I am still minorly traumatized from my first experience with waterproof mascara. I was in middle school with a summer pool party looming, so I bought the cheapest option my nearest drugstore offered. But 24 hours after attempting to remove my new mascara, nearly half of my eyelashes had either fallen out completely or broken off mid-lash. My once naturally long and dark lashes looked nearly unrecognizable, and while there might have been some user error on my part—I was in 6th grade, after all—I quickly swore off waterproof formulas for the rest of my life. Of course, that vow lasted only until I became a beauty editor and learned my way around a cleansing balm and oil-based eye makeup remover (knowledge is power). I've since tried many waterproof mascaras with perfectly lovely formulas that leave my lashes fully intact.
I'm extremely passionate about mascara. In fact, it's probably my favorite type of makeup product, and I was interested to find out what exactly makes a waterproof formula work and how they're different from non-waterproof counterparts.
"Waterproof mascara works due to its unique formulation that incorporates water-resistant ingredients," says cosmetic beauty chemist David Petrillo. "It contains hydrophobic polymers that form a protective barrier around the lashes, preventing water from causing smudging or running. The mascara's wax or oil base helps it adhere to the lashes and resist breakdown when exposed to moisture. Silicone derivatives enhance water resistance and create a flexible film on the lashes, offering additional protection." Lastly, Petrillo says film-forming agents contribute to the mascara's ability to create a thin waterproof film once it dries, keeping it in place even in humid or super-sweaty conditions.
Below, we're diving into the nitty-gritty details about what to look for in waterproof mascara, key ingredients, how to remove it like a pro, and, of course, the best waterproof mascaras money can buy. Keep scrolling!
What to Look for in a Waterproof Mascara
After talking to multiple makeup artists, I learned a few things to consider when trying a new waterproof mascara. First, you should make sure the formula is lightweight but still able to provide ample volume. "If the formula is too heavy or wet right off the bat when you're applying your first coat, it won't layer properly," celebrity makeup artist Mia Jones explains. "This can frequently happen with waterproof formulas, but layering mascara is a part of the experience of creating the perfect lash, [and] therefore very important when considering a waterproof formula."
Second, it can't smudge or transfer. While that might be considered a given with waterproof formulas, some aren't as bulletproof as others, especially if you run or oily or wear creams and other products around your eye area. "The ultimate waterproof mascara won't smudge or transfer to the skin in any climate," notes celebrity makeup artist Tobi Henney. "I need to know the mascara I'm putting on my clients will stay on for their events and appearances."
Ingredients to Keep in Mind
How a waterproof mascara is formulated is also crucial. Curious about how waterproof mascara ingredients differ from regular options, I asked Petrillo to break it down.
Water-resistant polymers: According to Petrillo, waterproof mascaras contain specific water-resistant polymers that aren't found in non-waterproof tubes. "These polymers create a protective barrier around the lashes, preventing water from causing the mascara to smudge or run," he explains. Examples: Hydrophobic polymers like acrylates copolymer, styrene/acrylates copolymer, or polyurethane-35
Wax or oil base: "Waterproof mascaras often have a higher concentration of waxes or oils than regular mascaras," Petrillo notes. "This helps the mascara adhere better to the lashes and provides additional water repellency." Examples: Beeswax or carnauba wax
Silicone derivatives: Certain waterproof mascaras will also include silicone derivatives, which further increase their water resistance by creating a flexible film on the lashes. Example: Dimethicone
Film-forming agents: Petrillo shares that these agents are more prevalent in waterproof mascaras. Once the mascara dries, he says, it forms a thin, waterproof film, ensuring it stays in place even when exposed to water or humidity. Example: Isododecane
How to Remove Waterproof Mascara Like a Pro
If you've avoided waterproof mascaras in the past due to how terrorizing the removal process is, I get it. To help make the process easier, our makeup artist experts are sharing their best tips.
Tip #1: Swap cotton balls for rounds or swabs. "Always use cotton rounds and not cotton balls," shares celebrity makeup artist Janice Kinjo. "Cotton balls will leave cotton residue on your lashes, and that's more work at the end of a long day. Cotton rounds are gentler and won't leave cotton lint. My go-to is Swisspers Cotton Rounds ($4). I also love using DHC's Olive Virgin Oil Swabs ($10). They are cotton buds pre-moistened with organic olive oil. These individually wrapped buds remove all the stubborn mascara residue that your eye makeup remover didn't get, and they're great for travel."
Tip #2: Try a cleansing balm. "I love a cleansing balm to start the process," says Henney. "My go-to is Rationale Cleansing Balm ($111)." She recommends massaging it all over the face and using a warm damp washcloth to remove it. Then, use your normal cleanser to finish the cleansing process.
Tip #3: An oil-based eye makeup remover. "I haven't met a waterproof formula that doesn't need an oil-based product for removal. I recommend gently massaging an oil-based makeup remover into the lashes with your fingertips before cleansing the eye area."
Best Overall: Dior Diorshow Iconic Overcurl Waterproof Mascara
Jones and Kinjo praise the waterproof alter ego of Dior's aptly named iconic mascara. If you love a lifted and voluminous lash look with zero flaking, this mascara is worth the investment. "Dior mascaras are so luxurious as an experience and formula, and this waterproof one is exceptional," Jones notes. "It's also safe for my sensitive skin and contact-wearing eyes!"
Pros: Adds lift, curl, and volume; safe for sensitive eyes with ingredients to help strengthen lashes; is long-wearing.
Cons: Expensive and may dry out quickly and clump.
Glowing customer review: "The look this mascara gives you is fabulous, and the ability to layer it while it still keeps your lashes separated is great. It can also get those harder lashes on the edges to look more cateye. Easy to remove but stays put until then. Hooked on this mascara, and I have tried them all."
Best Drugstore: L'Oréal Paris Voluminous Volume Building Waterproof Mascara
Henney and Jones listed this budget-friendly waterproof mascara as one of their all-time favorites. "This is a classic mascara, and it creates thick and full lashes," Henney tells me. "It's a great drugstore option that I've loved for years!" (Psst! Jones also says it's an absolute staple for weddings or other big events when emotions—aka tears—may be running high.)
Pros: Affordable, adds volume, applies evenly, and lengthens.
Cons: Difficult to remove and may flake or dry out quickly.
Glowing customer review: "The brush does a great job of grabbing and coating my lashes. The waterproof component also really holds up against watery eyes. Lastly, it has an affordable price tag even though it outperforms brands going for twice the price. I always carry a second one in my purse!"
Best for Sensitive Eyes: MAC Cosmetics Extended Play Gigablack Lash Mascara
This was yet another waterproof mascara that came highly recommended by our celeb makeup artist experts. "This mascara is beautiful for a more delicate, feathered lash look, and it's smudge-proof, which I love," says Henney. "Plus, the brush wand is super fine, which is great for application and getting even the tiniest lashes."
Pros: Smudge-proof, long-wearing, safe for sensitive eyes, sustainable packaging, super-black formula, lifting, lightweight, adds definition and lengthens with no clumping.
Cons: May be difficult to remove
Glowing customer review: "I use this every day over other more volumizing mascaras. On its own, I don't find it to be very volumizing, but it totally seals whatever mascara I layer it over and makes it smudge-proof and very black. It's also the only mascara I've found I can use on my long lower lashes and not get raccoon eyes. I do a double cleanse to remove my makeup and don't find it at all difficult to remove."
Best Lengthening: Milk Makeup Waterproof Rise Lifting + Lengthening Mascara
We recently tested this mascara in a group review, and it received resounding applause from our editors. "Okay, woah, this may be my new favorite waterproof mascara," says editor Natalie Gray Herder. "I love how it separated and lengthened my lashes. The lift lasted all day and even survived a 6-hour plane ride. No transfer, flaking, or smudging, but comes off easily with my cleansing balm. Five stars!"
Pros: Lengthens, lifts, curls, and adds subtle volume without clumping or flaking, while the clean formula contains conditioning ingredients for healthier lashes.
Cons: Expensive and may transfer after a few hours of sweating or being in the water.
Glowing customer review: "I am in love. This stuff coats every lash, doesn't clump up easy on me, and doesn't weigh down my lashes. Super lengthening and volumizing. I've had people ask me if I have fake lashes on. OBSESSED!"
Best for Swimming or Sweaty Workouts: Armani Eyes to Kill Wet Waterproof Mascara
Henney (who does makeup for tons of beach and water shoots) swears by this cult-favorite mascara from Armani in its waterproof form. "I use this on Sports Illustrated and other swim shoots when models have to be in the water," she explains. "It doesn't move, and I can count on it staying on the lashes in super humid conditions."
Pros: Adds definition, volume, and length with a long-wearing formula and an easy, smooth application.
Cons: Expensive and not as great for curl and lift.
Glowing customer review: "Oh, yeah, baby! My peach-fuzz, teeny little shorty stubs look like Kim Kardashian caterpillar fringe with this stuff! And the waterproof element is spot-on. My eyes water like crazy in the winter, and this product eliminates the ghastly black rivulets running down my cheeks every morning during the commute to work."
Best for Bottom Lashes: Byredo Tears In Rain Waterproof Mascara
Nothing is worse than under-eye transfer that makes you look like a raccoon. Henney says this mascara, in particular, works brilliantly on the lower lash line thanks to a pint-sized brush. "I use this a lot on clients and love it on the bottom lashes. The formula is great, and it also has very cool packaging!"
Pros: Great for lower lashes, buildable formula, easy to apply and to reach tiny lashes, mostly natural formula.
Cons: Expensive and may dry out quickly.
Glowing customer review: "I found this to be the best waterproof mascara I've tried so far. I have very oily skin, and every other premier waterproof mascara runs on me, even in winter months. I found with this one, as long as you don't use more than one or two coats (and use eye cream only sparingly), it doesn't run! The volume is great. No clumping. Will definitely buy again."
More Waterproof Mascaras We Recommend
Kinjo has two favorite drugstore formulas, one of which is this top-rated waterproof mascara from L'Oréal Paris, which she says is superb for holding curl and volumizing with absolutely no smudging.
Pros: Affordable, safe for sensitive eyes, provides lots of length and volume, and the brush can catch every last lash with a smooth application.
Cons: May dry out quickly and can be difficult to remove.
Glowing customer review: "This is absolutely the best of the "drugstore" options for waterproof mascara. I have tried them all, and they all flake or smudge or clump. All of them EXCEPT this one. Benefit from my mistakes and just buy this one. You won't regret it."
An oldie but a goodie, this as-classic-as-it-gets mascara is Kinjo's other top waterproof pick if you're shopping at the drugstore. "This is such a classic mascara," Kinjo tells me. "It holds a curl, there's no flaking, and it's always reliable. It has never smudged by the end of the day!"
Pros: Affordable and applies evenly to separate, lengthen, and add subtle volume without clumping. A small brush is great for precise application and coating every last lash.
Cons: May dry out quickly and can be difficult to remove.
Glowing customer review: "I have been using this waterproof mascara since I was a junior in high school in 1971! I'm 69, and I just bought it again. Easy to use, no clumping, and it stays on. Great product."
Looking for a supernatural formula with the same, or perhaps even better, efficacy as its less-natural counterparts? Then you'll want to add this best-selling waterproof mascara from Ere Perez to your cart. It provides volume and features strategic ingredients like mamey and avocado oils, which may help stimulate growth and promote lash strength over time. It also won't budge for 24 hours.
Pros: Natural, long-wearing, extremely black pigment, contains lash-fortifying ingredients for growth and strength, safe for sensitive eyes, provides volume
Cons: expensive, may smudge depending on the products or other makeup you're wearing on under-eyes
Glowing customer review: "This mascara is so amazing. I bought it for my wedding, and it stayed put all day through sweat, tears, and a post-party swim. No flaking, no smudging, nothing, and makes my lashes look great! Easy to remove with an oil cleanser. Will buy again and again!"
While Chanel makes a few waterproof mascaras that we love, Inimitable is especially loved by editors and makeup artists alike.
Pros: Provides length, curl, and separation with a long-wearing formula and conditioning ingredients like vitamin B5 for extra hydration and lash health.
Cons: Expensive and may dry out quickly or smudge if you run oily.
Glowing customer review: "I have straight, long lashes, and even though I curl them with an eyelash curler, I could never wear mascara because they tend to weigh down my lashes. I've tried so many brands, but this Chanel mascara goes on light and dries fast, so it holds my curl wonderfully. I haven't experienced any clumping issues, and I like that it separates my lashes as it coats them with the product."
This mascara recently won our crowning title for "best mascara" because it checks all our boxes: amazing length, lift, curl, volume, and long-wearing. Not surprisingly, its waterproof counterpart is just as impressive. It gives you that coveted fan effect, and the brush easily grabs and coats every last lash.
Pros: Provides length, curl, volume, and lift with a long-wearing and lightweight formula.
Cons: Expensive and may be difficult to remove. Some users don't like the angle of the brush.
Glowing customer review: "Amazing waterproof mascara!! I live in Florida, and it's hot and humid here year-round. This mascara survives and stays where I put it! I haven't had any issues removing this mascara. It easily wipes away with waterproof makeup remover. This one is a keeper."
TikTok might have made this affordable drugstore favorite ultra-famous, but it's always been a favorite among editors and makeup artists. It's an especially great pick if you crave lots of length, lift, and separation. If you want tons of volume, it's probably not what you're looking for. (Just being honest!)
Pros: Affordable with a brush that easily grabs every last lash to provide lots of length, lift, and definition while being safe for sensitive eyes.
Cons: May be hard to remove, and some say it gave them clumpy results.
Glowing customer review: "It's so amazing—it makes my lashes pop, and I get compliments every time I wear it. I used to buy the regular, but I switched and tried the waterproof, and it is to die for!!!"
An icon! And dare we say that we like the waterproof more than the original? If you want dramatically long and thick lashes in rain, sleet, snow, sweat, and tears, this is the formula you'll want in your arsenal.
Pros: Adds length, curl, thickness, long-wearing, intense black pigment with special ingredients like omega oils, peptides, and porcelain flower extract.
Cons: Expensive, may clump and flake, may be difficult to remove, and can get messy due to the size of the brush and the amount of product.
Glowing customer review: "I've tried hundreds of mascaras, and this one has blown my mind. It's by far the best, and I highly recommend it. I have very small eyes and short lashes, but this holds a curl and adds so much volume and length!"
This was the mascara for me in high school and college. And even though I've started to gravitate toward other mascaras that give me more length and separation (versus thickness and volume), it's one of the only formulas I dare apply to my lower lashes, thanks to how smudge-proof it is. My lower lashes are freakishly long, so that's saying something. This is another oldie but goodie drugstore gem that editors and makeup artists go nuts for.
Pros: Affordable, hypoallergenic, provides lots of volume and fullness, applies evenly, defines and separates.
Cons: You won't get as much length or definition as other mascaras, may dry out quickly or be difficult to remove.
Glowing customer review: "When I needed a new mascara, I decided to give this one a shot, and it is easily one of the best mascaras I've ever tried. I already know I will buy another bottle when this one runs out. No clumping, no transfer/flaking, and lots of separation of your lashes! New holy grail!"
The fact that this mascara is two mascaras in one makes the under-$5 price tag all the more amazing. If you want more separation and length (rather than volume), opt for the curved silicone brush. Want more drama? Use the other side, which is fluffier.
Pros: Affordable two-in-one design gives you buildable options for length or volume and can grab every last lash.
Cons: May dry out quickly, clump, and be difficult to remove.
Glowing customer review: "It's the best mascara I've ever found. I have light, thin, SUPER straight eyelashes, and I can't keep them curled no matter what I do. This mascara made them longer, thicker, and sky-high all day. I came back here to immediately buy two more bottles because I never want to be without it."