Mascara is a touchy subject. There are so many different kinds that offer so many different results that choosing the right one can feel like a daunting task. As a beauty editor, I spend more time than most sweeping formulas over my lashes to test every claim from dramatic volume to intense length and often still find it challenging to discern which type of varnish to prioritize. If you have lash extensions, however, there's one mascara commandment that must be followed at all costs: Oil-heavy mascara is a hard no.
"Lash extensions are extremely fragile and heavy, oil-based products can cause them to fall out," explains makeup artist and Ulta Beauty Pro Team Member Deney Adam. "If you want to use mascara for extra volume after you’ve already lost a few lashes, a light coat of water-based mascara is a safe option."
Since most eyelash extension experts will tell you that mascara should be avoided altogether while wearing extensions (the oil in many mascara formulas breaks down the adhesive used to hold the extensions in place), it's no surprise that the only type of lash lacquer they'll sign off on is the most lightweight kind that's also the easiest to wash off. According to celebrity lash artist and owner of Star Lash Beauty Bar in Los Angeles, Yris Palmer, a bit of water-based mascara on the tips of your extensions is plenty to offer a little extra oomph if you need it. "I recommend applying mascara to the tips only, not the root of your lashes," she adds.
Whether you've got a fresh set of fluttery lash extensions you're looking to extend until the next time you can see your specialist IRL or you just have sensitive eyes that are easily irritated by the oils in many mascaras, a water-based formula is the way to go. Ahead, we've rounded up the 10 best water-based mascaras, along with game-changing expert tips, to keep your lash game strong.
L'Oréal Voluminous Original Mascara
Palmer called out this affordable option as one of her top picks, vouching that it won't clump, is fragrance-free, and is allergy tested for those with sensitive eyes. That a lot of bang for just $9.
Ulta New Heights Mascara
Adam says this mascara is among his favorite water-based mascara picks. It employs coated pigments to really make the lashes pop.
Yves Saint Laurent Mascara Volume Effet Faux Cils
This mascara was one of the first spendy ones I ever purchased, and I still remember the sense of wonder I was overcome with at first swipe. It wears beautifully, offering tremendous length and volume and is insanely easy to remove. Seriously—the color practically slips right off with mild soap and lukewarm water.
Bonus Tip: Remove Your Water-Based Mascara With Water-Based Eye-Makeup Remover
Palmer says that in addition to using water-based mascara on your eyelash extensions, using oil-free makeup remover is also an important precaution. I'm a big fan of this French favorite from Talika because it removes eye makeup completely without the use of heavy oils and doesn't leave behind any greasy residue.
"If you do not have a makeup remover or lash wash, I would recommend a baby shampoo. Most baby products are oil-free and gentle on the eyes," Palmer adds.
Adam agrees about oil-free mascara removal and suggests using this micellar water by Garnier. "It gently and effectively removes makeup without harsh rubbing," he says. "It's also formulated without fragrance, parabens, sulfates, and silicone so it's super gentle on the eyes which is ideal for helping lash extensions last."
Clinique Naturally Glossy Mascara
Although reviewers swear this mascara makes your lashes look so good you won't even need extensions, this option from Clinique is safe to wear with any lash enhancements you might have. It's gel-based and skips the heavy oils that can weaken eyelash extension glue but still leaves the lashes looking defined, lengthened, and oh-so-slick.
Beautygarde Oil-Free Mascara
This mascara was formulated specifically for eyelash extensions, so you know it takes into account all the factors to keep those babies flourishing between fills. Reviewers say that once the formula dries onto the lashes there's absolutely no manipulating or building on it, so you'll need to move quickly to get the application just right.
Grande Cosmetics Grandemascara Conditioning Peptide Mascara
You probably know Grande Cosmetics as the brand behind the famous lash growth serum that helps your fringes reach great lengths, but you may not have known that a nourishing, water-based mascara was part of its offering as well. This tube houses a buildable, fluff-inducing mascara formula that lengthens and volumizes while conditioning the lashes with peptides, panthenols, and natural waxes. It's water-resistant (not water-proof, which Palmer explicitly discourages using while wearing eyelash extensions), so you won't have to struggle to get it off.
Xtream Lashes Length and Volume Mascara
Here's another mascara formulated specifically for eyelash extensions and sensitive eyes. Reviewers call out how it goes on smoothly with any clumping or flaking and plays nicely with extensions since it's easy to remove. Be warned: If your lashes get wet or you cry, this mascara will most definitely run.
Bonus Tip: Avoid Intense Friction
"Avoid using a cloth or anything that can tug and pull off your extensions," Palmer advises. Instead, she recommends dispensing your makeup remover onto a clean spoolie brush and gently raking the product through your lashes to remove makeup and debris.
Another way to create a more gentle environment for your lashes to thrive in? Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Palmer and Adam both attest to the fact that sleeping on your back is much better for preserving extensions, but Adam suggests using a silk pillowcase if you (no matter how hard you try) you always wake up with your face smooshed into your pillow. I purchased this inexpensive one from Amazon and it does the job just as well as its more expensive counterparts.
Palmer also says that brushing through your clean lashes daily with a sanitized spoolie brush helps to keep them tangle-free.
Blink Lash Noir Mascara
This tubing mascara was also formulated specifically to be worn atop eyelash extensions, but according to reviews, it has much better staying power than others created for similar use.
Benefit Cosmetics Badgal Lash Volumizing Mascara
I'm a big fan of this mascara, and so is Adam. He calls it out as a great and safe option for volumizing when you've lost a few extensions are looking for an alternate way to recoup some density.
Maybelline Great Lash Mascara
This drugstore find only costs $5, but both our experts called it the absolute best water-based mascara in the game. "It's a makeup bag classic and by far one of the best I have ever used," Adam says, asserting that the formula is buildable, long-lasting, and doesn't smear. Palmer also says that the clear version is a great alternative for separating the lashes while maintaining a polished yet natural look.