I Tested 5 Zero Waste Mascaras, So You Don't Have To

I know I’m not alone when I share that one of the most challenging areas to go plastic-free is makeup. 

Yes, we’ve all seen those mascara DIYs promising "great results!" But, I’ve come to accept that while I’m very committed to reducing plastic waste in my lifestyle, I have to draw the line when it starts to feel like a burden. Going zero waste should make my life easier and bring me joy, not the other way around. And, as a small business owner and mom to a one year old, I don’t have much desire to spend my free time blending activated charcoal with various essential oils. 

I will say that since going zero waste, I’ve embraced a makeup-free face 90% of the time. I used to wear piles of foundation, concealer, mascara, bronzer, eyeliner, shadow, etc. I also used to have really bad breakouts which caused a vicious cycle of caking on concealer to cover my blemishes, that in turn clogged my pores worse. After I learned how to heal my skin through a combination of diet and acne-safe products from SkinSalvation, I mostly wear makeup for special occasions. 

A few months ago, I asked for zero waste mascara recommendations on Instagram. I received many responses, but even more requests to share what I learned. I set out to find the impossible— a zero waste(ish) mascara option that didn't cake or smudge and worked just as well as a mainstream brand. Let's get to it!

The Criteria.

Like any good project, I started by doing a ton of online research. While there are many zero waste mascara options on Etsy, I’ve found quality issues with some of their beauty products and decided to limit my search to the more mainstream options. 

I’ve heard some good things about cake mascara, like this one from Besame, but when I looked at the packaging online I noticed that it comes with a little plastic brush applicator that’s wrapped in plastic. I also have a feeling that cake mascara isn't my thing, and decided to focus on mascaras that come in a tube.

The Contenders. 

Refill Options

Kjaer Wise Lengthening Mascara ($38): The packaging for this mascara is beautiful and looks luxurious. The mascara comes in a refillable stainless steel tube packaged in a chic red cardboard box. Refills are tucked into a recyclable cardboard insert. I love that this mascara is made with primarily organic ingredients and has a delicate rose scent. Unfortunately, the pros end there for me. The mascara was easy to apply, but was so light you could barely tell I was wearing anything. And at $38, I just spent a lot on a mascara that I couldn’t see. I have to admit I did this review two years ago, so maybe they've improved it. Read previously review here. 

Zao Organic Volume Mascara ($33.20) / Refills ($23): A vegan and 100% natural mascara that comes in a BPA-free plastic tube encased in bamboo. The cool thing about this mascara is that the bamboo case is refillable and Zao says you can recycle the empty plastic tube when you’re done with household recycling. It made my lashes noticeably darker and defined, but did clump the lashes together making them look a bit spidery. 


Elate Essential Mascara ($28): This mascara comes in a recyclable plastic tube, encased in bamboo. When you run out, they recommend crushing the bamboo off the tube for composting, and thoroughly washing and recycling the plastic tube with household recycling. The wand can be donated to a wildlife refuge. This mascara gives great volume and lengthens and separates lashes without clumping them together. I could also wear it all day without any smearing. My one negative was that they included a plastic sample of blush in the package. There's always something...

Recyclable Tubes

RMS Beauty Mascara ($28): A lot of people recommended this recyclable mascara. To clarify, the tube is made of plastic and the case is aluminum. To recycle, they recommend cleaning out the tube and donating the wand to a wildlife organization. Like the Zao mascara, this option did darken my lashes but didn't separate the lashes as much as I would have liked, making them look spidery. 

100% Pure Fruit-Pigmented Ultra Lengthening Mascara ($26): This mascara comes in a BPA-free plastic tube with a metal case and can be recycled in any 100% Pure retail store. They have also have rewards program for recycling—when you bring back 10 empty containers, you get 15% off your next purchase. Like the Elate mascara, this one also darkened lashes and had great volume without clumping lashes together. The mascara does have a strong fruity scent, which smelled too synthetic and sweet for my liking, but wasn't a deal breaker. It also smeared more than the Elate mascara and came wrapped in a thin plastic film within a cardboard tube. I wish it had just come in the cardboard tube. 

The Winner.

Of all the mascaras I tested, Elate and 100% Pure had the best options. They both darkened lashes and gave great volume, without being clumpy, and worked just as well as other mainstream brands. They also didn't smudge throughout the day and were reasonably priced at $28 and $26 respectively. If I had to pick one, I'd go with Elate because it doesn't smear like the 100% Pure mascara. 

Were they entirely zero waste? Close, but not perfect. Both companies could do better to improve their packaging and I would love to see them offer a refill option. It's also a bummer when you order a sustainable product online and it comes in plastic packaging or they include a plastic sample you didn't ask for. 

I hope this helped and would love to hear what other zero waste beauty products you'd like to see reviewed. 


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What are your thoughts on Bésame mascara? Refills available, wooden handle brush is one time purchase. I’m unclear on the environmental friendliness of the ingredients, though. Also, trish mcevoy mascara comes in a metal tube, possibly recyclable?


So helpful! Thank you.

Cassandra Guerra

DabHerb on Etsy has a couple options for mascara. They come in glass tubes that are either premixed, or in separate glass jars (oil and pigments) with a silicon mixing pad, complete with a bamboo wand. You can also return for refills. Mascara lasts all day and stays on better than the other natural brands that I’ve tried. Their shipping is zero waste and carbon neutral also. Highly recommend!

In Glass: Organic Mascara Zero Toxic Mica & Oxide Free | Etsy


I discovered Elate last fall and ordered some of their eyeshadows which were great, and zero plastic in the packaging!
Mascara-wise, my lashes are so short and straight that unless I curl them, they’re invisible. Of the ones I’ve tried, only the commercial waterproof ones hold a curl for me. I would love to switch to a more sustainable mascara. Can you comment if any of these held a curl well for you?


While I love the idea of old mascara wants helping a wildlife sanctuary, doesn’t putting it in an envelope and transporting it by train, truck, or other means add to the carbon footprint? I ask in honest sincerity, not trying to be snarky.


What do you think about The Body Shop’s recycling scheme (and incorporating of community trade recycled plastic into their packaging)? Legit option or greenwashing?


Hi! For Elate Cosmetics you can request zero waste/plastic free shipping and they will do their best to accommodate your lifestyle!

Kell Brigan

Anything over $8.00 is off the table for me. There’s got to be a better — and more affordable — way.


For Marcia,
It appears they use them to groom tiny animals!

Leilani Dong

Origins recycles their make-up containers.

Kiersten Conner

I use Kush mascara. Not only is it made of all natural ingredients, the outer tube is made out of aluminum! ALSO it works amazing and lasts for so long. And it’s about $25 at Sephora!


Hi there!
Do you know why some brands are using plastic encased in bamboo? Does this allow them to use less plastic in manufacturing?
Thanks for what you’re doing :)


Thanks, very useful info! However, putting plastic tubes in household recycling is probably useless. My county doesn’t recycle plastic anymore, the US has almost no capacity to recycle plastics and they end up in landfills and incinerators even when carefully sorted.

Ivette Sandoval

I currently use the Pacifica Dream Big 7 in 1 Mascara. I like it a lot! It is vegan and cruelty free (and only about $16). It comes in a plastic tube BUT it is part of their recycling program. When you are done with it you send it back in whatever old envelope and they clean and fully recycle the material. They actually do this with most of their products. I hope this helps someone!


Elate just switched our their sample jars so they’re totally aluminum now <3


Thanks for the thorough and concise article! I’ve been trying to go more zero waste with my makeup, but the information out there can be overwhelming and misleading. It’s nice to get information from a source you trust! Any tips on how to clean the metal tubes for recycling?

marcia bieberich

What do wildlife refuges do w/the wands?

marcia bieberich

What do wildlife refuges do w/the wands?


Thanks so much for this! Such a big challenge and you’ve given us really good options. Have you found that any of these wash off well with just water? I found one good one that did but then they stopped making it. So that actually exists and makes it so you don’t have to consume removers or deal with drying soaps or eye irritating oils. Thanks so much again!


Thanks for reviewing all the mascaras! The 100% Pure sounds pretty amazing <3

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