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Even on those days when you’re opting for a no-makeup makeup look, chances are you’re applying even a small amount of mascara. And really, there’s no wonder. Mascara is basically the magic wand of the beauty world. A simple swish and flick can volumize, lengthen, and make it look like you spent a heck of a lot more time getting ready than you did.

But as magical and mystical as mascara might be, can your favorite beauty bag staple actually be doing more harm than good? A quick Google search can lead you down a dark hole of mascara rumors, so we asked a few pros to help us cut through the clutter!

What is mascara made of, anyway?

OK, here’s mascara rumor No. 1 on the internet, so let’s clear this up right away. Mascara is not made with bat droppings. Sometimes mascara is made with guanine, an ingredient that is used to help darken the color of the formula. Unfortunately, guanine is sometimes confused with guano, aka bat droppings. Your favorite mascara is simply a mix of iron oxides, waxes, clays, and pigments. Nothing icky to see here. Thankfully.

Can mascara harm my lashes?

The next most common concern with mascara is how it can affect lash health—namely, does mascara make lashes fall out? The short answer is, it shouldn’t. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t.

S. Manjula Jegasothy, M.D., CEO and founder of Miami Skin Institute, explains that although specific mascara ingredients aren’t known to cause fallout or thinning, it is possible that the actual act of putting on and removing mascara can irritate the lashes, potentially traumatizing them such that they grow in thinner or, worse, fall out. Certain drugstore formulas can also be particularly drying for lashes, but more on that later.

If you’re still finding your lashes breaking or thinning, take a peek at some possible culprits:

01. You’re removing mascara improperly.

Here’s where most makeup wearers find lash problems occurring. The eye area is quite delicate, and those baby hairs around your peepers deserve special attention. If you’re experiencing eyelash fallout, it’s likely that you’re simply being too aggressive with your removal. If you’re rubbing your chosen makeup removal product such that it pulls or tugs around the eye area, then you may see lashes loosen or fall out. Instead, remove mascara gently with a cotton ball or Q-tip dipped in makeup remover to loosen the mascara on your lashes, explains Kristine Cruz, senior makeup artist at Antonio Prieto Salon in New York City. After loosening the mascara, carefully wipe off the makeup with a cotton ball, she adds.

02. You’re picking at your lashes.

Again, this comes down to improper removal. “The only way a mascara can be worse for your lashes is if you are removing by picking at it and not using a makeup remover to properly remove the mascara,” Cruz says. “Picking at it will surely pull your lashes out!”

And although we’re quite positive we are not removing mascara by picking off each and every lash, most everyone can admit to plucking a mascara clump or two from time to time. Mascara that goes on clumpy or clumps up during the day is likely a sign that it has gone bad or dried up and needs to be replaced. It also might just be a sign of a bad formula!

Switch up your formula to a non-clumping pick such as Cruz’s favorite, Kevyn Aucoin The Volume or The Curling Mascaras. Cruz says this formula doesn’t fall out and is easily removed with just water. “The mascara fibers loosen up and slide off your lashes,” she says, adding that you can remove it without pulling or irritating the skin around your eyes and wiping too much. Plus, no clumps!

03. Your mascara gets stiff.

“Some mascaras do stiffen the lash—this is based on their individual formulation ingredients—and can be tough to remove,” Dr. Jegasothy explains. Although stiff lashes can occur from a particular mascara formula, they can also occur from prolonged wear, aka sleeping in your mascara overnight. 

Stiff lashes eventually dry out, and the mascara is more difficult to remove (especially if removing the next day!). In some bad cases, it can get into the eye and cause serious irritation. Waterproof mascara is formulated to be resistant to any moisture, making it extra stiff and drying, which can lead to breakage. It’s also more difficult to remove waterproof mascara, and many of us are especially aggressive when trying to get it off. A study in 2013 reported a correlation between the use of waterproof mascara and eyelash fallout, so basically, try to give yourself a break from using waterproof mascara every single day. And whatever you do, always take off your mascara (waterproof or not) before hitting the sack.

04. You’re using your lash curler incorrectly.

As essential as your lash curler might be to helping achieve that sky-high lash look, it can pull your lashes out if not properly used, Cruz explains. This is especially true if you’re applying the mascara and then using the curler over your mascara-coated lashes for a second curl, she says. Although you might think you’re getting the best of both worlds, this can be quite bad for your lashes, as the tips of the curler might get stuck to the not-quite-dried mascara and potentially lead to some lashes left behind. The proper way to use your tool is to curl your lashes prior to applying any mascara product to avoid any potential pulling.

Even when curling before applying mascara, be gentle and don’t clamp down too forcefully. Be sure to replace the pads on your eyelash curler periodically to avoid potential sticking or roughness—and to keep things sanitary.

How to Avoid Lash Loss

If you suspect that your mascara is causing breakage or fallout, Dr. Jegasothy suggests first switching to a hypoallergenic mascara and makeup remover to rule out an allergy. If you’re having eyelid skin irritation issues in concurrence with the eyelash fallout, you might have some sort of generalized or focal allergic reaction and should see a dermatologist to sort it out. “The majority of skin and health issues that can occur from cosmetics in general are predominantly allergy mediated,” she says.

If you don’t have an allergy to mainstream mascara brands but want to avoid potential fallout, we suggest switching to a formula with organic ingredients that contain natural oils and waxes. The average drugstore mascara formula contains synthetic ingredients, which can increase chances for dried-out lashes, but organic brands tend to stick to naturally occurring formulas with organic beeswax, almond oil, sunflower seed oil, shea butter, and more. These oils hydrate your lashes and make it easier to remove, reducing the chance for breakage from drying or fallout from aggressive removal.

Check out our favorite natural mascara brands below: