The Best Clear Mascara: An In-Depth Look at a Unique Cosmetic
We pride ourselves on being able to talk at great length on just about any topic related to cosmetics, and we’re going to be honest: we’re pretty proud of this post. We go into a (somewhat absurd) amount of detail about clear mascaras, how to choose them, which might be the best clear mascara for your situation, and why they’re such an interest product to begin with. If there's a more in-depth guide to clear mascara on the internet, we haven't found it.
So...! hopefully there’s something here that will help you choose which option is right for you, and if you’ve got any questions about clear mascara—and somehow the answer isn’t on this page—jump over to our “Contact” page and let us know. As always, we’d love to hear from you!
(By the way, we always like to promote cruelty-free options when we can—we made a list of our favorite cruelty-free mascaras; after you're done here, check it out if you're interested!).
Clear Mascara Reviews: Our Top Picks
Here are our top picks. We’ll go into more detail below, but here are the ones we like the most:
NYX PROFESSIONAL MAKEUP Control Freak Eyebrow Gel
The NYX PROFESSIONAL MAKEUP Control Freak Eyebrow Gel is our pick for the best clear mascara for beginners and intermediates. If you’re curious about trying out a clear mascara but are not quite ready to commit, we think this might be the best option to start with.
NYX created the product with polymer-based ingredients to separate lashes and keep them curled, and while Control Freak is marketed strictly as a brow product, the brush is large enough to coat the lashes, and tame unruly eyebrows. It can be worn alone or over other makeup products like powders and gels, and that’s wonderful—not all clear mascaras are designed to do so.
There are two things to remember if you use Control Freak: 1) you may find that too much product can come out on the brush, which can lead to a messy application, but that can be remedied by wiping the brush over the lip of the clear mascara tube; and 2) When the product is very fresh, It can be a little slow to set, so you might want to fan your face to speed up the drying time.
NYX offers this clear mascara in a white tube with black print, a nice and minimalist design that we think might make it easy to differentiate from typical mascara tubes. As with all NYX products, this clear mascara is certified cruelty-free, which we love!
Recommended for: beginners curious to try a clear mascara for the first time.
E.L.F. Clear Brow and Lash Mascara Crystal
The E.L.F. Clear Brow and Lash Mascara Crystal is our favorite clear mascara for beginners who want a product for both the brows and lashes. Clear mascara can be a “two-in-one” type of product, and with the Clear Brow and Lash Mascara Crystal, E.L.F. really committed to that “dual nature” of clear mascaras.
What really stands out here, though, is that E.L.F. packaged this clear mascara with two types of applicators, with one end having a longer brush and more rounded brush-end meant to be used on the lashes and the other end having a shorter brush, with a flatter brush-end meant to tame the brows. That’s a very nice touch that a lot of clear mascara makers overlook. The gel itself is exactly the same formula on each side, so you can still use up the entire product even if you only use it on one part of your face.
Crystal is NOT waterproof, so while it may not be a great option for the gym or the pool, it’s designed to be washable and easy to remove, and that can be a plus if you dislike that feeling of difficult-to-remove eye makeup.
Recommended for: beginners and intermediates who would like a washable clear mascara for both the lashes and brows.
CoverGirl Professional Natural Lash No Color Mascara
The CoverGirl Professional Natural Lash No Color Mascara is our pick for the top clear mascara for those with sensitive eyes and/or allergies. Not only is it hypoallergenic, but CoverGirl had the mascara tested by ophthalmologists, so not only is it made for mascara wearers susceptible to irritation around the eyes, it’s also suitable for anyone who wears contact lenses.
CoverGirl has made their Natural Lash washable and “not fussy,” and while it is intended for the lashes, it works on the eyebrows as well—but perhaps our favorite aspect of the CG Natural lash is the brush that comes with the set. While it’s quite long, which we think is ideal for the lashes, it is also very slim, and designed to be easy to control when applying to the brows.
One thing we should mention about the product’s lasting qualities: If you only need a clear mascara that will hold for a bit, this might be adequate, but for all-day wear, you might want something more robust and water-resistant. The formula itself can wear away after a few hours, but that’s often the case with more “gentle” formulas.
We really like that CoverGirl added a touch of glycerin to this formulation since this ingredient can lightly hydrate the brows and lashes. We also really like the way that CoverGirl packaged this mascara with a see-through tube and silver top, a sleek and professional-looking design.
Recommended for: those with sensitive eyes who need a very gentle clear mascara, as well as for professionals.
Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel
The Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel is our favorite high-end clear mascara. ABH has a reputation for being one of THE eyebrow brands, and they make a variety of incredibly popular eyebrow products including pencils, pomades, and powders. We consider their clear mascara to be one of their stand-out products.
The Brow Gel captures the “two-in-one” nature we discussed earlier, and while Anastasia Beverly Hills makes the product with the primary intent that it be used on the brows, it can also be used on the lashes just as well. The product’s main function is strength and hold, so for lashes that struggle to hold a curl or brows are extremely unruly, this can be a great pick.
So, ABH focused on functionality, and that’s what we’d hope for. We’re surprised by a lovely ingredient usually reserved for skincare products: chamomile. It’s not always common for mascaras to include skincare ingredients (and we have no idea why more products don’t include those sorts of ingredients), so that’s a really nice touch.
Our only (albeit minor) gripe about ABH’s brow gel is the applicator. It is a large, black spoolie with a tapered shape that we love for volumizing mascaras, but it can be a bit big and unwieldy for anyone who is new to setting their brows. Because of that, we’d recommend this clear mascara for intermediate and experienced makeup users who will have more control over the brush.
We also just like the look of it: the silver tube was looks incredibly sleek, and that’s always one of the perks of high-end products. Thumbs up.
Recommended for: intermediate and experienced makeup users who would like a clear mascara that really holds hairs in place.
Jane Iredale PureBrow Brow Gel in Clear
Jane Iredale’s PureBrow Brow Gel is our pick for the best clear option for those who prefer natural beauty products. Jane Iredale is a brand known for making makeup with natural formulas and a lot of skincare benefits, and they have the same attitude when formulating this clear mascara.
They included some hydrating ingredients in this formula, like algae extract, glycerin, and panthenol, which we like because they may help fortify and hydrate the lashes and brow hairs. They also added a proprietary blend of high-tech sea minerals, and they formulated it without potentially harmful preservatives or fragrances like parabens or phthalates. There are so many odd ingredients in makeup, it can be nice to see makeup companies including some ingredients that are actually good for your skin.
PureBrow was crafted to be water-resistant, at that’s also a plus—it can be a good fit if you’re in a hot climate and getting a little sweaty, and you may not need to worry about it wearing away if your eyes tear up or if you get caught in the rain. It does mean, however, that removing it might be a more involved process than with a washable clear mascara.
And, while this next bit isn’t really that important to how the makeup performs, it’s important to us, so we’ll discuss it: Jane Iredale packages this clear mascara in a transparent tube with some gorgeous gold detailing, and that feels (to us, anyway), luxurious and graceful. We never understood that trend where high-end makeup shouldn’t also be attractive—after all, that’s one of the wonderful things about cosmetics: not only how it looks on you, but how it looks on your makeup table!
Recommended for: clean beauty fans of all experience levels looking for a water-resistant clear mascara.
What are the Benefits of Clear Mascara?
Clear mascara is a very unique product, and now that we’ve discussed some of our favorites, let’s provide some information about the type of makeup itself.
Clear mascara is exactly what it sounds like—a colorless gel formula that comes in a tube with an applicator spoolie attached to its lid. One of the most frequently asked questions online is, well, what is clear mascara for? The wonderful thing about clear mascaras is that they actually have a lot of different uses:
- Over the lashes, clear mascaras can be used any time you don’t want to wear colored mascara. They will help slightly thicken up the look of your lashes, separate them, and hold them in place;
- They can also add a bit of a sheen that gives the eyes a very fresh and “awake” look (one great way to achieve a natural but open-eyed look is to curl the lashes first, and then apply a coat of clear mascara—the lashes will hold the curl but it’ll be a real “no-makeup” makeup look);
- Clear mascara can also be applied to the lashes like a primer, to separate, volumize, and lengthen them before layering on a coat of black or colored mascara; and...
- Probably the most popular use for clear mascara is... for the eyebrows! The clear mascara acts like a hair gel, holding the brow hairs in place and keeping them looking neat. It can be used alone or after eyebrow pencil or powder has been applied; and finally
- When clear mascara is applied over colored eyebrow makeup, it can actually help seal the brow product in place and make the brows more water-resistant.
People hear the word “clear” and wonder what use a “clear” makeup would have, but it’s actually a versatile cosmetic tool with a range of different functions.
How to Choose the Best Clear Mascara for Your Needs
Clear mascaras are not as diverse as other product categories, but there are still a few features and differences that you should take into account when looking for the right clear mascara for you:
For the most part, all clear mascara formulations are quite similar. They are made with some sort of polymer, which is the film-forming ingredient that ensures the clear mascara will have hold, as well as water, sometimes some skincare ingredients, and a preservative. The ratios of ingredients have an impact on the kind of texture the mascara will have and how long it’ll keep your lashes and brow hairs in place.
What you really want to look out for when picking up a clear mascara is going to be based on your own preferences, especially when it comes to controversial or irritating ingredients. For example, parabens are very commonly used in clear mascaras, but some people choose to avoid them. Obviously, the amount in clear mascaras is very small, but we still made sure to mention which mascaras were paraben-free in our reviews! Another thing you might want to avoid, especially if you have sensitive skin or eyes, is clear mascara that contains a fragrance since the eye area is often more easily irritated than other parts of the face.
Finally, you can look for nourishing ingredients like glycerin or panthenol that can help condition and hydrate your brows and lashes throughout the day!
Clear mascaras will usually come with a spoolie that looks just like a traditional mascara wand, that is either large-sized or small-sized. Larger spoolie brushes are better if your main goal is to use the clear mascara on your lashes, because they can make it easier to cover your entire lash line with just a couple of swipes.
Smaller spoolie brushes are better if you are looking for a clear mascara that you can use for setting and taming your eyebrows, especially if you have thinner brows. This is because they offer more control, and allow you to place the clear mascara over the brows without also covering the skin around the brows in the gel.
It’s worth noting that brands will often package clear mascaras advertised specifically for the brows with a large spoolie, but that’s not always the best option. Larger spoolies seem like they can be easier to use, but they actually require a bit of control. Because of this, we suggest that our readers always investigate what kind of spoolie the clear mascara they are planning to purchase has, instead of just relying on how it is marketed.
E.L.F. deserves a mention here for making a clear mascara that comes with two spoolies—a large one for the lashes on one end, and a small one for the brows on the other end.
Waterproof vs. Washable
When it comes to removal, there are two main categories of clear mascara: washable and water-resistant (or occasionally waterproof). Between the two, washable clear mascaras are much easier to remove but they are also not going to hold up at the pool, during exercise, or in the rain (or if you’re just sweating!).
Unlike colored mascara, though, clear mascara is not going to visibly run or cause streaks—it is just going to lose its hold. If you don’t like a difficult removal process and find that you usually don’t have a problem with rain or sweating, you can definitely opt for washable clear mascara, as it will come off easily when you wash your face at night.
If you’re relying on your clear mascara to hold up through very damp situations or if you’re using it to really lock your eyebrow makeup into place then definitely choose a water-resistant or waterproof formula. You will have to use a dedicated eye makeup remover to get it off, but it can be worth the longevity of the formula.
This may seem like an afterthought, but you might want to consider what the tube of your clear mascara looks like when trying to choose the best clear mascara for your routine. It’s just nicer to have products in your makeup bag that are aesthetically pleasing to you, but there is actually another thing reason, as well: it’s better to choose a tube of clear mascara that looks different enough from your black or dark brown mascara, because you might accidentally grab a black mascara when you want a clear one, which can have…. Well, undesired results!
If you’re a professional makeup artist, it’s also important to have packaging that inspires confidence in your clients and that is easy to clean. We usually urge makeup artists to stay away from very light or white packaging, for example, because it can become dirty very easily, and for clear mascaras, we would recommend choosing 1) a clear tube that is easy to clean and doesn’t stain the way white does, 2) looks professional, and is 3) easy to find quickly in the kit without confusing with regular mascara.
How to Use Clear Mascara for Lashes
Using clear mascara for the lashes is pretty easy, but here’s our step-by-step guide to de-mystify it:
- The best time to apply clear mascara is towards the end of your makeup application and especially after you’ve applied eyeshadows, eyeliner, and powder products. And, it’s also totally acceptable to wear it on days when you’re not wearing any other makeup!
- Make sure to curl your lashes thoroughly before applying clear mascara, since one of its main benefits is that it helps hold that curl in place;
- Unscrew the tube, and give the clear mascara wand a quick look to make sure that it isn’t too saturated with globs of clear gel. If it is, wipe off the excess mascara on the lip of the tube or into a tissue;
- Get into a comfortable position for applying the clear mascara—you’ll want to look downwards while applying it, so tilt your head back if you have a big wall mirror, or position your handheld mirror a little below your face;
- With your eyes open wide, bring the mascara spoolie up against your lashline from below, and wiggle it in so that the bristles separate your lashes nicely;
- While wiggling the clear mascara spoolie a little bit from side to side, pull it upwards through the lashes so that they are coated completely;
- Use the tip of the spoolie to also coat the lashes in the inner and outer corners of the eyes;
- Without adding more clear mascara to the spoolie, apply a thin coat to the lower lashes as well, in order to separate and detangle them;
- Repeat the entire process on the second eye;
- If the clear mascara is taking a while to dry down, fan yourself with a piece of paper or a fan to get it to dry faster; and finally
- If you are using the clear mascara as a primer, finish with a coat or two of black or colored mascara applied in the same manner.
How to Use Clear Mascara for Eyebrows
Remember above, when we mentioned clear mascara is a “dual product”? Well, now that you know how to apply mascara to your lashes, here’s how you apply it to your brows:
- It is best to apply clear mascara after you’ve already applied any powder-based makeup products, but if you like to do your brow and eye makeup before your face makeup, just make sure the clear mascara on your eyebrows has totally dried and set, so that powder doesn’t stick to it;
- If you like, apply your favorite eyebrow pencil or powder as you normally would. Clear mascaras can sometimes get stained by eyebrow pomade, however, so if that’s what you normally use make sure it dries down completely before you apply any clear mascara on top;
- Unscrew the clear mascara tube, and wipe off any excess gel from the spoolie;
- Brush it through your eyebrows in small, repetitive strokes rather than in one long motion, in order to retain a more natural look and to ensure every hair is coated in an even amount of clear mascara. Make sure you are always going with the grain of the hair, and never brushing against it;
- If you need to re-load the spoolie with more clear mascara, give it a wipe down first in order to avoid contaminating the tube with other makeup products;
- For a very neat and straight look, brush the brow hairs in a sideways motion, so that they sit on a straight or slightly diagonal line with the ends of the hair pointing outwards to the hairline;
- To emphasize the arch, brush the hairs before the arch starts on a diagonal angle going slightly upwards and outwards towards the temples, and then brush the hairs at the tail of the brow on a downward angle;
- If you’re aiming for that bushy ‘80s supermodel eyebrow, brush the hairs straight up so that the tips of the hairs stick straight up above the natural line of your brow;
- Once you’re done, wipe down your spoolie one last time before screwing it back into the tube;
- If the clear mascara is taking forever to dry, simply fan yourself with a piece of cardboard to speed up its drying time; and
- If you did happen to get a bit of powder on your brows after the gel has already dried down, you can use a clean, fluffy brush to gently brush that powder away.
General Clear Mascara Tips
While we’re here—because we can’t help ourselves—here are some general clear mascara tips to help enhance your look:
- You should treat your clear mascara just like you would regular mascara. This means replacing your tube every three months since expired clear mascara can hold bacteria and cause eye infections;
- Be careful to avoid getting other makeup products on the wand, because you can end up contaminating your clear mascara with color, making it look cloudy and hurting its performance;
- If you do happen to get a bit of foundation or other color cosmetics on your clear mascara wand, make sure to clean it up completely before returning it to the tube. Simply wipe it down with a dry tissue or towel, starting at the base and then moving it up. This will dislodge all of the gel from between the bristles without disrupting their shape;
- Skip the “hacks” that suggest contaminating your clear mascara with water or eye drops when it dries out—this will compromise its formulation and can end up causing it to become contaminated in a way that can lead to eye infections. When your clear mascara dries out just throw it away;
- Clear mascara is great when you want to get extra creative with your lashes or eyebrows. Apply it to the brow hairs or lashes and then, while it’s still wet, pack on some eye-safe glitter or a loose pigment to achieve sparkly or colored brows or lashes!
- However, we’re hygiene fanatics here at Makeup Artist Essentials, so we don’t recommend mixing glitter or pigments directly into the tube lest you risk also introducing bacteria into the formula;
- In addition to the face, you can also use clear mascara on your hair to help you tame baby hairs or flyaways that are too small to justify hair spray or gel;
- Men might find themselves benefitting from clear mascara as well in order to keep their mustache and beard looking extra neat. And finally...
- If you have eyelash extensions and have been told by your technician to avoid wearing mascara, unfortunately, this also applies to clear mascara, so you should avoid wearing it.
How to Remove Clear Mascara
Even though it’s not really visible, it is still important to remove clear mascara at the end of the day in order to keep the skin clean and allow the brows and lashes to breathe. Here’s how to do it safely:
- If you’ve used a washable clear mascara, you can use any eye-safe facial cleanser, and simply lightly massage it over your brows or eyelashes with your ring finger, and then rinse it clean;
- You might also be able to just moisten your face and then use a microfiber face cloth or cotton pads to wipe the clear mascara away;
- For waterproof or water-resistant clear mascara, you will need a dedicated eye makeup remover, oil, or micellar water;
- Saturate a cotton pad with your cleansing product of choice;
- For your eyelashes, hold the cotton pad against your eyes for a few seconds, and then gently wipe downwards;
- Then, look upwards and wipe it over the lower lashes to clean them up, as well;
- If your eyebrow hairs are delicate, hold the cotton pad over them for a few seconds, and then wipe outwards, going in the same direction as the grain of the hairs;
- If your eyebrows are bushier and more hearty, you can wipe them in a back and forth motion in order to get rid of every last speck of clear mascara; and, finally
- Depending on the kind of makeup removal product you’ve used, you may want to finish off by washing your face with a regular facial cleanser and to follow that up with your regular face and eye care routine.
If You’ve Made It All the Way Down Here…
You now know a great deal about clear mascara, and that’s a wonderful thing!
Clear mascara is an often-overlooked product, but we love it. Most (if not all?) professional makeup artists have a clear mascara sitting in their kit, but it’s great for people new to makeup, too—mothers often give their daughters a clear mascara as one of their first makeup products, since they make for an excellent transitional product that allows girls to experiment and feel more mature without actually looking like they’re wearing makeup at an inappropriately young age. From beginner to expert, clear mascara can be a fantastic and powerful cosmetic. Thank you for reading, and enjoy your next look!