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.