preservative, but in releasing formaldehyde, are carcinogenic and therefore associated with numerous health problems.

Petroleum products such as mineral oils, paraffin, and petrolatum coat the area they are applied to, causing a build-up of toxins; cellular development to slow down; and disruption of hormones. Studies have found that the application of petrochemicals has resulted in anemia, kidney degeneration, and nerve damage to the brain and spinal cord, whilst also being suspected carcinogens.

Dioxane is another common carcinogenic ingredient and can be found in mascara in the following compounds: PEG-10 Dimethicone, laureth-12 and PEG-30 Glyceryl Stearate. PEG stands for PolyEthylene Glycol and is a compound used in numerous products. The impurities from the aforementioned compounds are the biggest problem, such as 1,4-Dioxane and Ethylene oxide which have been identified as carcinogenic and known to increase the chance of developing brain, breast, and uterine cancer, as well as leukemia.

Besides our own health, there is the health of the environment to consider, as that poisons us will harm the earth and other species too. For example, the mascara must be removed and will ultimately end up on cotton wool pads in the garbage, which end up in landfill. In addition, the packaging the mascara comes in will contain trace amounts of residue, that also inevitably ends up in landfill to pollute the earth for future generations.

As if this wasn’t enough, we must also consider the health and lives of those animals who are subjected to barbaric experiments for make-up products. Companies test each ingredient (as well as the final product) on innocent beings who are restrained whilst the substances are administered orally; applied to the eyes or skin; inhaled through a mask or in an inhalation chamber; and injected. These experiments cause an excruciating amount of pain for the animals, and some die during the process. In purchasing products that are cruelty-free we stop supporting companies that continue to fund vivisection.


It is possible to source cruelty-free, eco-friendly and natural mascaras and reading the label is the best place to start! When it is difficult to decipher what the unfamiliar or unpronounceable words mean, however, go to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. The EWG has listed all ingredients and scored them on a scale of zero to ten – ten being the worst – with each score explained in detail and safer options suggested.

Listed below are ten mascaras that are both eco-friendly and vegan:

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