7 Mascara Mistakes That Cause Unnecessary Clumping—and How to Apply It Correctly

These common mascaras no-no’s aren’t doing your lashes any favors.

Mascara is arguably one of the most coveted makeup staples out there—a product used by even the most dedicated minimalists. For as frequently as it’s used, though, things can still go sideways with the smallest user error. We’re talking gloppy clumps, “spider-y” lashes, smudging that makes it look like you haven’t slept well, and flaky bits that flutter to your cheeks all day long. From heavy-handed application to expired product, we asked makeup artists to dish on the biggest mascara mistakes that lead to a less-than-pretty lash line.


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01 of 07

Using a Product Past Its Prime

Mascara expires after three months of opening—even if you don’t use it every day. Not only does expired mascara have a higher likelihood of drying out and causing flakes and clumps, but it’s also considered unhygienic. To that end, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration warns that old mascara comes with a risk of eye infections, so toss the old one and give yourself an excuse to swing by Sephora. 

02 of 07

“Pumping” The Wand

You’ve probably seen others push their wand in and out of the tube with the goal of picking up more product, but makeup artists say this’ll put your mascara on the fast track to expiration. 

“Pumping your mascara wand pushes air in and dries up formula, which inevitably leads to a clumpathon,” says makeup artist Erica Taylor. It can also create more flaking. “Avoid this by swirling the brush inside and not pumping to keep mascara fresh.” 

03 of 07

Applying Way Too Much Product

Mascara formulas are designed to enhance length and volume with just one or two fine coats. That said, a heavy handed approach almost always backfires. “Using feather-like strokes ensures that each lash is delicately coated, resulting in a clean and separated look,” explains celebrity makeup artist Tonya Riner

For a gorgeous finish, she recommends two light-handed coats, working in light layers that you have complete control over. If necessary, wipe away some of the excess before applying.

04 of 07

Layering Too Quickly or Too Slowly

Along with applying too much product, waiting too long or not long enough between coats can result in clumps, dreaded spider lashes, and flaking. The ideal time between layers is about 15 to 30 seconds, which is enough time to let the mascara settle but not so long that it completely dries between coats.  

05 of 07

Using a Wand With Lots of Mascara Buildup

After a month or two of use, you may notice that your mascara wand has some buildup. These could be dried-up flakes or layers of product built up over time. Using a dirty wand makes for an imprecise application, but a quick cleanup can fix that. 

“If your brush is clumpy, submerge it in a cup of hot water for a few minutes and run until the brush is clean,” Taylor advises. You can even use a little bit of makeup brush cleanser. Before re-inserting into the wand, make sure the wand is 100% dry. 

06 of 07

Moving The Wand In Different Directions

“While back-and-forth motions or layering on top of the lash can create a more dramatic effect, it is far more likely to result in clumps,” says Riner. “Distributing the product in one direction helps with even coverage.” Simply wiggle slightly at the lash root, then swipe upward. This creates an event coat and dentangles as you brush, which creates separation, definition, and lift. 

07 of 07

Applying to Uncombed or Unclean Lashes

Mascara is tricky to remove, especially if you’re using waterproof or tubing formulas. Before applying mascara, make sure yesterday’s makeup has been thoroughly removed.

“Not removing mascara properly will not only cause a clumpy replay, it [can] clog your roots and lead to a possible stye or lash loss,” warns Taylor. “I recommend double cleansing with a cleansing balm and using a lash conditioner like castor oil.” For extra measure, you can use micellar water on a cotton round or cotton swab and wipe over your lashes before your application. 

How to Apply Mascara Correctly

  1. Curl your lashes, focusing on the ends and corners. Make sure to clamp down for at least 15 seconds to allow the curl to set.
  2. For an optimal base, apply a layer of eyelash primer. Not only will this help mascara go on smoother (read: no clumping), it can also hold mascara in place so it lasts longer.
  3. Take your mascara wand and wipe off any clumps on the side as you take it out of the tube. Starting at the root of your upper lashes, wiggle the wand back and forth as you work your way up. For maximum volume, blinking lashes on the mascara wand can help.
  4. When you reach the outer and inner corners of your eyes, tilt the wand vertically and brush outwards with the tip of the wand to ensure each eyelash is covered.
  5. After waiting about 15 to 30 seconds, repeat steps 3 and 4 with a second layer. Don't apply any more than 3 layers as this can cause the formula to start flaking.
  6. Apply mascara to bottom lashes using only the tip of the wand. This will prevent clumping there.
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