How To Apply Mascara (Without Clumping Or Smudging)

The most important part of eye makeup is mascara. Every makeup wearer knows that sense of satisfaction of well-applied mascara and how it draws attention to and flatters the eyes. If applied properly, it can help with the dramatic look for that final piece of a costume, the elegant look for a night out on the town, or the fun look for when you want to express your individuality.

If applied poorly, however, mascara has the potential to ruin an entire look. Some of the most common and trickiest problems when it comes to applying mascara are clumping (which gives your eyelashes the effect of porcupine quills) and smudging. Take a look below to learn how to avoid these frustrating problems when you are putting on your mascara and how to fix them if they happen anyway (without messing up the rest of your makeup).

How to Get Apply Mascara Without Clumping

It can be intimidating to think of putting things on or near your eye—especially if you are new to the world of makeup. The best way to be successful in your non-clumping mascara application is to have all the tools you need at hand and make sure you do your eyelashes justice.

Prep Your Eyelashes

Unless your eyelashes naturally curl upward, using an eyelash curler can be a very helpful tool to prepare your eyelashes for the mascara. A good eyelash curler helps to lift, lengthen, and separate your eyelash hairs. This can help you know exactly where to place the mascara wand (also known as a spoolie) along your lash line without poking your eye.

The separating and widening effects of the curler will keep the eyelashes from sticking together and clumping once the mascara is applied as well. Use a metal eyelash curler (as other kinds of material may stick to your eyelashes and tend to break easily) to go through the following steps:

  1. Separate your eyelash into three sections. This is especially important if you have really thick eyelashes as it will not be possible to do all your lashes in one go.
  2. One section at a time, place your eyelashes between the curler’s clamp. Make sure it is close to the base of the eyelash hairs but not so close that it pinches the skin.
  3. Close the clamps and keep them closed for anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds, pulsing gently. The length of time depends on your eyelashes and how straight they are naturally. You can pulse the clamps gently for extra curl or just hold them still for a widening effect.
  4. If you want your eyelashes to have extra lift and curl, while the lashes are still in the clamps, tilt the curler gently toward your forehead.
  5. Repeat as needed until you get the look and lift you are looking for.

Now that you have successfully curled and separated your eyelashes, they are ready for the mascara!

Add Your Mascara

Taking a clean mascara wand, dip it into the mascara tube, and sweep around the bottle, making sure not to pump the mascara wand in and out. Pull the wand out and wipe off any excess mascara.

Starting with your upper lashes as close to the base of the lashes as possible, use small back and forth movements to spread the mascara at the base and help separate and define the lashes. Gradually move the wand to the end of your lashes.

If you wish to have mascara on your lower lashes, follow the same general principles as above. Keep in mind that since these lashes are shorter and sparser that they will not need as much mascara. Make sure to remove any excess from the wand.

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How to Get Extra Volume without Clumping

There are two steps you can take if you want your eyelashes to have extra thickness and volume without clumping:

  1. You can add an extra layer of mascara repeating the steps above. If you do add a second layer, wait for a moment in between coats. This will give the first layer a chance to dry in place, and the second layer will land exactly where it’s meant to without knocking the lashes into each other. Avoid adding more than two layers, as this is more likely to cause clumping and smudging.
  2. You can use the eyelash curler again, as this will help lift and separate the lashes. If you use the eyelash curler again after you have used mascara, make sure the mascara has dried completely. Wet mascara will stick to the curler and will get yanked out when you release the clamps.

Remove Clumps

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your mascara will clump anyway. Maybe you had too much mascara on your wand, and you forgot to wipe it off. Perhaps your hand slipped or jerked, and you added more mascara to a specific area of your eyelashes than you intended. When this happens, there are ways to fix the problem area without wiping off all your makeup and starting over again.

Avoid pulling out the clumps with your fingers. While it may look like a simple removal, your fingers are too big to do the job correctly. What will end up happening is that while squeezing your fingers around the clump, you will also squish your lashes together. Instead of achieving volume and length, your eyelashes will end up sticking together, creating more clumps and a porcupine effect.

Below are some techniques you should use instead:

Use a Small Brush

If you have just finished applying the mascara, it is still wet, and you notice that there are clumps, quickly take a dry, clean brush, and from base to tip, brush it over your lashes. This will help break down and smooth out any clumps and get rid of excess mascara.

A spoolie is ideal for this, but if you do not have an extra one on hand, a clean toothbrush will also get the job done.

Use a Plastic Straw

Using a plastic straw placed against the bottom of your lashes, brush the mascara spoolie over the lashes. This technique will help separate the lashes and help transfer the clumps and excess mascara onto the straw and not on your face.

How to Avoid Mascara Clumping Before Application

When it comes to keeping your eyelashes free of clumps, the best weapon is prevention. Before you put your mascara on, there are a few steps that you should follow and several things you should avoid doing that can help prevent your mascara from clumping. Take note of these things before you bring you even touch your eyelashes with mascara.

Clean Your Face

The most basic and important thing you can do to help prevent clumping is washing your face—especially around your eyes and eyelashes—with a facial cleanser and/or makeup remover. Doing this will help eliminate any little bits of dirt and grime, any leftover makeup, or even white blood cells that may have stuck to your eyelashes.

Mascara is designed to cling to your eyelashes, so if there is something on your eyelashes, it will cling to that, as well, and cause a clumping effect.

Make Sure Your Brush is Clean

As you use your makeup brushes over time, makeup residue builds up and is left on them. That is why it is important to clean all of them, including your mascara brush, regularly. Cleaning your mascara brush reduces the bacteria build-up that occurs when used makeup comes in contact with the air or brushes against other surfaces. Regularly cleaning your mascara brush will help you keep your eyes safe from infections.

It also ensures that no leftover or dried mascara will then end up in clumps on your eyelashes when you put on your mascara. It is recommended that you wash your mascara brush once every couple of weeks.

There are several options for what to use to clean your mascara brush:

  • A liquid brush cleanser. This is specifically made and tailored for cleaning makeup brushes.
  • Rubbing alcohol. This is good for deep cleansing or makeup that is hard to remove.
  • Hair shampoo. If you are on a budget but want to make sure your mascara brush is properly cleaned, you can use your shampoo.

Using any of these, rub into your mascara brush, and rinse under warm water until the water runs clear.

Note the Mascara’s Expiration Date

Take note of the date you purchased the mascara and the date you opened it. The general agreement that makeup professionals have come to is that mascara should be kept no longer than six months after being opened before being replaced.

Set a reminder for yourself to throw out your mascara by a certain date. Not only is it more prone to holding on to bacterium, which can cause harm to your eyes, but when it is no longer sealed, air seeps in, and that causes clumps to build up.

Prevent Drying

Perhaps the biggest prevention to keeping your mascara from clumping on your eyelashes is to make sure that it does not dry out in the first place. To avoid your mascara drying out before it has expired, refrain from pumping the wand up and down into the bottle. This causes air to mix with the mascara, causing it to separate, dry out, and clump up.

If your mascara is still within an acceptable time frame, and you’ve found that it’s dried out, you can fill up a bowl with warm water and place the closed mascara bottle in it. The warmth of the water may help the hardened bits to soften and moisten again. Do not add water directly to the mascara, as this can cause more bacteria to grow.

Use Eyebrow Gel

You may not be someone who does much with their eyebrows when it comes to their everyday look, but if you are, you can put a layer of the gel on your lashes with a clean mascara wand before you put on your mascara. This will help freeze them in place and separate them, which will reduce the likelihood of clumping. If you do not have eyebrow gel on hand, some safe substitutes are:

  • Petroleum jelly
  • Vaseline

Apply Mascara in Moderation

Everyone wants those thick luscious lashes, and it can be tempting to keep using coat after coat of mascara to get the dark look you want. However, when it comes to mascara applications, you definitely want quality over quantity. In short, when you put too MUCH mascara on your eyelashes, there is less room for it, and it will cling to whatever is nearest, including the mascara of the lashes next to it.

To avoid putting on too much mascara, when you first pull the wand out of the mascara bottle, be sure to wipe some of it off the wand. Most people will simply wipe rub any excess mascara off on the tip of the mascara bottle. However, a better option is to gently dab the mascara wand onto a piece of tissue paper or a paper towel.

This will help you avoid any clumping or dried-out mascara at the opening of your mascara bottle, which will keep clumps from ending up on the wand and being transferred to your eyelashes upon application.

How to Apply Mascara without Smudging

A common problem that goes hand in hand with clumpy mascara is mascara which smudges. Many of us have been victims of those small dots littered around our brows or the thick smudges under our eyes reminiscent of raccoon eyes.

This can happen for various reasons, which are also in tandem with some of the reasons why our mascara clumps but don’t present in the same way.

Before You Put on Your Mascara

Before you begin your makeup routine, it is important to understand your skin type and how it can influence mascara application:

  • Believe it or not, your skin can be a big reason why your mascara may be smudging. Some people have naturally oily skin—including the skin on their eyelids. When mascara meets an oily surface, it spreads out and doesn’t go on as neatly, resulting in a smudged look.
  • If you are a person who sweats easily, it can also lead to smudging because sweating introduces moisture and oil to the makeup, which can cause your mascara to run. Then when you try to fix it or wipe it away, it can lead to smudging and streaking around your eyes or even down your face.

Some preventative measures you can take to help combat the oiliness and the sweat at the same time are:

  1. Be careful about the type of mascara you choose. Many kinds of mascara may work well but are hard to remove, meaning that if you need to put on makeup multiple days in a row, you run the risk of having leftover mascara on your eyelashes which cause clumping and smearing when you apply your fresh coat. This is especially true of waterproof mascara.
  2. Washing your face before you put on makeup. Starting off with a clean slate is always the best option for making sure your mascara looks the way you want regarding avoiding clumping AND smudging.
  3. Keeping paper towels or tissues nearby. There may be times or certain situations where you are not able to fully wash your face. When this happens, you can do the next best thing and blot any excess oil from your eyelids and under your eyes. Keep a pack of tissues in your bathroom or your purse to use on the go.
  4. Use a priming spray over your whole face. This will help eliminate oiliness.
  5. Put a primer on your eyelids before applying any makeup (and put concealer under your eyes for the lower lashes). A primer is a stabilizing factor on which eye makeup is built upon. Meaning that, as your skin secretes oil throughout the day, your primer and concealer will keep the oil from seeping into your makeup and smudging your mascara.
  6. After you have put on your primer, use some translucent powder to set it in place. The powder will help the primer to dry more quickly and help reinforce the barrier between the skin and makeup, which will prevent smudging.
  7. Use dry powder eyeshadows instead of cream-based ones. Cream eye shadows are oily and will cause smudging. While your eyelids may still get oily if you use a powder eye shadow, it will not happen as quickly—especially if you have put on primer, concealer, and powder beforehand.

Note: Tube mascara is a kind of mascara that encases your eyelashes in a kind of tube, holds up well under all kinds of conditions, but can be removed easily with warm water.

Applying Your Mascara

Now that you have done everything you can think of to ensure that the surface on which you are putting on your mascara is at its ideal state to prevent smudging, the next step is putting your mascara on without smudging it yourself.

This does require practice, and especially if you do not have much experience applying mascara, it can be tricky. With that in mind, here are some tips and hacks to make it a little easier for the newbies and the experienced alike:

Focus on the Bottom Lashes First

If you are going for a wide-eyed look and want to put mascara in your bottom lashes, too, apply the mascara on your bottom lashes first. Most people, when applying mascara, will look up (more on this next). This means that if you have already applied mascara to your top lashes and they are wet, when you apply to your bottom lashes, your top lashes will brush against your brow and smudge.

If you do put mascara on your top lashes first, wait until they have completely dried before putting it on your bottom lashes.

Look Straight or Down When Applying Mascara to Top Lashes

If you look up instead of straight or down, your eyelashes will be raised as well. This means that you will be more likely to brush against the brow with the mascara brush or your freshly mascaraed eyelashes while you are applying the mascara.

Use a Paper Divider

Use a stiff piece of paper as a divider between your eyelashes and your eyelids. If you have a business card or an index card on hand, you can place it on the edge of your lid right next to your lashes. Apply the mascara using the paper as a catchall for any jerky movements or lifted eyes that would otherwise result in smudging or telltale dots on your skin.

How to Avoid Mascara Smudges

Now that you have successfully put on your mascara, now comes the task of maintaining the look throughout the day (or however long the event is for which you need your makeup to last).

This can be tricky and changes depending on the season and the weather, whether you will be outside or inside, and any unforeseen events such as water getting dumped over your head (it happens!)

While nothing is completely foolproof, and no makeup lasts forever, you can help your makeup stay in place and look fantastic for a long time by using a setting spray or a finishing powder.

Setting Spray and Finishing Powder

A setting spray is a mixture of alcohol, water, and film-forming agent, which helps lock the makeup in place and prevent smearing, even when it is humid or rainy. A setting spray is a great option for dry skin as it gives the skin a dewy appearance.

Finishing powder, on the other hand, is a translucent powder that you can put on after your makeup application. It also helps lock your makeup in place and prevent smudging. These powders are typically made of ingredients like talc that have the effect of helping lock the makeup in place, the same as a setting spray. However, unlike setting spray, it has a drying effect and is better suited for oily skin types.

Removing Smeared Makeup after Your Look is Complete

It happens to the most experienced makeup enthusiasts. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we end up with those dreaded dots or streaks where our mascara has smeared due to humidity or a mistake during application. Do not stress if this happens. Instead, be patient and invest in some Q-tips.

  1. Wait for the mascara to dry (this usually takes about a minute). By this point, the mascara will have a dry and crumbly texture.
  2. With a Q-tip, gently rub the mascara with small back and forth movements until it comes off. Avoid trying to clear up the mascara smears if the mascara is still wet. This will only cause it to smear even more, and you will have more to fix and risk having to re-do your foundation.
  3. If the mascara is being stubborn and won’t come off, dip it in water or a makeup remover and repeat the same back and forth motions until it comes off. You may have to re-add a bit of foundation if you do this, but it will not be an entire re-do.

If those tactics still only work some of the time, or if you do not want to worry about fixing random spots of missing foundation and making sure it blends with the rest, it may be worth investing in a makeup remover eraser stick or pencil. These tools can help quickly and cleanly eliminate any smudges or stray marks from your mascara.

The Best Anti-Clumping and Smudging Mascaras

As mentioned earlier, a great type of mascara that helps cut down on smudging and clumping is tube mascara. There are many brands that make tube mascara for budgets all across the board, including:

Other great, non-smudging and clumping mascara options that are designed to lengthen and separate the lashes and minimize clumping are:

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to prevent and fix any mistakes when it comes to your mascara application so that you can get the look you want without smudging and clumps. First, wash your face thoroughly and use a priming spray over your whole face, a primer on your upper lids, and a concealer on your lower lids. Have paper towels on hand to help remove any excess oiliness you may have missed, and Q-tips on hand to clear any smearing.

When you are applying your makeup, use back and forth movements to help ensure separation of lashes. Look straight ahead when you are putting on your mascara, and if that is difficult for you, do not be ashamed to use the tools at your disposal (such as index cards or stiff paper) to act as a barrier. Finish it all off with a finishing spray or a powder that will help you keep your mascara in place.

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