During in-person makeup classes I teach and the Zoom makeup consultations I do, I’ll often ask the question: “What is your biggest makeup challenge?” As you might imagine, the responses range from hooded eyes to downturned lips and everything in between. But there’s one challenge that I’m convinced is universal.
We leave the house in the morning with our eyes looking great, but when we look in a mirror around lunchtime, our eye area has gone from looking perfect to looking pathetic. And the culprit is mascara that smudges. Who among us has not experienced this makeup mishap?
The factors that can cause our mascara to smudge could be one or more of the following things: our lash type, facial structure, eye shape (which, by the way, changes a bit over time), skin type, the elasticity of our eye skin, the weather, the skincare we use near our eyes, how we prep our eye area, the order in which we apply our makeup, the mascara formula we use, the mascara brush itself and how we apply the mascara.
We have absolutely no control over the first six things I mentioned, but we do have control over the last six. So today, I’ll give you eight tips that can help solve this problem. And hopefully you’ll only need to incorporate one or two of these tips into your current makeup routine to prevent your mascara from smudging.
The skincare we use near our eyes can very often be the culprit in mascara transferring onto our skin. That’s because if the mascara touches our skin and if the skin isn’t dry or has cream on it, the mascara will become more fluid and run.
So it can be helpful to apply eye creams early in the morning before applying makeup – or better yet – apply eye creams the night before and use a serum before applying makeup that melts into the skin faster and easier and doesn’t leave a residue like a cream does.
Mattifying any skin around the eyes that the mascara might touch makes this skin less oily and less shiny. This is important because oil from our skin breaks down the mascara since mascaras that aren’t waterproof are water based. And when the mascara breaks down, it can smudge. Sweat is one of mascara’s biggest enemies, so mattifying our eye area can help prevent sweat from ruining our look as well.
So how do we mattify the eye area? There are two things we can do. First, we can use an eye primer since eye primer is specifically designed to absorb the excess oil on our eyelids in order to create an even surface on which to apply eye makeup. Without eye primer, oily eyelids can cause eyeshadow to crease and smudge and mascara to smudge as well.
One additional benefit of using an eye primer that matches our skin tone (rather than a clear or transparent eye primer) is that it will cover up the discoloration almost all of us have on our eyelids. And covering up this discoloration makes our eyes look brighter and larger. It can also be helpful to apply a small amount of eye primer under the eye as well before applying corrector and concealer.
The second thing we can do to mattify the eye area is to apply a small amount of powder over our eyelids after applying eye primer. Not only is this an additional way to help keep the eyelids mattified, but it also helps our eyeshadow apply more easily and blend in with other eyeshadow colors more seamlessly.
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It’s best to apply our eye makeup first before doing our face makeup. Applying eye makeup before face makeup is a good idea because if a drop of mascara or eyeshadow lands on our face after we’ve applied our face makeup, that drop of eyeshadow or mascara will land on concealer or foundation. And the minute we sweat – or our oil glands produce some sebum – the makeup droplet remoistens, smears, slides and creates a smudge.
There are certain mascaras that are less likely to smudge, and I’ve listed some of them at the end of this article. But there are also two types of mascara formulas that are less likely to smudge: waterproof mascaras and tubing mascaras.
Many women prefer waterproof mascara – especially in the summer months – since sweat can certainly make our makeup run. It’s also beneficial for those of us with watery eyes and for those who have straight lashes and want to keep the lashes curled throughout the day.
Waterproof mascara’s silicone or wax-based formula is a thick, strong holding formula which grips onto the lashes and stays there. But this same formula can also be a negative since it prevents moisture from getting into our lashes which causes them to become drier and more brittle. And removing waterproof mascara is no easy feat.
If you do need to use waterproof mascara on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to invest in an eyelash conditioner. Shiseido’s Full Lash Serum is a good one or Vaseline or castor oil can also help. Two other options that help keep our lashes in good shape when using waterproof mascara are to apply a regular mascara before applying the waterproof mascara or to apply an eyelash primer before applying the waterproof mascara.
If you’d prefer not to use waterproof mascara, another good formula option that can help prevent smudging is tubing mascara. Tubing mascaras contain tube-like polymers which wrap around each individual lash. The result is a long-lasting, lengthening effect that doesn’t smudge.
The good news is that a tubing mascara is very easy to remove with micellar water or simply warm water. I’ve listed several good tubing mascaras at the end of the article.
On our top lashes, a thinner longer wand can work best to prevent smudging than a bigger, fluffier wand. On bottom lashes, a much smaller mascara wand works really well such as Clinique’s Bottom Lash Mascara.
When applying upper lash mascara, it’s best to look straight ahead or down rather than up. If we’re looking up, it’s more likely that the lashes will touch the eyelid skin and smudge. When applying mascara to the bottom lashes, it’s best to squint which helps lift the lashes.
It’s best to bend the wand slightly to the side as we pull it out. This way we’ll be rubbing off some of the product on one side of the wand. Then apply the mascara to the lashes using the side of the wand that has more mascara on it.
Use the other side of the wand – which has less mascara on it – to remove any excess product from the lashes which might cause smudging. Or, you can simply remove any excess mascara with a disposable spoolie which can be purchased at a beauty supply store.
And tip number eight is a great tip from one of you who watch my YouTube videos: use a clear mascara over your regular mascara.
And, of course, it’s always a good idea to be prepared just in case a smudge does occur during the day. So carrying Q-tips, a spoolie and a small tube of concealer can really save the day.
L’Oreal Voluminous Lash Princess
Charlotte Tilbury Legendary Lash Mascara
Thrive Causemetics Liquid Lash Extensions
Have you had issues with mascara smudging? Are there tips you’ve used to prevent mascara from smudging? What can you recommend?
Thanks for the tips. I have two others that may help. I use a white primer coat first..Tarte makes a good one. I also use a very fine amount of corn starch under my lower lashes. I apply this with a dedicated shadow brush. It is not drying and mattes well. It also shuns any racoon eyes from my mascara. Special occasions call for waterproof of course. I am blessed with naturally long lashes and these tricks have helped.
Hi, Gail–Thanks so very much for sharing these excellent tips. And oh how lucky you are to be blessed with naturally long lashes!
I’ve been have good success with L’Oreal Double Extend mascara. It includes a primer that provides long lasting, non-smearing application & no flaking during the day. It comes off in tubes when washed off.
Hi, Ree–Thanks so much for letting us know about this product. It sounds wonderful.
Lancome mascara does everything you mentioned above. It doesn’t clump or smudge or flake and it comes in a waterproof formula if that’s what you like. I use Definicils and always come back to it no matter what I’ve tried. I’m not an advertiser or promoter or influencer, but I know what works!😉💗
Hi, Pam–Thanks so much for sharing the mascara that works beautifully for you. I really appreciate your letting us know!
I use Lancome Definicils too. Love it.
I use glaucoma eye drops and have had difficulty ever since starting to use them with mascara smudging to the extent that I no longer use it. Perhaps some of these tips will help. Thanks.
Hi, Teddee–I do hope some of these tips will work for you!
I stopped wearing mascara on my lower lashes. That solved the problem!
Also, I don’t apply eye liner on lower lid.
Wearing mascara on the bottom lashes can certainly cause smudging and it sounds like you’ve found a solution that works well for you. There are some steps that can be taken to prevent lower lash mascara from smudging (e.g. mattifying the area under the eyes and using a very small bottom lash mascara wand such as the one mentioned in the video), but these steps do take a little bit extra time.