The Best Way to Remove Stubborn Mascara

When your mascara just won't budge, turn to this guide to get that black goop safely off in a flash.

Most women find the process of taking off mascara incredibly annoying. You rub, you wipe, and the stuff just keeps coming off—it's no surprise some women decide not to remove mascara and go to sleep with their lashes loaded. And as with any makeup, you want to do your best to remove it without aging your skin.

"Mascara is an emulsion of water, pigments, oils, and waxes, so it can be tough to take off," says cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson of But choosing the right type of cleanser for you and using the right technique can help with mascara removal. Here, beauty pros weigh in on their top dos and don'ts when taking off mascara.

01 of 19

Do Use a 100 Percent Cotton Pad

The best makeup remover pads are ones that won't tear apart while you're using them, leaving bits of lint or synthetic polyester in your eye. "Try one that's lint-free and resistant to shredding," says New York City dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research, department of dermatology, the Mount Sinai Hospital. "My wife swears by Swisspers ($34.88,, which she buys in bulk at Costco."

02 of 19

Don't Use a Cotton Ball

For similar reasons, skip the cotton balls. Use them for facial astringents and toners, not for removing mascara. "Any loose fibers can get into your eyes," says Angela Caglia, celebrity facialist and co-founder of Angela Caglia Skincare.

03 of 19

Do Choose a Biphasic Eye Makeup Remover

These biphasic formulas are made of two parts—a cleansing oil to remove mascara and other makeup and water to cleanse the skin after the mascara has been removed. "They're great because they take off all types of mascara, even waterproof," notes Zeichner.

04 of 19

Don't Use Alcohol- or Fragrance-based Products

While these types of products might not pose a problem elsewhere on your body, the skin around your eyes is extra sensitive, and harsh products can dry out your eyelids. "They can strip and dry out the skin on the delicate, moisture-challenged eyelids, leading to irritation," says New York City dermatologist and host of, Neal Schultz, MD.

05 of 19

Do Press a Makeup Pad Soaked in Remover Against the Eyes

In many cases, it takes a bit of time for makeup remover to set in and work. "It's important for the solvents to dissolve the polymers and pigments and break down the mascara," says Caglia. "This is key to avoiding aggressive rubbing and pulling on your lashes later on."

06 of 19

Don't Rush the Process

Let the product do the work, then gently wipe. "The more time you allow the mascara to dissolve, the easier it will be to remove in the end," notes New York City dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD.

07 of 19

Do Remove Eye Makeup by Wiping in the Direction of the Lash

Always do your best to keep makeup out of your eyes. "Work from the inside out to minimize the chances of mascara and bacteria getting trapped in the eyes," says Zeichner. Gently grab the lashes with the cotton, and then roll the cotton between your fingers to minimize rubbing, adds Schultz.

08 of 19

Don't Move in a Circular or Horizontal Direction

Again, swipe with the lashes. "You're just moving the mascara around with this type of wiping," says Zeichner.

09 of 19

Do Remember to Always Use a Gentle Touch

If it helps you to be gentle, use your ring finger (your weakest finger) to be as light as possible in this process. "The skin here is sensitive and the thinnest on the body," says New York City based dermatologist Kristina Goldenberg, MD. "Putting too much pressure on your eyes could also break blood vessels around the delicate eyelid area," adds New Jersey-based dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD.

10 of 19

Don't Rub Too Hard

Like "don't touch your face too much," this is just basic advice that everyone ought to follow. "[Rubbing your eyes too hard] can result in a low-grade inflammation that can cause skin irritation, damaged collagen, and promote premature aging of the eyelid skin," notes Zeichner.

11 of 19

Do Keep Your Eyes Closed When Washing Off Your Mascara

Keeping both the mascara and the remover out of your eyes should be a top priority. "Some mascara formulas and makeup removers have ingredients which can cause severe irritation if they get into the eyes, and it can take more than 24 hours before that irritation is resolved," says Goldenberg. If you have sensitive eyes, a great mascara to try is Maybelline Volum' Express Colossal Curl Bounce Washable Mascara.

12 of 19

Don't Forget to Follow Up With a Gentle Foaming Cleanser

Many makeup removers contain oil that could build up if you don't remove it. "If you use a basic oil-based makeup remover, you'll want to get rid of any oily residue on the skin around your eyes," says makeup artist Alison Raffaele Tatem.

13 of 19

Do Use a Makeup Wipe

Makeup wipes are ideal for the end of the process (not the initial removal). This second step ensures that you've gotten the job done. Zeichner recommends using a gentle wipe to remove the very last traces of mascara after you've used a cotton pad.

14 of 19

Don't Use a Wipe for the Heavy Lifting

Again, makeup wipes can be too irritating to take off all your mascara. Don't skip the above steps (using a cotton pad) when removing mascara. "You'll rub too much and irritate the skin," says Zeichner.

15 of 19

Do Use a Moisturizer When You're Done Cleansing

There's no way around it: You're putting your skin's protective barrier at risk when removing mascara. "Eye makeup in itself may be irritating, even with the best makeup remover," says Zeichner. "Not addressing the skin after removing mascara could lead to dryness and irritation, so you want to apply a thin layer of cream on the upper lid and under the eyes at night."

An eye cream containing retinol for use under the eye will promote new collagen production and help prevent premature fine lines and dark circles under the eyes, notes Goldenberg. If you're very sensitive, a thin layer of cosmetic grade petrolatum ointment—like Aquaphor—can provide a protective coating over the skin, adds Zeichner. An eyelash growth serum can also help strengthen and repair damage to the hair protein.

16 of 19

Do Use a Makeup Remover Made Specifically for the Eyes

Avoid using any old cleanser, which might contain skin irritants. "Eye makeup remover is specifically made to dissolve makeup and is created with ingredients which are gentle on the eye area," says Zeichner.

17 of 19

Don't Substitute Eye Makeup Remover for Your Facial Cleanser

You may be tired and ready for bed, but don't use your eye makeup remover on the rest of your face. "An eye makeup remover is not a replacement for your cleanser. It's important to wash your face after taking off mascara with a gentle cleanser to clean your pores and remove pollutants," says Goldenberg

18 of 19

Do Report Excess Eyelash Loss to Your Doctor

There are many reasons you might be losing your eyelashes—like stress, allergic reactions, health conditions, or sleep masks. Or your mascara removal may be the culprit. "It could be the result of heavy rubbing, but it could also be a sign of an autoimmune disease, like alopecia," notes Zeichner. If removing your mascara more gently doesn't solve the problem, reach out to your doctor for more guidance.

19 of 19

Don't Pull Mascara Off With Your Fingers

This may seem like a harmless thing to do, but it's not. "You'll just lose lashes. The touch receptors in your fingertips aren't sensitive enough to feel what's coming off, and you'll end up pulling off eyelashes as well," says Schultz. Eyelash regrowth can take around half a year.

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  1. Kong R, Cui Y, Fisher GJ, et al. A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skinJ Cosmet Dermatol. 2016;15(1):49-57. doi:10.1111/jocd.12193

  2. Nguyen B, Hu JK, Tosti A. Eyebrow and eyelash alopecia: a clinical review [published online ahead of print, 2022 Oct 2]Am J Clin Dermatol. 2022;10.1007/s40257-022-00729-5. doi:10.1007/s40257-022-00729-5

  3. Kaur S, Mahajan BB. Eyelash trichomegaly. Indian J Dermatol. 2015;60(4):378-380. doi:10.4103/0019-5154

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