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How to Remove Waterproof Mascara Without Eye Makeup Remover

There are a number of reasons you may be looking to step away from traditional makeup removers for your waterproof mascara.

Maybe it’s the stinging: after all, many removers, like Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Liquid Eye Makeup Remover and Lancôme’s Bi-Facil, contain sodium chloride (yes, literal salt) and benzyl alcohol (“common side effects include eye irritation“—Everyday Health). Sometimes, they even have fragrance.

Maybe it’s that you’re trying to go clean with your beauty and want to avoid the the preservatives in some makeup removers.

Maybe you just need to get that ish off and you don’t have an eye makeup remover lying around.

No matter what your reason, you can get that waterproof mascara off without a dedicated eye makeup remover. In fact, there are even better options out there!

And that’s what we’re here to discuss: how to remove waterproof mascara without eye makeup remover, with a whole list of alternatives you can use—some probably even just lying around your house. Plus, I’ll even treat you to an experiment I ran at the end.

A screenshot of ingredients from Neutrogena's Oil-Free Liquid Eye Makeup Remover with benzyl alcohol and sodium chloride highlighted.
A screenshot of ingredients from Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Liquid Eye Makeup Remover. The stuff highlighted are just a few things you don’t want near your precious eyeballs. Source.

Pure Oils

The first thing you might consider is oils. This is an especially a good option if you have dry eyes, since oil is such a great nourisher. Look for products where the only ingredient on the label is the oil itself.

If you don’t like the residue oil leaves, you can use soap and water to wash the oil off after you’re done with removal. But some of you may find that you like the aftereffects of left-on oil even better than your eye cream. If that’s the case, use a soft cloth or cotton round to very gently remove the makeup, using a downward motion and being careful not to pull too much on your eyes (or get the oil in them!).

You might want to stay away from pure oils if your skin is easily congested—the only oil this greasy gal has ever used without breaking out is squalane, and your mileage may vary on any type of oil. Also, please don’t confuse regular oils with essential oils. You should never put undiluted essential oils on your skin, let alone your eyes. It can burn or sensitize the area you applied it to.

Here are some oils people use to remove their waterproof mascara:

Unlabeled oil with plants and rocks
Source: @sarahjgualtieri on Unsplash

Cleansing Oils/Balms

Before we get into some cleansing oils and balms, you should know that not all cleansing oils or balms are considered “clean.” And you should always check the ingredient label for things like fragrance, drying alcohols, and preservatives, if those things are of concern to you. But with the double cleansing method becoming the standard, wouldn’t it be useful to get a first-step cleanser that does it all, including taking off your waterproof mascara?

Some pricier options for a cleansing oil or balm include Drunk Elephant’s Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser ($34), Clinique’s popular Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm ($31), and Dermalogica’s PreCleanse Cleansing Oil ($45). But you can get great first cleanses for a lot cheaper.

I’ve been using Physician’s Formula’s The Perfect Matcha Cleansing Balm ($13.49) for about a year and love it. But watch out if you don’t want fragrance—or lactic acid, which is a chemical exfoliant. They’re low on the ingredient list and I’ve never had anything but a positive, non-burn-y experience with this one, but buyer beware.

Consider also Good Molecules’ Instant Cleansing Balm ($15). The word on the skincare street is that this is an amazing product that leaves your skin feeling fresh and non-greasy, and the ingredient list looks fantastic.

Good Molecules' Instant Cleansing Balm

Pond’s Cold Cream

Ah, the tried and true. Your grandma can tell you that Pond’s Cold Cream has about a million uses, but let’s focus on the one—getting off your waterproof mascara.

I recommend the fragrance-free version for your delicate peepers. You can get it for $8.29, making it one of the cheapest products on the list besides the oils. Don’t worry about the cetyl alcohol on the ingredient list—it’s not the kind of alcohol that dries out or stings your skin. (But it is the kind of alcohol that clogs pores, so careful, oily folks!)

Pond's Fragrance-Free Cold Cream

MakeUp Eraser

People love the MakeUp Eraser because it’s an Earth-saving, economical option. There’s no going through bottle after bottle of product, and there are no ingredients that can have a bad effect on your skin.

To use it, soak it in warm water wet and gently massage your eyes, being careful not to pull hard or tug. Try to use downward motions. No additional products are necessary.

The downside of the MakeUp Eraser is that you have to wash it twice a week, and people in the Sephora reviews are torn on whether or not it does a good job removing waterproof mascara.

Some advice: Before you go with this option, scroll down to my experiment and check out my results using the MakeUp Eraser.

I don’t know if I’d tell dry-skinned folks to give this one a shot because it’d be better for you to get all those oils and emollients from the other options. But this is worth investigating if you have oily skin.

Pic of a MakeUp Eraser
The original MakeUp Eraser. Source.


Ew. But hey, Vaseline works, and many money-saving mamis have sworn by it. It’s a good option for dry-skinned folks. After all, a property of petroleum jelly is that it prevents moisture loss.

Just don’t get it in your eye. You’ll be seeing everything blurry. This, friends, is upsetting.

For Science! I Try Some of These on My Arm

To round things out, I figured I’d put some of these methods to the test.

I got out all the things I had on hand to remove waterproof mascara: a MakeUp Eraser, olive oil, and generic Vaseline. (Rats that I’m out of my Perfect Matcha Cleansing Balm!)

Then I coated myself in Wet n Wild’s Waterproof Mega Length, which did a much better job enhancing my arm hairs than it does enhancing my lashes. But enough about that.

Test 1: Applying and Wiping

Flat lay of my arm and makeup removal tools
Things are about to get messy.

For the first run, I wanted to get a feel for how powerful these removers were right off the bat. So I just laid on the product and let it sit (with the exception of the MakeUp Eraser, of course.) Then I wiped it off. No rubbing.

Check out the results of test 1:

Collage showing before and after wiping all three removers
Things are not boding well for the MakeUp Eraser.

Here are the results of test 1:

  • The oil smeared things but overall seemed to be quite promising.
  • The fake Vaseline took lots of the mascara fully off, but it left a few conspicuous chunks.
  • The MakeUp Eraser…well, it didn’t do much.

Test 2: Rubbing In and Wiping

Time for test 2. I dried my arm and reapplied the waterproof mascara, and I’ll do the same as I did in test 1—except this time, I’ll rub the removers in like you would while removing your eye makeup.

Here are the results:

Oil came mostly all the way off, Vaseline came all the way off, MakeUp Eraser only removed chunks.
Final results.

And here are the results of test 2:

  • The olive oil was the most impressive of the bunch. There’s a slight dark cast on my arm left over, but that was barely noticeable. The skin there felt moisturized but a little greasy.
  • The fake Vaseline did really well, too. I put in a little more work than I did with the oil, and the leftover is just black dots in my pores. Therefore, I think it might not do well if you have textured eyelids. But my skin afterward felt almost like itself, just a little more moisturized.
  • The MakeUp Eraser just didn’t work, honestly. By the end, I was scrubbing hard to get results, and I had to stop myself and say, “I would never treat the skin around my eyes like this.” I put way more time and work into this last removal method, and it gave me the worst results.

So, what would I recommend to the general public? Find an oil that works for you and use that.

What did I like best? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Vaseline. Ew.

Closing Thoughts

So there you go—a bunch of suggestions for how to remove waterproof mascara without eye makeup remover. To summarize, here are your options:

  • Pure oils
  • Cleansing oils/balms
  • Pond’s Cold Cream
  • MakeUp Eraser
  • Vaseline

And a summary of my small experiment:

  • Oil did the best job removing quickly and effectively. It left residue you may or may not like.
  • Vaseline came in close second for speed and effectiveness and left my skin feeling normal.
  • The MakeUp Eraser did a poor job at removing makeup. Even scrubbing in a way I never would on my eyes, I couldn’t get the product off.

I’d say the Tl;dr is to try an oil before anything else. It’s cheap and effective. From there, you can move into a cleansing balm/oil if you like, or you can try out Pond’s Cold Cream or Vaseline: whichever is more your speed.

Bon chance in finding your favorite method for getting off that stubborn waterproof mascara!

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