Waterproof mascara is a rugged and resilient makeup product. It can hold its own against a teary-eyed wedding ceremony, unexpected rain, a dip in the water, (or as I’m most familiar with) a sweat-inducing 90-degree day with high humidity. It can also hold a curl better than most traditional mascara formulas, which is why people with stick-straight lashes (like yours truly), always seem to keep one or two tubes on hand.
Like most things in life, though, it’s not perfect. In this case, its steadfastness, which is at first a blessing, can turn into a curse as soon you try to remove it. I, for one, have spent far too much time standing over my bathroom sink rubbing at my eyelashes with a cotton pad soaked in makeup remover, all but willing the mascara to go away. This is obviously less-than-ideal, considering repeated friction can be damaging to the thin skin around the eyes. It can also cause eyelashes to fall out…
The good news is you don’t have to completely forgo waterproof mascara in order to save your lashes. There are ways to remove it safely and gently. You just need to know the right technique and the right products to use. That’s where makeup artists come in. Keep scrolling to learn how to remove waterproof mascara the right way, according to three experts.
The Waterproof Mascara-Removal Technique
According to makeup artists, the key to properly removing waterproof mascara is a gentle touch (yes, really). Instead of rubbing back and forth or pulling on your lashes, enlist the help of multiple cleansing steps and oil-based products.
Makeup artist and Stila Global Beauty Director Charlie Riddle recommends utilizing a double-cleansing method. Start with warm water and a gentle cleanser. Then, go in with a traditional eye makeup remover. "Do not pull on the lashes," he says. "Gently rub in a downward motion with a warm cloth until [the mascara is] removed."
Makeup artists Samantha Lau and Tobi Henney both say an oily makeup remover is the key to dissolving stubborn waterproof mascara without causing any unnecessary friction. "You’ll need a good quality oil-and-water-based eye makeup remover," Lau says. "Put some of the remover onto a cotton pad and you place the remover-soaked pads over your lashes. I normally let that sit for several seconds (sometimes up to 10 seconds) and then I use a gentle rocking motion to loosen up the stubborn formula. Then you wipe away. Repeat the process until you see the formula has completely dissolved."
The Waterproof Mascara-Removal Products
Lau recommends this eye and lip makeup remover from Shiseido. Thanks to a dual-phase formula, it melts away stubborn mascara and long-wearing lip color in seconds.
"The holy grail of eye makeup removers is the Clé de Peau eye makeup remover," Lau says. "It takes away the most stubborn waterproof mascara." She starts by shaking the product to combine the oil and water ingredients before adding it to a cotton pad and using the sit-and-soak technique described above.
Henney recommends this oil cleanser, which contains sea oak to promote collagen synthesis, meadowfoam oil to provide antioxidant power, and evening primrose oil to reduce irritation.
"I also love Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm," Henney says. "Megan Fox introduced me to this product when we were filming her movie Til Death last year, and it was her go-to when removing the film makeup each day."
Aside from her tried-and-true oil-based removers and balms, Henney also loves using micellar water to remove stubborn mascara. She mentions this drugstore classic specifically.
Riddle is another fan of micellar water. "I love the Dr. Jart Micro Water," he says. "It's so gentle on the skin but yet does such a good job of removing."
Riddle is also a fan of this makeup-melting mist, which, I have to say, is a very convenient product and a very ingenious idea. "This will remove literally anything," he says.
What happens if you're in a pinch and you don't have any makeup remover? Easy. Go to the kitchen and grab some coconut oil. "If you have coconut oil on hand, that will help to remove [waterproof mascara]," Henney says. "Simply close your eyes, massage it over the mascara and use a warm damp flannel or cotton pads to remove."
Just be careful to avoid getting it in your eyes. It's definitely not meant for that. As Lau puts it, only "eye makeup removers are formulated for your delicate eye area."
5 Mascaras to Shop Now
"I absolutely love Armani Eyes To Kill Waterproof Mascara," Henney says. "I actually used this on the models when I was shooting for Sports Illustrated. The girls were in the water and on a beach from sunrise to sunset and it didn’t move!"
"I think Japanese brands make the best waterproof mascara," Lau says. "Most waterproof mascaras out in the market either leave a resiny residue in the undereye area, or flake off by the end of the day, but not with Heroine brand mascaras. These mascaras areally withstand a whole day of heat, humidity, crying and other reasons wh you wear waterproof mascara."
While it's technically not a waterproof formula, this mascara promises up to 12 hours of wear. "Stila Stay All Day Mascara is definitely a go-to," Riddle says. "It's a tubular formula so it coats the lashes and it won't come off or smudge under the eye until you remove it."
This formula lengthens, thickens, and curls lashes, and then keeps them that way all day.
This iconic drugstore mascara never fails to add some much-needed density to my lashes.
5 Other Lash Products to Shop Now
According to Riddle, a well-formulated lash oil is the secret to keeping lashes healthy and conditioned, especially when using waterproof mascara. He calls this one "amazing."
"I cannot live without my Tweezerman Lash Curler for beautiful lashes," Henney says.
"I’ve been a waterproof mascara-wearer since I was a teenager," Lau says. "It’s the only thing that keeps my lashes curled. I also know that I lose a few precious lashes if I’m not careful when I’m removing my mascara. I use a lash serum to condition and help with my lash regrowth. Right now, I’m obsessed with Borboleta Lash Serum."
The other lash serum Lau loves is from RevitaLash. She says it "has always been a classic."
My favorite lash serum of all time is this French one. It makes a noticeable difference in the length, density, and darkness of my lashes. I've been using it one and off for a few years now, and I've reached the point where I get physically uncomfortable when I run out.
Kaitlyn McLintock is an Associate Beauty Editor at Who What Wear. Although she covers a wide range of topics across a variety of categories, she specializes in celebrity interviews and skincare and wellness content. Having lived in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, she recently relocated back to her home state of Michigan where she works remotely. Prior to Who What Wear, she freelanced for a variety of industry-leading digital publications, including InStyle, The Zoe Report, Bustle, Hello Giggles, and Coveteur. Before that, she held a long-term internship and subsequent contributor position at Byrdie. When she's not writing, researching, or testing the latest and greatest beauty products, she's working her way through an ever-growing book collection, swimming in the Great Lakes, or spending time with family.