By Anne Dennon, Staff Writer
Editor's Note
  • February 23, 2018 - To keep up with beauty trends, we’ve updated our review, pitting 10 new and popular mascaras against our 7 former top picks. We’ve found a new lengthening, volumizing favorite — Benefit Cosmetics Roller Lash Curling Mascara — in addition to several drugstore runners-up that we’re pretty stoked about.

The Best Mascara

Mascara is the one, magical product that can make an appearance on both a no-makeup day and a night out. The best mascara adds volume and length to individual lashes, creating a plump but natural look. Our favorite of all, Benefit Cosmetics Roller Lash Curling Mascara, easily delivers the kind of super defined, yet super dramatic lashes that other mascaras make you work for. The first few swipes with the ingenious brush gives a softly coated, very natural look. A second dip of the wand in the tube, another five or six passes, and lashes start growing in all directions.

If you are dedicated to length over thickness, we recommend Charlotte Tilbury Full Fat Lashes. We found the name misleading: This mascara creates lovely, romantic length that’s a little softer and more natural looking than the volume offered by our other top picks. Love a dramatic, voluminous look? In that case, try Benefit Cosmetics They're Real! Lengthening & Volumizing Mascara. You can stop after a single coat for a softer look, but this bold mascara layers beautiful and is the best option for those who love the look of falsies.

We also found several drugstore mascaras that more than held their own against luxury department store options. Maybelline was the big winner. Maybelline Volum' Express: The Colossal Big Shot is where we'd suggest starting. This impressive mascara grabs every lash for a dark, thick, super plump fringe. It lives up to its name by quickly building volume, but it does it the right way — testers reported spending zero time triaging clumps. For more defined lashes, we were impressed with the fine detailing of Maybelline Lash Sensational. The small, easy-to-manage silicone brush allows for highly controlled application, meaning you can go for a delicate look during the day and then build up when the clock strikes five. If you like a softer look, L'Oreal Voluminous Carbon Black Mascara creates big lashes that seem somehow blurred or feathery. Its dense, lush brush is high quality, reminiscent of deluxe brands, and picks up just the right amount of product for striking lashes on the first go round.

Our Picks for the Best Mascara


Benefit Cosmetics Roller Lash Curling Mascara
Benefit Cosmetics
Arguably the perfect mascara, its exquisite brush creates a full fan of lashes buildable to any intensity.

If we had to choose just one mascara, it would be Benefit Roller Lashes. Though not as renowned as Benefit’s They’re Real! formula, we found that Roller Lash offers greater customizability and a final look that’s less spikey. It delivers genuinely lush lashes and a happy medium between lengthening and volumizing.

Benefit-Roller-Lash for Mascara

There’s not much formula on the wand when you tug it out, but the brush design is so effective that you don’t need a lot of product. Lots of tiny, short bristles cover the entire wand and succeeded in pulling our lashes out and up, coating and curling in a way that actually lived up to the the “roller lash” claim. “It’s like my lashes have multiplied,” one tester noted. (The name and container both reference old-fashioned hair rollers.) Other brushes, like Maybelline’s Falsies Push Up Angel, seemed designed to mimic the Benefit Roller Lash wand, but ultimately fell short. Maybelline, for example, uses only a single row of bristles rather than wrapping them all the way around the wand.

Even better, you can control the number of coats to customize the look you want, something They’re Real! doesn’t succeed at (this sister formula takes a “go dramatic or go home! approach). Roller Lash starts off slow for a “no-makeup” look, but it’s possible to build (and keep building!) the intensity without creating globs. “Even as it thickened, it didn’t clump,” one tester reported. “I created a few clumps on purpose by wiggling the wand back and forth, but was able to easily comb them out with a few more swipes.”


Benefit Roller Lash (left) offers a happy medium between lengthening and volumizing, versus Charlotte Tilbury's length-centric approach (right).

Benefit Roller Lash still looked fresh at the end of the day, without flaking, smudging, or leaving any dark shadows beneath the eye. Because it is so long-lived, it’s also fairly hard to get off. Allow a high quality remover to sit and work at the lashes for a few seconds before gently wiping off.

Best For

Charlotte Tilbury Full Fat Lashes
Charlotte Tilbury
Long and delicate lashes for a natural and perfectly pretty, everyday look.

Charlotte Tilbury Full Fat Lashes had us expecting boldy blackened eyes, but we were instead charmed to find that the mascara delivers a soft, natural fringe of lashes whose most striking characteristic is length.

Charlotte-Tilbury-Wand for Mascara

The wand doesn’t look like anything special — it has a typical brush profile, thought its bristles are a lot lusher than drugstore options like Maybelline Great Lash. The wiper squeezes, but not intensely: One dip gives us enough product to create smooth length on both eyes.

The mascara doesn’t have a heavy volumizing effect, but instead pulls out lovely, long lashes, creating a soft beauty that’s more likely to leave bystanders thinking you were blessed with great lashes, not that you just got extensions put in. We also found the formula easy to layer. Even after we continued on with a second, third, and fourth coat, the mascara resisted clumping, instead providing lovely definition to each lash. Many of our drugstore picks didn’t fare as well, with products like L’Oreal Lash Paradise beginning to clump if we exceeded two or three swipes.

If you want a heavier look, go with one of the Benefit mascaras or even one of our dynamite drugstore volumizers — there are a lot of great volumizing mascaras to choose from. But the hands-down best mascara for length is Charlotte Tilbury. No other formula even came close.

Best For

Benefit Cosmetics They're Real! Lengthening and Volumizing Mascara
Benefit Cosmetics
You only have to insist they’re real when they look false. This push-up bra of a mascara gives incredibly plump and perky lashes.

Benefit They’re Real! is a dramatic mascara that does it all — darkens, thickens, and lengthens lashes in all directions with a level of oomph we didn’t see with any other mascara. Testers who love the glamorous look of falsies loved how this bold formula applied, with one declaring, “Bellissimo. I feel awesome with these sexy, powerful lashes.”

The stare of the show is the ingenious applicator. Most of the wand’s length is taken up with the brush — over an inch of uniform cactus spikes that continue over the domed tip. With an articulated angle reminiscent of a dental tool, you can reach into the corners of the eyes to darken and lengthen even the tiniest lashes. It also enables you to reach across and perfectly paint your non-dominant side. The design lets you hit specific areas and build volume, all in one go. Where Roller Lash’s brush is dainty, this one is audacious.

Benefit-Theyre-Real-Wand for Mascara

We were totally enamored with the brush, but as with many volumizing mascaras, it’s fairly easy to clump or smudge while applying. The brush’s bristles are strong enough that we found it easy to comb any clumps back out, but given the ample amount of product that comes out of the tube, and the fact that the brush design encourages you to turn and twist it, the odds are high that you’ll smudge a time or two. But testers found the formula easy enough to remove with a Q-tip.


We loved Benefit They're Real's ability to give both length and volume without clumping (left), unlike drugstore runner-up L'Oreal Voluminous (right) which tended to clump when applied heavily.

Drugstore Pick

Maybelline Volum' Express: The Colossal Big Shot
Smooth, buildable volume that goes on quick thanks to a super-fluffy, fiber brush.

This mascara isn’t for the faint of heart. Maybelline The Colossal Big Shot Volum’ Express is one of many in Maybelline’s volume line-up that deliver big lashes out of a big container, but the Big Shot perfects megawatt eyes.


Lots of product comes out on its big brush — enough that some of our testers were apprehensive about applying it. But the formula distributed evenly across our lashes with very little effort (although we did find the conical handles of both Big Shot and Lash Sensational a little hard to grip). The mascara smoothly, allowing you to layer without creating or correcting clumps. This was a nice change of pace after testing similarly priced products like L’Oreal Voluminous Lash and Urban Decay Persuasion — formulas that we liked, but which tended to glob and clump after more than a couple of coats.

And volume isn’t Big Shot’s only trick. It also offers a surprising amount of length. True, this one doesn’t match Charlotte Tilbury’s airy subtlety, but if you don’t mind a side of volume with your length, Maybelline costs a third of the price.


Maybelline Colossal Big Shot offers both length and volume (left) while Maybelline Lash Sensational (right) offers mostly volume.

At this point, you might be wondering what the catch is. While the look is lush, we noticed that this mascara dries crunchier than others we tested, resulting in light flaking a couple hours into the day. Nothing a quick dab of tissue paper couldn’t fix, but it couldn’t quite match the endurance of our department store picks.

Drugstore Pick

Maybelline Lash Sensational
The intricately sculpted rubber brush creates incredibly precise volume on individual lashes, easy to control, easy to layer.

If volume is higher on your wishlist than length, Maybelline Lash Sensational is another great drugstore option that’s easy to layer without clumping. It has a rubber wand reminiscent of Benefit Cosmetics’ innovative designs, with lots of tiny teeth distributed all the way around a curving base. Like our Benefit picks, Maybelline Lash Sensational managed to locate and tug at every little lash, and because the overall dimensions of the brush are smaller than most, it’s easy to maneuver.


Since volume is pretty addictive, we loved that we could apply layer after layer of Lash Sensational without gluing lashes together. Again, the main drawback to this formula is that it's a little more prone to flaking at the end of the day.

Drugstore Pick

L'Oreal Voluminous Carbon Black Mascara
A high-quality mascara that creates long, lush lashes almost as sophisticated as our department store picks.

L’Oreal Voluminous Carbon Black is a classic drugstore mascara, but unlike the infamous Maybelline Great Lash, it doesn’t require surgical precision to get good results. Instead, its fluffy brush and thick formula quickly deliver luscious length.

Loreal-Wand for Mascara

We also saw a lot of similarity between the wand design of Voluminous Carbon Black and our top lengthening pick for department stores, Charlotte Tilbury Full Fat Lashes. But whereas the thin, silky texture of Full Fat Lashes creates wispy length, Voluminous’ thicker mix creates a small amount of volume, too. We preferred Charlotte Tilbury’s take, since we didn’t have to spend any time triaging clumps, but if you prefer only a light coating of mascara, L’Oreal’s version delivers.

We tried L’Oreal Voluminous Carbon Black — and loved it — with the classic straight brush. It’s also available with a curved brush, designed to help reach those baby lashes at both corners of the eye and encourage the entire lash line to curve up.

How You Apply Your Mascara Is Just as Important

Don't Believe Everything You Hear About Preservatives

Consumer concern over the safety of preservatives have a scientific foundations, but the concerns themselves are often over-hyped.

Parabens are the standout example. The inflammatory discussion surrounding parabens has led to some manufacturers omitting them from their ingredient lists, but these fears are largely based on a 2004 study that found trace amounts of parabens in tumors and called only for additional research. The American Cancer Society’s take, as of 2018? “So far, studies have not shown any direct link between parabens and any health problems, including breast cancer.” The FDA’s current stance is similar, stating that while they continue to study the topic, “At this time, we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health.”

The truth is, if we didn’t have preservatives like parabens in our beauty products, they would be breeding grounds for truly harmful bacteria and fungi, which can lead to all sorts of eye problems. If you’re concerned about good hygiene habits, the FDA suggest replacing your mascara every three months to guard against bacteria proliferation

Our Mascara Review: Summed-Up

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