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Why You Have Clumpy Mascara and How to Avoid It in the Future

Your guide to preventing this eyelash mishap.

December 05, 2023


Clumpy mascara is the enemy of a gorgeous makeup look and yet it happens to all of us at some point. It’s incredibly frustrating to have expertly blended a statement eyeshadow look only to have it ruined by clumpy mascara. Starting over is not an option most days. So we’re going to break down the causes of clumpy mascara, as well as how to avoid it so your lashes complement your look rather than distract from it.

What Does Clumpy Mascara Look Like?

Clumpy mascara looks thick and caked on. It gives your lashes that tarantula look rather than a fanned-out, feathery lift. With clumpy mascara, the base of the lash can look overwhelmed with eye makeup and that can make eyes look smaller and less vibrant. Where mascara is supposed to accentuate eyes and help give them a desired shape, clumpy mascara can make lashes look weighed-down and costume-like. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are some instances where clumpy mascara can look quite chic, and it was even trending for a while (remember ‘90s grunge makeup). But if it’s not your intent to have your mascara clumping, then it can be more of a burden than a cool look.

What Causes Clumpy Mascara?

Believe it or not, the culprit behind clumpy mascara is not one simple thing — there are actually quite a few factors that can contribute to this makeup mishap. Below, we’re breaking down a few.

1. Using Too Much Mascara

Layering too much mascara is often the main culprit for clumps. While you want to build up your mascara until you get your desired look, remember that there’s a fine line between layering and caking on. If you add more than three coats you could start entering clumpy territory quickly.

2. Expired Mascara

You might also experience mascara clumping if your product is old. Always look at the PAO (period after opening) for your mascara and mark the date of opening somewhere on the product so you know when to toss it. Using expired mascara may result in clumps, but it can also have other negative effects that are much worse than ruining your lash look.

3. Applying Mascara Over Old Makeup

If you have residue from a previous makeup application still sitting on your lashes, it’s likely you’ll get clumps if you add more mascara. This is most likely to happen when you touch-up your makeup midday. You should either skip your lashes altogether, or use a makeup remover wipe to take off your previous mascara before you apply more. 

How Do You Fix Clumpy Mascara?

How you fix clumpy mascara will depend on the cause of the clumping. For example, if your mascara clumps because you’ve applied too many coats, fixing it can be as simple, but if your mascara is clumpy because it’s old, the remedy may be more complex. Check out a few ways you can fix clumpy mascara like a pro.

1. Use a Spoolie to Brush It Out

If your mascara clumps because you’ve used too many coats, grab a dry spoolie and comb through your lashes — if your mascara is still wet. This will help lift some of the layers before they set into spidery wispies.

2. Add Micellar Water to Loosen It

Once mascara is dry and clumpy, it’s a little harder to remove. Grab that same spoolie and dip it in micellar water before you brush it through your lashes to force the mascara to loosen up. You should see a few layers of the mascara disappear from your lashes. Just wait for the micellar water to dry before you set your makeup or add another coat to get the look you want.

3. Use a Targeted Makeup Remover Wipe

Honestly, there will be times when you’ll need to just remove the mascara altogether (like if it’s expired). That doesn’t mean you have to ruin all your makeup and start over — no one has time for that. Grab an eye makeup remover wipe and gently sandwich your lashes with it, then dab and wipe the mascara until you get it all off. Once your lashes are dry you can start your mascara application again.

7 Ways to Avoid Clumpy Mascara

While it’s nice to know how to fix clumpy mascara because, well, accidents will happen, it’s even better to know how to avoid the mishap in the first place. Read on to find out what you can do to avoid mascara clumps while you apply your makeup.

1. Don’t Put Too Much Mascara on the Wand

Most mascaras come with a little grip insert to ensure that your wand (brush) comes out with the perfect amount of product. Unfortunately, there are instances where too much product builds on the wand regardless of the insert. If you ever find that your brush looks too coated, wipe it against the edge of the mascara tube to rid yourself of the excess product before you swipe it through your lashes.

2. Build Your Coverage Slowly

When you apply coat after coat of volumizing mascara — especially if it’s a fiber mascara — clumps can form. Since you definitely don’t want a clumping catastrophe on your hands, it’s important to build slowly, then wait, and only add more when needed to make sure you’re not overdoing it.

If you’re hoping for a fanned-out, wide-eyed look, try L’Oréal Paris Voluminous Panorama Washable Mascara. The multi-level brush grabs even the tiniest lashes to evenly coat every lash in just a few swipes, and the formula is flake-, smudge- and clump-resistant.

3. Use Primer for Thickening, Not More Mascara

The same way your face makeup might not look as flawless without first using a primer, if you want your lashes to look their best, you should start with a lash primer, like the L’Oréal Paris Voluminous Lash Paradise Mascara Primer/Base. Designed to condition your lashes with rose oil, this primer can help enhance any mascara you layer on after, for a full flutter. That way, you get that volumized look without loading up your lashes and risking clumps.
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4. Switch Up Your Application Method

While applying mascara to your top lashes is pretty obvious — start from the base and brush through to the tips — applying it on your lower lashes is different. That’s because when you’re working with ultra-short, wispy lashes like the ones on the bottom, it can be tough to brush them out. Try using a delicate zig-zag motion to adequately coat your lashes and get as close to your lash line as possible. 

5. Wash Off All Your Mascara From the Day Before

You might think you’ve done a wonderful job removing your makeup, but clumpy lashes may reveal the truth. Since mascara is one of the most stubborn makeup products to remove (especially if it’s waterproof), you might find residue on your lashes that could be leading to clumps. The best way to achieve a clump-free finish is to start with a clean base. So before applying any eye makeup, soak a cotton pad with micellar water and gently swipe it over your eyes to remove every trace of mascara residue.

6. Pick Your Mascara Formula Based on Your Lash Needs

Believe it or not, we can’t all use the same formula to get the same lash result. Just like you have to find the best facial cleanser and moisturizer for your skin concerns, this is true of finding your ideal mascara. By finding your perfect mascara, you’ll be able to enhance your lashes without having to concern yourself with clumps. It takes some trial and error to find the best fit, so experiment with different formulas.

If you already have long lashes, opt for something volumizing like L’Oréal Paris Air Volume Mega Mascara, Lightweight Mega Volume Washable
. If you have short lashes, you’ll want to find a lengthening formula like L’Oréal Paris Telescopic Original Mascara. If you need length and volume but your lashes are also known to fall throughout the day, coat your eye fringe with L’Oréal Paris Telescopic Instant Lift Washable Mascara.
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7. Replace Your Mascara Every Few Months

Like other beauty products, mascara does expire. In fact, mascara typically expires within three to six months; it’s one of the makeup products that goes bad the fastest. If you’ve noticed that your favorite mascara seems to have dried out or it starts to feel gummy on the wand, it’s probably expired. 

To avoid this, count three months (or however long the PAO says) from the date you open it, and write that date on the tube or somewhere you can always check. That way, every time you go to use the mascara you can look at the expiration date beforehand to make sure you haven’t reached it, so you can keep your lashes healthy and clump free.

Next: The Product You Need to Get That Kendall Jenner Mascara Look

Photographer: Nelson Huang, Art Director: Hannah Packer, Producer: Becca Solovay, Beauty Content Director: Shalwah Evans, Visual Designer: Sarah Duvivier, Wardrobe Stylist: Alexis Badiyi, Wardrobe Assistant: Jazmine Alzado, Makeup Artist: Jonet Williamson, Hair Stylist: Akihisa Yamaguchi, Digi Tech: Jacky Jiang, Photo Assistant: Tyler Andrews, Model: Erin Williams

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