The Best Mascara
Long lashes that don’t look like tarantula legs
A quick flick of even a so-so mascara can make a big impact, but the best mascara goes the extra mile to add that one crucial millimeter of length. After 45 hours of research sorting through the hundreds of mascaras out there, we found that the hype over Benefit Cosmetics They're Real! Mascara and Lancôme Definicils High Definition Mascara is 100 percent warranted.
In order to find the best, that one mascara that could transform lashes of all ilk into the long, thick, and curly ones we pine after, we consulted four beauty experts, read dozens of publications and reviews, and tested 15 of the top formulas. After all this research, it was clear why some mascaras have a cult following — the best options can seriously upgrade your natural eyelashes and still leave you in complete control over how minimalist or maximalist you want your look to be.
Here are the 7 best mascaras:
- Benefit Cosmetics They're Real! Mascara (Best Overall, $36)
- Lancôme Definicils High Definition Mascara (Best Lengthening Mascara, $37)
- Maybelline Great Lash Washable Mascara (Best Drugstore Mascara, $6)
- Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes 4-in-1 Mascara (Best Mascara for Sensitive Eyes, $25)
- Blinc Mascara (Best Thickening Mascara, $26)
- Dior Diorshow Mascara (Best Volumizing Mascara, $25)
- YSL Mascara Volume Effet Faux Cils (Best False-like Lashes, $36)
How We Found the Best Mascara
To find our top pick, we spent a full week poring over user ratings on e-commerce sites and retailers like Sephora, Ulta, Birchbox, Macy’s, and Beauty.com, and review sites like MakeupAlley and TotalBeauty.com. We charted the results of a bunch of “best of” articles in beauty publications and blogs, including Glamour and Into The Gloss, to create an enormous list of the mascaras loved most by beauty editors.
After creating our list, we cut any formulas that didn’t meet our basic expectations. Anything that didn’t go on seamlessly; make a difference in length, thickness, and volume of our lashes; and stay on all day was out. We also cut anything that had poor user ratings on sites like Sephora and Ulta. We’re looking for a pretty five-star mascara, after all.
From there, we got input from industry experts. We talked to a Sephora team member, Susan Raffy (a cosmetic chemist for over 25 years on behalf of mainstream beauty brands like Physicians Formula), and a few makeup artists. Jennifer Duffy, an international bridal and runway makeup artist with more than 25 years of experience working with brands like L’Oreal, Shiseido, and Clinique; and Melissa Smith, the owner and makeup artist behind Dollface by Melissa, both gave us their thoughts. We narrowed our list of more than 50 products down to 15 mascaras for testing.
Mascara Reviews and Testing
To test each mascara, we applied each option every morning and kept it on for about 13 to 15 hours without reapplying. We wore each mascara for one day and went about normal activities: Taking morning walks to the coffee shop, working at our desks, periodically misting our faces with rosewater, then going out for dinner and drinks in the evening. We didn’t use any other lash products, like primers, conditioners, or curlers, during testing.
We judged each product was judged on how well it did in three areas:
- Lashes looked longer.
- Separated and defined each lash.
- Thickened lashes without clumping.
When the scores were tallied, the winner was clear.
Our Picks for the Best Mascara
Benefit Cosmetics They’re Real! Mascara scored perfectly on every factor of our test. The brush, which has the uniform bristles of a desert cactus, is large enough to create volume, but thin enough to provide separation and definition, with a uniquely spiky tip for extra lengthening. The one-of-a-kind bristles somehow gently latch onto your hair from the roots to seamlessly lift and define each eyelash.
The special dome tip is truly remarkable. The design is perfect for coating even the most miniscule follicles, the ones that you probably didn’t even know existed. The result? Glossy, silky, and natural, but deliciously plump lashes. No clumping, no smudging, and no scary cement-like after effects.
When we tested this mascara, we couldn’t get the mascara to flake even after we vigorously moved boxes around for a few hours, took a nap, and spritzed ourselves with toner. No mascara avalanche whatsoever.
We’re not the only ones who think Benefit Cosmetics They’re Real! Mascara is amazing; it has garnered tens of thousands of reviews on four leading beauty sites with a stellar average of 4.4 out of 5 stars, and boasts plenty of positive consumer feedback:
I'm a mascara junkie; I've tried pretty much every high-end one and kind of got tired of paying $26 or more for a tube that would only last me a few months. I am so impressed; it does everything it says and makes my lashes super long. This one is worth the big bucks. I didn't have issues with it flaking or clumping, and it stayed on all day. Really fab mascara; highly recommend!”
Who is it best for?
This mascara will please anybody who takes the time to apply it correctly. If you brush it onto your lashes with force, you’ll get results akin to an oil spill. However, if you follow the directions on the package, you will quickly become a convert.
Who should skip it?
If you’re looking for a waterproof mascara, Benefit Cosmetics They’re Real! Mascara is a miss. Some customers have also bemoaned the fact that it is a bit hard to remove, although we didn’t experience this issue. One Sephora customer says, “The only thing I really liked about this was the brush. The spikes on the top are really nice for getting hard-to-reach lashes. I hate the formula of this mascara because it is so hard to get off.”
There’s a trick to this, however. If you do have trouble removing it, try rubbing jojoba or coconut oil onto your eye area, allow it to dry, and then gently swipe it off with a soft cotton pad before washing your face.
What’s the best way to use it?
It’s critical that you use this mascara correctly to get the intended results. We followed Benefit’s directions to a T:
“Go horizontal! The staggered bristles grab close to the root, boosting length and volume. Then go vertical! The custom-domed tip with precision bristles lift, define, and curl even your tiniest lashes.”
Also, when you’re at the root, make sure to shimmy the wand a bit so the bristles grip each hair.
Other Mascaras to Consider
Best Lengthening Mascara
A Lancôme fan favorite with 4.4 out of 5 stars from more than 1,800 Sephora users, department-store darling Definicils High Definition Mascara provides the perfect combination of lush length and flawless definition, made possible by a thinner brush. A must-have favorite of Kim Kardashian, this iconic formula has a long history of winning beauty awards (dating back to Allure’s 1996 Readers’ Choice Awards) and is available in standard black, a darker deep black, and a subtler deep brown. Its waterproof counterpart has also drawn rave reviews.
Best Drugstore Mascara
The classic pink-and-green tube is loved around the world for its silky-smooth application, 24-hour longevity, and great definition for everyday looks. Great Lash Washable Mascara is the winner of Glamour’s 2014 Glammy Award for best drugstore mascara and Allure’s “10 Under $20” article deemed it the “World’s Most Popular.”
Best Mascara for Sensitive Eyes
If you have sensitive eyes, but still want shockingly dramatic eyelashes, this is the mascara for you. Powered by oils derived from olives to treat and protect lashes, this formula keeps its promises to lengthen, curl, volumize, and condition — all without parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate, or gluten. In Tarte’s own clinical trials, the formula increased lash volume by a staggering 330 percent, and more than 2,100 Ulta users gave it a solid 4.4 out of 5 stars.
Best Thickening Mascara
The original tube-technology mascara, this miracle formula works by creating tiny water-resistant “tubes” around your eyelashes. Once set, the tubes bind tightly and will not smudge, withstanding oil, sweat, and tears. You apply it like you would any mascara, but this glides on so smoothly and creates glossy, oh-so-pretty natural lashes. What’s best is it wipes off clean with water alone.
Best Volumizing Mascara
The luxury-store staple has seen many fashion show runways, and has become a cult favorite backstage. This creamy, buildable formula delivers dramatic, defined lashes and it’s been touted for its unique wand design with a big, voluminous brush. Makeup artist Jennifer Duffy says she loves its sister mascara, Diorshow Iconic, too: “It’s all about the silicone brush that bends to grab your lashes.”
Best False-like Lashes
Voted Best Overall Mascara in InStyle’s 2015 Best Beauty Buy Awards, this Yves Saint Laurent department-store gem is deemed “the original false lash effect mascara.” Only one coat is needed to achieve the dramatic, plush effect. And, the formula includes B5 pro-vitamin to strengthen and protect those faux-looking real lashes.
The Runners-Up for Best Mascaras
These formulas came close, but were edged out from our favorites. We think they’re still worth a look. They just might be your top pick.
CoverGirl LashBlast Volume Mascara $6 on Amazon
It’s hypoallergenic and Allure loves it, but we saw some flaking.
Maybelline Full ‘N Soft Mascara $5 on Amazon
Long lasting, doesn’t clump or flake, and it’s at most drugstores, but it only comes in black.
CoverGirl LashBlast Clump Crusher Mascara $6 on Amazon
Gets the thumbs up from Allure, but we found it took a few layers to get the full effect.
Giorgio Armani Eyes To Kill Mascara $32 on Sephora
A new mascara that gives a dramatic look. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Chantecaille Faux Cils Mascara $53 on Amazon
This formula’s new lash-growth peptide technology can help stimulate lash growth by 25 percent in just two weeks of daily use, but that length doesn’t come cheap at $40 a tube.
Clinique Bottom Lash Mascara $20 on Amazon
Some love this formula for softly highlighting the little lashes on the bottom row, but other people think two mascaras is one too many.
Benefit Cosmetics BADgal Lash Mascara $31 on Amazon
A big buildable formula with more than 20,000 “loves” on Sephora; it’s only a runner up because it doesn’t quite live up to the popularity and false-lash effect of our top pick, its sister mascara Benefit Cosmetics They're Real! Mascara.
CoverGirl Full Lash Bloom $7 on Amazon
A mousse formula with natural beeswax backed by Katy Perry, we expect this newer and gently tinted option to be a favorite among minimalists.
L'Oreal Paris Voluminous Volume Building Mascara $6 on Amazon
A hypoallergenic formula that can build lashes up to five times their natural thickness without clumping or smudging, but some of us found the formula a bit too sticky.
What Else You Need to Know About Mascara
The formula names aren’t all hype.
Mascara formulas have some great names, but they’re not just marketing mumbo jumbo. All mascaras have a pigment to darken the lashes, a polymer to coat them with a film, a preservative to keep it from going bad, and some sort of thickener, like wax. However, the blends do differ based on the end goal. Makeup artist Troy Surratt tells Allure, “The resins and waxes in a curling mascara lift and bend stick-straight lashes, while a lengthening formula’s nylon fibers act as extensions on short ones.”
Smaller brushes are better for lengthening; thicker brushes add volume.
Makeup artist Melissa Smith prefers a smaller, defined brush. “It allows me to work the mascara better and get closer to my lash line while preventing clumping,” she says.
Waterproof mascaras should be saved for special occasions.
The experts aren’t big fans of waterproof mascara (and most of our top picks aren’t waterproof, either). Some companies don’t even make waterproof counterparts and it’s not totally smudge proof. They’ll stay in place through sweat and tears, but because they’re oil-based formulas, if they come into contact with anything oily, like sunscreen, they still smear. While Smith concedes, “Waterproof mascaras are great for their purpose,” she adds that they can do damage to your lashes if you don’t remove it properly.
Waterproof mascara can be very tedious to remove, so you scrub harder. This causes damage to your lashes and some of them to fall out. It's not healthy for them.
If you’re worried about your lash health, use a mascara primer.
While primers aren’t necessary and add a step to your beauty routine, they can be beneficial. According to Smith, mascara primers act as a “filler” for any gaps or damage in your lashes and also help protect them. She recommends Lancôme Cils Booster XL Super-Enhancing Mascara Base.
Just like primer for your skin, if you find the right lash primer, you'll be amazed at the difference!
You can actually grow longer, fuller eyelashes without a prescription.
You’ve probably heard of the glaucoma-drug-turned-lash-growing-miracle Latisse. If you can’t get a prescription or are afraid of its risks (like permanent brown pigmentation in your irises), try LashFood Phyto-Medic Eyelash Enhancer. This lash enhancer uses a proprietary formula that’s been clinically proven to “grow” your lashes, so they become thicker, fuller, and longer without those risks. It’s a great option if you want to skip mascara altogether, but still want to amplify your eyelashes. Chantecaille Faux Cils Mascara takes a best of both worlds approach; it’s a mascara with peptides that encourage lash growth.
What makes a good mascara?
We want our mascara to go on easily without making our lashes look like spider legs. We liked thin formulas the best because they didn’t clump or bunch our lashes. We also like brushes and tubes that are easy to hold, are precise enough to target even a single lash, and had just the right amount of drying time — long enough that we could wipe away a mistake, but short enough that we weren’t waiting around all morning for our lashes to dry.
Results that Last All Day
Obviously we want our mascara to make our lashes appear visibly longer. We also like them to look thicker, more “uplifted,” and a little bit curlier — but never like a tarantula’s legs. We want a mascara that stays on our lashes all day and can’t tolerate any that dry out or flake off onto our cheekbones. We also favored hypoallergenic mascaras, because no matter how long your lashes are, if you’re eyes are red, no one’s noticing.
Bonus Features We Love
Everyone’s needs are different and what you’re looking for often depends on your personal style, how frequently your use is, what your stance is on controversial ingredients, and how much time you want to spend painting your eyelashes. These features might be worth considering:
- Color selection: Some mascaras offer lighter brown-black hues; browns; or even vibrant colors like green, blue, purple, and gray. We found that many blondes prefer the lighter brown-black hues over jet blacks when they’re going for a more natural look.
- Natural, organic, and cruelty-free formulas and practices: There are formulas made with only natural and organic ingredients and ones that never use animal testing.
- Comes off easily with makeup remover: Lashes are pretty delicate, so it’s best if mascara comes off without much pressure or work.
- Imagine your dream lashes: Start by figuring out what you want from your mascara. Are you going for longer lashes? Thicker? The different formulas really do achieve different looks, so it’s best to begin with the end in mind.
- Test several products: Manufacturer claims are one thing, but actually trying several different mascaras can reveal the honest truth. Consider starting with some of the lower-priced options to see if the best fit for you might also offer some serious bang for your buck.
- Swap your tube every six months. After that, no matter how much is left, it’s time for a new batch.