The Best Mascara
- January 12, 2018 - We’ve clarified the pros and cons of our favorite mascaras, and added in some good-to-know information about choosing and using your perfect match. But this is just the first phase. In February we’re starting from scratch, analyzing the mascara market and culling the best of the best for 2018.
The best mascara adds volume and length to individual lashes, creating a plump, fanned-out look, free of clumps and free of cake. With the enormous number of mascaras on the market, shopping around for your perfect tube can feel like a lifelong experiment. We’ve done the experimenting for you. We got the inside scoop from beauty experts, combed through beauty retail sites, and pored over customer reviews to find worthy mascaras from department stores and drugstores alike, then brought in a promising batch to test ourselves.
We loved that this silky mascara gave us dramatic eyes but kept lashes natural-looking enough for everyday use. The brush alone is a game-changer, with short and long bristles plus a domed tip that helps make the most of every lash. ($27)
Maybelline’s timeless standard continues to best the drugstore competition. The lift-and-separate precision of its delicate brush allows for a daintier look than the bold They’re Real! We also appreciated the customizability of its four dark hues. ($5)
The Best Mascara
- Benefit Cosmetics They’re Real! Mascara - Best Overall (Department store)
- Maybelline Great Lash Washable Mascara - Best Overall (Drugstore)
- Lancôme Definicils High Definition Mascara - Best Lengthening
- Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes 4-in-1 Mascara - Best for Sensitive Eyes
- Blinc Mascara Amplified - Best for Thickening
- Dior Diorshow Mascara - Best for Volumizing
- YSL Mascara Volume Effet Faux Cils - Best False-lashes look
There are hundreds of mascaras out there claiming to give you the plump, defined lashes of your dreams. But if you’ve cycled through dozens of tubes of mascara in your lifetime, you know that often these claims fall flat. Our research and testing taught us that mascaras earn their cult following when they seriously upgrade your natural eyelashes while keeping you in control of how minimalist or maximalist you want your look to be. We sorted through the most loved, most talked-about mascaras to find the ones that merit the hype.
How We Found the Best Mascara
We started off by consulting three industry experts. Cosmetic chemist Susan Raffy, international runway makeup artist Jennifer Duffy, and the makeup artist behind Dollface by Melissa Melissa Smith all shared insights on which mascaras bring length and lustor to lashes of all ilk. Their recommendations, plus the top picks of online beauty editors from Makeupalley, Totalbeauty, Glamour, and Into the Gloss, helped us compile a list of more than 50 products.
We cut any formulas that didn’t meet customer expectations. We tallied customer feedback from sites like Sephora, Ulta, Birchbox, Macy’s, and Beauty.com to narrow that initially enormous list of the mascaras down to the best 15 we could find. Anything that garnered frequent complaints about not going on seamlessly, not making a difference in length, thickness, or volume, or failing to stay put all day was out.
Then we brought our 15 finalists in for hands-on testing.
How We Tested Our Finalists
To take each mascara for a true-to-life test drive, we applied one option every morning and kept it on for about 13 to 15 hours sans reapplication. We first noted the experience of applying — how intuitive the brush was to use, how smoothly the formula coated our lashes, how happy we were with the results the minute we stepped back from the mirror.
We judged each product on three major points:
- Separation and definition
- Thickening without clumping
Then we went about normal activities: Taking morning walks, working at our desks, lugging deliveries in from the rain, 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. Our unanimous favorites looked as good at hour 15 as they did at hour 1.
Our Picks for the Best Mascara
Best Overall (Department Store)
Benefit Cosmetics They’re Real! Mascara is arguably the perfect mascara. It aced all our tests and quickly became an office favorite. 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 gently latch on, lifting and defining each eyelash.
The special dome tip is perfect for coating even the most miniscule follicles, the ones that you probably didn’t even know existed near the corners of your eyes. Thickening and darkening those hard-to-reach lashes gave us a wide-awake look that we loved. The result? Glossy, silky, and natural, but deliciously plump lashes. No clumping, no smudging, and no scary cement-like after effects.
We put They’re Real! Mascara through the paces in order to test its durability, applying it early in the morning and then periodically checking its status throughout the day as we hauled boxes, squinted in front of monitors, and spritzed ourselves with toner. We came out on the other side of our long day impressed. We may have felt tired, but our still-glossy, dark, and flake-free lashes looked ready for round two.
And we’re not the only ones who think Benefit Cosmetics They’re Real! Mascara is something special. It’s garnered tens of thousands of reviews on leading beauty sites with stellar ratings and droves 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."
We think this mascara has pretty universal appeal. But you will need to take the time to apply it correctly — brushing it on with any force results in an oil spill. Gently vibrate the brush horizontally, then vertically, against your lashes, allowing it to grab onto every follicle. Start as close as you can to the root. And once it’s on, it’s on. Plenty of customers (who are otherwise crazy about its effects) complain that it’s hard to remove, but we didn’t experience this problem. We recommend using a quality eye makeup remover or, if you want to keep it simple, applying an oil like jojoba or coconut then gently swiping it off with cotton.
Best Overall (Drugstore)
Yes, one more voice in the chorus praising Great Lash. Like you, we tried to get away from it. We checked out a ton of drugstore mascara, eager to find a tube for $10 or less that boasts the same high-quality formula and precise application of department store options. Only one rose to the top.
Maybelline Great Lash has been America’s number one best-selling mascara since time immemorial. The classic pink-and-green packaging may look like a throwback, but its silky-smooth substance and tiny, accurate brush still gives the best lashes of anything on your corner store shelf. While other drugstore picks with beefy brushes and volumizing formulas created blobs up and down our lashes, Great Lash keeps it simple: a smooth, buildable coat. And did we mention 24-hour longevity? This bomb-proof mascara will still be in place in the morning if you fall asleep with it on. But in even better news, it’s surprisingly easy to rinse away. We splashed our faces with warm water and watched Great Lash swiftly ink down the drain.
We’re resoundingly not the first to tell you Great Lash merits its legacy. Most recently, it was 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.” If you are eager to try something new, maybe it’s time you see what another twenty bucks can buy and plump for a luxury brand. But if you are dedicated to the simple beauty purchase, we didn’t find anything in its price bracket that also went the extra mile to add that one crucial millimeter of length.
Other Mascaras We Loved
Best Lengthening Mascara ($34 on Amazon)
A Lancôme fan favorite, 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 also draws rave reviews.
Best Mascara for Sensitive Eyes ($25 on Amazon)
If you have sensitive eyes, but still want shocking 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.
Best Thickening Mascara ($26 on Amazon)
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. We were relieved to find it wipes off clean with water alone.
Best Volumizing Mascara ($50 on Amazon)
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-Lash Effect ($40 on Amazon)
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. Plus, the formula includes B5 pro-vitamin to strengthen and protect those your not-so-faux lashes underneath.
Runners-Up for Best Mascara
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 New York Full N' Soft ($5 on Amazon)
Long lasting, doesn’t clump or flake, and it’s at most drugstores, but it only comes in black.
- Covergirl Clump Crusher by LashBlast ($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 ($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 Voluminious Million Lashes 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.
Did You Know?
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; some companies don’t even make them. 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!"