The Best Eye Makeup Removers

The best eye makeup remover should easily remove all of your makeup and be free of ingredients that might irritate the sensitive skin around your eyes. We talked to makeup artists, a dermatologist, and a cosmetic chemist to get the skinny on ingredients. Then we took our final contenders and pitted them against the toughest waterproof products we could find to determine the most effective and the most convenient of the bunch.

The 5 Best Eye Makeup Removers

Best for
Waterproof Makeup

Sephora Collection Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover
Sephora
Effective even against waterproof eye makeup, with conditioning ingredients to soothe the skin.
Pros
Excels with heavy-duty application
Minimal debris
Standout ingredients
Cons
Not ideal for sensitive skin

Why we chose it

Excels with heavy-duty application

Sephora was one of the top performers against heavy-duty application, setting sprays and all. In one swipe, Sephora removed primer and concealer. With swipe two, up came most of the eyeliner and waterproof mascara. Less than five swipes removed all of the makeup. Mary Kay, by comparison, fared the same against primer and concealer but had a harder time with the mascara — and the eyeliner smeared.

Eye Makeup Remover Collage

We tested our Sephora and Mary Kay finalists against the same set of makeup and recorded our results after one swipe, two swipes, and then enough passes to clean off the test areas.

Minimal debris

Compared to other products like the Bobbi Brown, which left behind flakes and pills of makeup, Sephora didn’t leave much of a mess. Although testers reported a slight oil residue, this dissipated quickly and didn’t feel heavy on their eyes.

Standout ingredients

Sephora has a few extra standout ingredients — cornflower extract, (a skin conditioner and anti-inflammatory), castor oil (a skin conditioner), and provitamin B5 (also known as panthenol). Scott recommends this ingredient because “the process of removing eye makeup can be hard on lashes. Panthenol strengthens lashes and helps prevent them from falling out.”

Points to consider

Not ideal for sensitive skin

In addition to the oil residue Sephora left behind, two of our five testers mentioned a slight sting in the corners of their eyes that lingered a bit. Both of these testers have sensitive skin — if you’re in the same boat, you may be better off with our pick from Mary Kay.

Best for
Sensitive Skin

Mary Kay Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover
Mary Kay
Not quite as powerful as Sephora, but its oil-free ingredient list makes it a good pick for sensitive skin.
Pros
Oil-free
Decent performance
User experience
Cons
Oily residue
Struggles with waterproof makeup

Why we chose it

Oil-free

Mary Kay Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover was a strong runner-up to Sephora in our tests, and it does its work without the use of oil. According to makeup artist Kimberley Bosso, an oil-free remover is a safer bet if you’re prone to skin issues: “Anyone sensitive to oil or who has oily skin that’s prone to breakouts should avoid oil-based,” she explains. This was reflected in our testers’ experience; those that had noted Sephora’s sting felt no irritation with Mary Kay.

Decent performance

While Mary Kay struggled a little more against waterproof products compared to Sephora, it outperformed oil-heavy contenders like Avon Moisture Effective Eye Makeup Remover Lotion, which didn’t work well on mascara at all.

User experience

Though the packaging is similar to Sephora’s, we liked that the tiny opening of Mary Kay offered more portion control. And when the bottle tipped over, it didn’t come spilling out.

Points to consider

Oily residue

Even though Mary Kay is marketed as being oil-free, testers did comment on a slightly oily residue similar to Sephora’s. Waiting 30 seconds left our testers’ skin feeling soft, with very little shininess or tackiness, but it didn’t have the quick-dry effect of other products like bareMinerals.

Struggles with waterproof makeup

Mary Kay lacked the power of Sephora, struggling somewhat against our waterproof products. Bosso linked this to Mary Kay’s oil-free ingredient list, explaining that “oil-free, in my experience, doesn’t remove as well.”


Most Convenient

Tarte Fresh Eyes Wipes
Tarte
An easy option for removing lighter makeup.
Pros
Convenience
Fruity aroma
Cons
Not as powerful as liquid remover

Why we chose it

Convenience

For the most convenient option, wipes are pretty much it — no need for cotton pads and messy liquid removers. Tarte wipes were hands-down our favorite in this category, proving to be about twice as effective as the other wipes we tried. Tarte’s wipes were also big enough to tackle both eyes easily, although Bosso offered some lifehack advice: “You can cut the wipes in small sections, so it’s not wasteful if you have a tiny makeup mistake to correct. They are great for travel and pro makeup kits, too.”

Size Comparison for Eye Makeup Remover

Tarte’s wipes were large enough to handle all our eye makeup without feeling too wasteful.

Fruity aroma

The smell was admittedly fruity. With ingredients like maracuja (a fancy word for passion fruit), plus papaya extract and pineapple extract, it’s not hard to understand why. While our testers generally preferred odorless removers, they took exception to Tarte, describing it as luxurious and fresh.

Points to consider

Not as powerful as liquid remover

One tester reported that Tarte didn’t work at all on the waterproof eyeliner, and while we were able to get all of our everyday makeup off, we had to do a lot more rubbing. The skincare experts we spoke to repeatedly stressed that rubbing should be avoided when possible, so we feel that Tarte would be best as a backup option rather than part of a daily routine.


Least Residue

bareMinerals Instant Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover
bareMinerals
Gently removes makeup without leaving an oily feeling.
Pros
No oily feeling
No fuss
Cons
Requires some scrubbing

Why we chose it

No oily feeling

Although bareMinerals Instant Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover is oil-based, testers praised the product’s feel on their skin, calling it “pleasantly non-oily.” In fact, it outperformed even oil-free Mary Kay in this area: Testers noted that bareMinerals “felt good,” while Mary Kay just “wasn’t too bad.”

No fuss

After swiping up our makeup, bareMinerals kept it up. “My makeup didn’t flake or pill at all,” one tester told us.

Points to consider

Requires some scrubbing

The biggest downside to bareMinerals? It required us to press and wipe more heavily, with one tester noting that removing all traces of her makeup “took some scrubbing.” For this reason, bareMinerals may be better suited to lighter, everyday makeup applications.

Best for
Heavy Makeup

Bobbi Brown Instant Long-Wear Makeup Remover
Bobbi Brown
Wipes away waterproof mascara and eyeliner in just a few gentle swipes.
Pros
Easily removed makeup
Gentle
Cons
Minor mess

Why we chose it

Easily removed makeup

Bobbi Brown Instant Long-Wear Makeup Remover cut easily through waterproof mascara and eyeliner, getting everything off in about seven or eight gentle swipes (versus Sephora and Charlotte Tilbury’s nine or ten). Testers were delighted to note that even thick makeup “wiped right off.”

Gentle

Because Bobbi Brown removes makeup quickly, you won’t have to scrub to get stubborn eyeliner off. If you regularly wear heavy makeup, this gentler application is essential for protecting the delicate skin around your eyes.

Points to consider

Minor mess

Although Bobbi Brown removes eye makeup quickly, the loosened makeup tends to flake. We had to give two or three extra swipes with our cotton pads to catch all of the stray bits of dried mascara escaping toward our cheekbones; you’ll definitely need to wash your face after application.

How to Find the Right Eye Makeup Remover for You

Evaluate your skin type

“Over time, you will get to know your skin and what works well with it,” says Jennifer Moyer of the Albolene brand. “Many women with dry skin prefer oil-based eye makeup removers — especially during the cold winter months — because makeup removers without moisturizing properties tend to dry out the skin more than usual. On the other hand, if women tend to have very oily skin, they may opt for something that is oil-free. Regardless of your eye makeup remover choice, the most important aspect to consider is how your skin reacts to different ingredients.”

Look for ‘good’ alcohols

While experts recommend avoiding simple alcohols, not all alcohols are bad. Paula Begoun explains that there’s a difference between good alcohols and bad alcohols. Fatty acids, the good guys, can actually help moisturize. And according to Lee, a third type (aromatic alcohols) can be used as a preservative or as a component of fragrances or essential oils.

Invest in a face wash

Removing your makeup is not the same as washing your face. Both steps should be part of your regimen. “Make sure you always cleanse your skin after removing makeup. Any makeup residue that’s left behind could lead to irritation or even infection,” says Dr. Joel Schlessinger, dermatologist, cosmetic surgeon, and president of LovelySkin.com. “Washing your face immediately after removing makeup helps minimize the risk of sensitivity.” (Looking for a good face wash? We’ve got you covered there, too.)

Eye Makeup Remover FAQ

Are oil-based makeup removers more effective than oil-free?

Makeup artists Kimberley Bosso and Gloria Noto both noted that oil-based removers are generally more effective than non-oil-based. “Ideally you want an oil-based remover when using waterproof makeup, but personally I think oil-based eye makeup remover is always a good idea,” said Noto. “Use it sparingly, maybe on a Q-tip, and try not to soak it into the actual eye.”

What happens if I use an eye makeup remover with simple alcohols in it?

While not all alcohols are bad, you should still avoid isopropyl and ethanol (simple alcohols). “Consequences include dryness, erosion of the surface of skin (which is really bad for skin), and a strain on how skin replenishes, renews, and rejuvenates itself,” says Begoun. “Alcohol just weakens everything about skin.”

What's the best way to remove your eye makeup?

According to Dr. Schlessinger, you should put the remover on a cotton pad, then press it onto your eye and soak for three minutes. Realistically, most people aren’t patient enough to wait that long. If you’re with us, a good rule of thumb is to soak for as long as it takes to loosen your makeup.

“[Soaking] will break up the makeup enough that you don’t have to resort to forceful wiping or rubbing,” explains Dr. Schlessinger. “Once the time is up, very gently wipe the rest of your makeup off in small, sweeping gestures. For hard-to-reach places like the tear duct and lower lash line, you can dip a cotton swab into the remover and carefully wipe it off.”

The Best Eye Makeup Removers: Summed Up

Sephora Collection Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover
Mary Kay Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover
Tarte Fresh Eyes Maracuja Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover Wipes
bareMinerals Instant Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover
Bobbi Brown Instant Long-Wear Makeup Remover
Best for
Waterproof makeup
Sensitive skin
Convenience
No residue
Heavy makeup
Price
$18.99
$16
$4
$25.95
$33.84
Type
Liquid
Liquid
Wipe
Liquid
Liquid
Oily residue
Minor skin irritation

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