You don’t need to give up on mascara

plastic free mascara recipe

I’ve been using cake mascara for a while now. Here’s my zero waste mascara recipe. 


Humans have been using makeup since well before plastic was invented. Did you know that commercially sold mascara didn’t always come in a plastic tube? It used to come in a tin.

Cake mascara – the stuff in tins – is old school, but I only learned of it a few years ago when popular Australian blogger The Rogue Ginger wrote about it. She made her own by adapting this recipe made of only soap and pigment to include almond oil and water. Here I’ve adapted hers by adding bentonite clay and swapping the oils for those I had on hand.

Cake mascara is not soft and gloopy like tube mascara. Instead it’s a concentrated hard puck of pigment. You apply it by moistening the cake with a tiny bit of water on the applicator brush (which I hope you’ve held on to from an old tube of mascara). Between uses, the cake dries again, much like watercolour paint. It’s not rocket science, you get used to it. What’s more challenging is taking pictures of your eyeballs for before and afters.

plastic free mascara

Pretty good right? This mascara dries on my eyelashes after I apply it, yet my lashes stay soft and I don’t get flaking or smudging. It’s probably important to note that the soap in the recipe could theoretically sting your eyes if you cried and rubbed your eyes. I think you’d be okay with regular non-rubbed tears.

I’ve made this mascara twice now, and helpfully recorded the ingredients of my first batch in Evernote without quantities. Clever. The second time around I recorded more detail and have this recipe to share with you. This batch made enough to pack into an empty eyeshadow container, which should last for me ages.

Ingredients for cake mascara

  • 1g pigment (charcoal or cosmetic grade pigment).
  • 1g bentonite clay
  • 2g plain bar soap shavings
  • 5 – 10 drops rosehip oil or jojoba
  • 3 – 5 drops vitamin E oil

I use weight-based measures, but I would approximate 1g as a half teaspoon.

This is a fairly robust recipe. If you don’t have clay, just replace the same amount with pigment. I think my logic for including clay was to achieve a soft black colour instead of a black black. For pigment, I used charcoal the first time, and the remains of a kohl eyeshadow that I’d shattered for round two, and both worked equally well. Based on my notes, I might have used cacao butter in the first batch, but omitted in the second as I wasn’t sure how I’d incorporated it. The vitamin E oil is a common preservative, but if you don’t have any, just use more of the jojoba/rosehip. The fact that there is soap in the recipe is perhaps a little odd. For me, it’s been fine. I don’t wear contacts though. Do what you’re comfortable with, but please don’t add essential oils to this formula, as they don’t belong anywhere near your eyeballs.

Before you start, make sure you have a clean, shallow container ready. Any shallow, lidded container will do. I used an old eyeshadow container, which formerly housed the pigment I used in the mascara.

Method to make cake mascara

Hint: It’s a very similar method to my deodorant recipe

  1. Bring one inch of water to simmer in a pan on the stovetop.
  2. In a small heatproof jar in the pan of water, melt the soap shavings, then add the remaining ingredients. Mix together until well combined with a small, clean spoon.
  3. If the mix is too crumbly add more rosehip oil drop by drop to form a paste. You don’t want it liquid, just enough to make a malleable paste
  4. Pack the mixture into a clean container and let harden into a cake.

How to apply cake mascara

Using an old mascara wand, wet the brush and work just the top layer into a light paste, then apply to lashes as you would normal mascara. You can apply a few coats, it builds nicely. My before and after shots are just one coat. The trick is not to go overboard on the water. You know how commercial mascara gets thicker the older it is? That’s the texture we’re aiming for. You definitely don’t want to see a pool of water. Just hold the wand under a tap for a split second, shake it and then swirl on the cake. The same method using an eyeliner brush gives you liquid liner. One make at home product to replace two from the store.

After applying, I rinse the brush and keep it in a tin with the mascara. I bent the wand as you see in the pictures so it would fit into the tin, but it also works well for applying.

If you’re like, this is nuts, I’m sticking with my tube mascara, then I have this link for you, which maps public Terracycle drops spots for empty beauty products recycling. I remember excitedly telling a friend about making this mascara and liquid liner myself and she said she thought it was a better use of her time to just buy from the store. The reality is, having figured out the method, it’s quicker for me to make a batch than a trip to the drugstore and about 99% cheaper. That and no new plastic was created.

Ingredient sourcing for zero waste mascara in Sydney

Rejoice, for many of the bulk food shops in Sydney now refill bentonite clay and charcoal powder. Select few will refill oils like jojoba. Check the bulk page for more info. I’ve never found vitamin E for refill, so that one came in a jar with a dropper. Bar soap is simple enough to find unpackaged.

Good luck and tell me how you go!

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