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Why Does My Mascara Always Smudge Under My Eyes?

This post is especially meaningful to your humble author since I am the queen of mascara smudging. I got to the point where I just accepted that every mascara was going to smudge on me. The situation seemed hopeless.

Well, the older and wiser queen of smudging is here to tell you that there’s hope. Today, I’ll tell you why your mascara is smudging, what mascaras are actually smudgeproof, and tips for keeping smudging at bay.

Why Does My Mascara Always Smudge Under My Eyes? It’s the Oil.

Ever notice that bi-phase eye makeup removers have an oil layer? Even non-bi-phase removers often melt into an oil as you use them. After all, oil is an excellent makeup remover—and that includes the oil your face produces.

Just like oils on your face break down foundation, so will they break down your mascara. As the day wears on and you produce more oil, the eyelashes that come into contact with your skin (for some people, that’s the upper lashes; for many, it’s the lower lashes or both) will start to act as if they’re coming in contact with a makeup remover…which they are.

This is why you don’t often hear of dry- or normal-skinned folks having as much trouble as oily-skinned folks when it comes to mascara transfer.

A mascara smear
Cool on your eyes; uncool underneath your eyes. Source.

However, there is one exception. Sometimes, you just get a formula that uses too much oil/too many emollient ingredients and not enough ingredients that help dry down. These types of mascaras transfer on everyone because they never really solidify on the lashes. In this case, everyone’s going straight to smudge city, and it’s the formula’s fault.

Unfortunately, unless you’re a serious ingredient nerd or a voracious review watcher, you don’t really know if you’ve brought a smudge factory home until you drop the coin on it.

Are Any Mascaras Really Smudgeproof?

Yes! Yes yes yes!

Wow, Okay. What Mascaras Are Smudgeproof?

Tubing mascaras! They’re the answer to all these smudgy problems, and I consider them the shining light in this post.

Pic of inflatable tube in shape of unicorn, in water
Not that kind of tube. Source: @merittthomas on Unsplash

While most mascaras work by coating your eyelashes with a kind of paint, for lack of a better word, tubing mascaras have polymers that wrap around your lashes and don’t act as paint at all.

Oil has a much harder time breaking down these entire tubes, whereas taking off just a little bit of paint is easy.

I can personally attest to this: tubing mascaras do not smudge.

Unfortunately, there are a few downsides to tubing mascaras. Let me share those now.

Downside 1: Lack of Variety

Many of the tubing mascaras I’ve tried don’t have a formula that builds as readily as I like. They go on thin, and it takes many coats to get the look I want. On the other hand, on the regular mascara market, there are so many options.

But with tubing mascaras, you only have a few to choose from, and you have to hope to fall in love with a formula.

You can adjust for this somewhat by using the tubing mascara only on your bottom lashes, if that’s the source of your smudging woes.

Downside 2: Hard to Identify

Now, the second problem: identification. Many don’t come out and say “tubing mascara” on the packaging, so you have to do research beforehand.

Luckily, you have a little help from me: I researched and assembled an entire list of tubing mascaras!

And Here Are the Mascaras That (Surprisingly) Are NOT Smudgeproof

Here are a few mascaras you might think are smudgeproof, but you’d be wrong.

Waterproof Mascara Is Not Smudgeproof

Waterproof mascara means exactly that—it’s waterproof.

So if your normal mascara is winding up under your eye due to rain or a bad breakup, sure, waterproof mascara is a good solution.

too faced better than sex promo photo
Too Faced’s Better Than Sex Waterproof Mascara is great for swimming, but it won’t save you from oil-based smearing. Source.

But you know what waterproof mascaras aren’t? Oil-proof.

And as we discussed in the beginning, the whole reason you’re experiencing smudging is probably because of oil on your face.

Waterproof mascara smears with oil just as well as washable mascara.

I’ve actually had worse smudging luck with Wet n Wild’s Megalength Waterproof Mascara than with regular super smudgers like the non-waterproof Essence Lash Princess.

A Mascara With a Smudgeproof Claim Is Not Necessarily Smudgeproof

You know what else isn’t smudgeproof, at least not necessarily? Mascaras that claim on their packaging to be smudgeproof.

Understand that, on many cosmetics and skincare products, companies can just claim what they like.

That’s why you might pick up a moisturizer that says “non-comedogenic” and find an ingredient like myristyl myristate (a major pore clogger) as the third ingredient.

Same with mascara. “Smudgeproof” and “lasts all day” sound pretty good to consumers, so why not throw it on there?

Now, they can’t just make up studies, so if you see something on the back that says, “90% saw no smudging in 12 hours,” they legitimately ran that test.

But think about it. They might have cherry-picked their test subjects. If I were a makeup company looking to demonstrate my mascara didn’t smear, you know who I wouldn’t invite on the panel of testers? Me.

Always approach marketing with skepticism.

Are There Ways to Keep My Current Favorite Mascara From Smudging? Sort Of.

I get it. You’ve got the world’s best mascara in your hands, your holy grail, the thing that makes you look like you have eyelashes that will knock birds out of the sky. You’ve found your perfect mascara…

Except it smudges.

Honestly, there aren’t many great solutions here. (Tubing mascara is my only great solution for this post.) But I do have a few other things you can try, if you like

Powder—Nay, Bake—Your Undereyes

Try loading up your undereyes with any powder you’ve found that keeps you totally matte all day. You might even try baking (loading up your undereyes with loose powder and letting it sit for about 10 minutes before brushing it off).

A set of three blending sponges from Beauty Blender
Use that sponge and pack it on. Source: Beauty Blender.

If it keeps your oils at bay, that means it’s blocking the natural makeup remover you’re producing.

But this isn’t without it’s drawbacks, of course.

The first is efficacy—some find this works, and some don’t. (It doesn’t keep my mascara from transferring, for instance.)

The second is that some people hate the way that powder makes their undereyes look and aren’t willing to make that trade.

If either of those people sound like you, try the next tip.

Add Tubing Mascara Strategically

You want the all glory of your favorite regular mascara, not the halfhearted job your tube of No. 7’s Stay Perfect does.

Why not try using the tubing mascara as your final coat? Theoretically, you can seal in you previous layers with those polymer tubes.

Of course, both mascaras will have to layer well and play well with other formulas to work, and only a trial run will determine that.

You can also opt to use your favorite mascara on the top lashes and a tubing mascara on the bottom, if bottom smudging is your issue.

Remember to Wipe Under Your Eyes

How unglamorous! How uncouth!

disgusted woman
“Please stop writing.” Source: @ospanali on Unsplash

But it works.

If you make yourself (set an alarm if necessary) check or just sneak in a quick wipe under your eyes every few hours, you’ll be able to wear your favorite mascara without the indignity of having obvious smudge marks coming along for the ride.

This is the only thing I’ve personally had work for me, and it’s the least fun “trick” of them all.

In fact, it’s probably already what you’re doing, and I imaging you’re butting up against the main problem with this: forgetting to check and only seeing the mess when it’s too late.

What a pain. This is why it’s almost crushing to find a holy grail mascara that smudges—you know what’s possible for your lashes, but you can’t have it without the kind of maintenance that borders on unrealistic.

Mascara Smudging Can be Tamed!

If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this:

Your mascara almost certainly smudges because of the oils on your face, and tubing mascara is resistant to that.

I wish I’d learned this so many years ago!

Even if tubing mascara has its drawbacks, it’s a solution for a real problem that you’ve no doubt experienced. So go buy yourself a tube of Thrive Liquid Lash Extensions and give it a try.

I’ll tell you firsthand that the first time I experienced a maintenance-free mascara, my life was changed. If you’re in the same boat, I hope it changes for you, too.

P.S. Want to read more? I also wrote about why mascara flakes and why foundation smudges. Or check out my start here page to read some good ol’ fun posts celebrating makeup.