What is the secret to water-resistance in mascara?

What is the difference between water-resistant and waterproof mascaras, and how do these in turn differ from other kinds of mascara formulations, such as cream mascaras? Christophe Delas provides some clarity

Cosmetics Business asks: the secret to water-resistance in mascara and how do these differ from other mascara formulations?


Over to the expert…

Mascara is one of the most used cosmetic products and, as in other make-up categories, long lasting and water-resistance claims are mandatory to either resist natural elements, or to allow for a day at the beach.

Mascaras are divided into two distinct categories: cream mascaras and waterproof mascaras. Cream mascaras are oil-in-water (o/w) emulsions where the lipophilic phase mainly consists of waxes of natural origin (eg beeswax, candelilla wax, carnauba wax, rice wax, etc) or mineral origin (eg paraffin wax, ozokerite, microscristalline wax, etc).

Waterproof mascaras, meanwhile, are the opposite of cream mascaras, as they are water-in-oil (w/o) emulsions.

Considering the differences in these types of emulsion, one could imagine that their behavior towards water is different. Indeed, cream mascaras have limited resistance to water while w/o-based mascaras are highly water-resistant, even waterproof, depending on other ingredients in the formula (such as waxes, polymers, etc). This is equally true for other cosmetic products like eyeliner or liquid foundation.

The reason behind the water-resistance of waterproof mascaras is actually rather simple. The lipophilic phase, which partly consists of volatile ingredients (eg isoparaffins, isododecane, or siloxanes) is the external phase and it therefore acts as a shield against water, which prevents it from getting in even after drying, thanks to the non-volatile ingredients like waxes and polymers.

Some specific geographic areas have even pushed the recipe further for waterproof mascaras by using single-phase (anhydrous) compositions. However, it is important to note that the removal of waterproof formulations requires specific types of eye make-up removers, like bi-phase removers.

The second secret lies in an in-between type of composition that appeared about 15-20 years ago. These mascaras, qualified as water-resistant, have slowly grown during the last decade in Western countries.

It is important to note that this kind of mascara is more widely used in Asian markets. These mascaras are still o/w-based compositions, but formulators had the good idea to add specific polymers.

These specific polymers (eg acrylates/ethylhexyl acrylate copolymer, styrene/acrylates/ammonium methacrylate copolymer, acrylates copolymer, etc) are usually sold in the form of emulsions or dispersions in water.

They are therefore different in nature from the ones used in waterproof mascaras. However, they allow for longer lasting make-up and help achieve greater resistance to water.


Water-resistant mascaras can handle rain or romantic movie tears, but would not withstand a long training session at the swimming pool


This new category led to some confusion in consumers’ minds as ‘waterproof’ and ‘water-resistant’ translate into the same wording in some languages (French, for instance). Water-resistant mascaras do not have the same resistance to water as waterproof ones.

Water- resistant mascaras can handle rain or romantic movie tears, but would not withstand a long training session at the swimming pool. They have other advantages like a reduced tendency to smudge, but their foremost benefit is easier removal than waterproof mascaras.

This confusion is even greater when we talk about the removal of water-resistant mascaras. Indeed, this type of mascara can be easily removed using water!

If we move away from the technicality of the matter, it is easier to understand these formulas as ‘easy removal’ or ‘washable formulations’, as this is, after all, their greatest particularity.

Actually, these mascaras can withstand cold water, but they will fail under medium-to-hot water (a shower, for instance). The formula is porous to lukewarm water and it will therefore be easily removed (either as ‘tubes’ or ‘flakes’), allowing for clean and easy removal without the help of a mono-phase or bi-phase type remover.

Water-resistance in mascaras can therefore come via two different routes, with these two types of formulas having their advantages and drawbacks. A comparison of both formulations to determine if one is better than the other is not the correct approach, as, in reality, each one responds to a different type of consumer taste and a very specific need.

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