How to Remove Waterproof Mascara (Without Irritating Your Eyes)

We love waterproof mascara for the obvious reasons (it doesn’t budge or smudge) and for lesser known reasons (it’s the only kind of mascara that actually holds a curl for our stick-straight lashes).

But what makes the formula so resistant to the elements is also what makes it especially annoying to remove. Who among us hasn’t had the dreadful experience of rubbing their lids raw only to have little flecks of black residue litter your lower lash line for days?

After much trial and error, we have finally got it down to a science. Here’s how to remove waterproof mascara in the most gentle, non-abrasive way possible.

Step 1: Apply regular mascara first

Rather than apply back-to-back coats of waterproof mascara, start off by laying down a base of regular mascara first. It will act as a buffer between your bare lashes and the waterproof formula and make the removal process that much easier since you’ll only have to break down the outermost coat (rather than two or more coats of the waterproof stuff). Alternatively, you could also use a lash primer. (This one from Lancome gets bonus points because it has conditioning ingredients like vitamin E in it and micro fibers that give us extra length).

Your shopping list: Clinique High Impact Mascara ($20); Lancome Cils Booster XL Vitamin-Infused Mascara Primer ($26)

Step 2: Choose an oil-based remover

Look for an oil-based remover that’s made specifically for waterproof makeup. As you may recall from seventh grade science class, oil and water repel (oil is nonpolar; water is polar), which means that they serve different purposes in our beauty routines. Since waterproof mascara has silicones in it that don't react to water, you have to use something with oil instead to break down the waterproof ingredients. Plus, oil-based removers have a nice slip to them, which helps prevent any unnecessary friction. 

For those with dry or sensitive eyes, a cleansing balm or micellar water is also a solid option. If you're wondering how micellar water works to remove waterproof mascara given our science refresher above, micellar water is made up of water (obviously) and surfactants (which are tiny little molecules that have both hydrophilic and lipophilic properties to basically act like a magnet for makeup and oil without drying out your skin).

Your shopping list: Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water ($7); Versed Day Dissolve Cleansing Balm ($18); Avéne Intense Eye Make Up Remover ($20)

Step 3: Use a cotton pad

A cotton pad is the most obvious choice, but if you’re in the habit of daily removal, we’d highly recommend investing in reusable rounds instead. Not only are they more environmentally conscious, but they also have the added benefit of not leaving behind those annoying little cotton fibers in your lashes. Just toss them into the wash after use (or hand wash them in the sink with soap and let dry.)

Your shopping list: Bambaw Reusable Make Up Remover Pads ($13); Face Halo Makeup Remover Pads ($22); Jenny Patinkin Organic Bamboo Reusable Cosmetic Rounds ($38)

Step 4: Let it sit on your eyes

We know, we know. By the end of the day, it takes all of your energy to even just brush your teeth, let alone take off your makeup, but we promise a few extra seconds of patience will make all of the difference in getting off that waterproof mascara without so much as a tug. All you have to do is soak the cotton round in remover (now is not the time to be stingy, y’all—really saturate it) and hold it over each eye for at least 15 to 20 seconds before gently swiping it across your lid using a back-and-forth motion (as opposed to a circular rubbing).

Step 5: Cleanse your skin

Now it’s time to tackle the rest of your face. Using your cleanser of choice (we’re currently obsessed with Mamonde’s oil to foam formula) remove any remaining traces of makeup and rinse well with lukewarm water. 

Your shopping list: Mamonde Petal Spa Oil to Foam Cleanser ($21)

Step 6: Finish with moisturizer

Finish with a pat of moisturizer and eye cream to rehydrate your skin.

Your shopping list: Skinceuticals Daily Moisture ($63); Eminence Organic Skin Care Snow Mushroom Moisture Cloud Eye Cream ($70) 

Step 7: Show your lashes some TLC

If you’re noticing that your lashes are feeling brittle or looking sparse, try adding a lash conditioning serum to your routine. Brush it along your lash line after cleansing to show your them some TLC (a much-needed step if you’re a frequent waterproof mascara user).

Your shopping list: Rapid Lash Eyelash Enhancing Serum ($50); Lashfood Phyto‐Medic Eyelash Enhancer ($78)

What to avoid when removing waterproof mascara

It all boils down to this: Don't rush through the removal process. If you let the remover sit and soak for the aforementioned 15 to 20 seconds before wiping your lashes, it will be able to do its job and break the mascara down so when you go to swipe, most of the product will come off easily. Also, we'd recommend giving your lashes a break from waterproof formulas whenever possible. Use them for special occasions (when you really need the longevity) or on very hot days as opposed to daily to keep them healthy. 

 The 12 Best Waterproof Mascaras Ever

Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...