This could be the reason why your mascara is flaking

Flaking mascara is one of our biggest beauty gripes—but why does it happen exactly?

Woman applying mascara to her left eye while looking in a mirror / on a blue, pink and green background
(Image credit: Getty Images / David Espejo)

Is there anything more annoying than using the best eyeliners to draw the perfect wing and completing your flawless 'clean-girl' foundation base, only to find, five minutes later, that your mascara has left crumbly, black flecks all over your otherwise perfect makeup? Flaking mascara for many of us, is a daily, irritating occurrence—but why does it happen and can we prevent it?

Mascaras—like the viral Maybelline Sky High mascara—are supposed to lengthen your lashes and make them look positively flutter-worthy. But every now and then, your secret to fanned-out lashes can totally betray you.

Sometimes even the best mascaras can leave you looking like you just got caught in a torrential rainstorm come 4 pm. However, there are a few things we can do to try and prevent it—five to be exact, that could help you stay fallout free all day long…

What causes flaking mascara?

1. You’re not leaving enough time between your coats

Steer clear from loading up your lashes, with more than one coat, too quickly. If you don’t leave time for each coat to dry you’re in for some serious flaking. You can apply another coat when your lashes are slightly sticky, but no sooner. 

If you don't have time to wait, try mixing up your makeup order instead—so if you usually do your lashes last, do the first layer of mascara first and then circle back, once you've applied one of the best eyeshadow palettes and non-comedogenic foundations.

2. Your entire eye area isn’t dry

It probably seems obvious not to apply your mascara to wet lashes, but it’s not just the lashes you need to look out for. Any area around your eyes which is wet—whether it’s because you’ve just applied an eye cream or you’re getting ready in a rush and you just got out of the shower, moisture is going to transfer onto your lashes and make your mascara lose its grip. 

This is particularly important for your bottom lashes, even a wet foundation will make your bottom lashes smudge, so wait a while before applying your mascara and always finish with a setting powder. You can also try an eye primer, to lock in both your eyeshadow and mascara.

Alternatively, you could test out TikTok's 'backward base' makeup trick, where you start with setting powder, before your foundation—which can also help if you struggle with foundation piling

3. Your mascara is too old or too dry

Makeup has sell-by dates, there's even a TikTok expiry hack to help you find them. Ideally, you should think about throwing away your mascara anywhere between three to six months after you first opened it. 

Old formulas start to clump—the longer you use mascara the more chance it has for air to get inside, which causes the formula to lose its moisture and become really dry —a one-stop way to flakes. 

4. You’re using a product with lash fibres

While they are touted as false lashes in a tube, mascaras that contain lash-lengthening fibres are likely to leave pesky pigment under your eyes and on your cheeks.

If you’re a sucker for them, be sure to seal the deal with a waterproof mascara over the top.

5. If all else fails...

If your mascara still isn’t cutting it then it’s time to switch to a waterproof formula. Or, if you can’t bear waving goodbye to your fave, fiber-filled lash-building formulas, at least get your hands on a lash primer, like Estée Lauder Little Black Primer, £21

The black formula helps your mascara stay put, plus you can use it on top for a super smudge-proof, flake-proof look and who doesn't want that?

Sagal Mohammed

Sagal is a journalist, specialising in lifestyle, pop culture, fashion and beauty.  She has written for a number of publications including Vogue, Glamour, Stylist, Evening Standard, Bustle, You Magazine, Dazed and Wonderland to name a few. 

With contributions from