The Best Mascara
- 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
- Benefit Cosmetics Roller Lash Curling Mascara
- Charlotte Tilbury Full Fat Lashes
Best for Lengthening
- Benefit Cosmetics They’re Real! Lengthening and Volumizing Mascara
Best for Volume
- Maybelline Volum’ Express: The Colossal Big Shot
- Maybelline Lash Sensational
- L’Oreal Voluminous Carbon Black 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.
How We Found the Best Mascara
Like the perfect little black dress, you know a ride-or-die mascara when you see it — often on someone else. To collect our 17 mascaras, we sought suggestions from the pros: beauty editors of fashion magazines Allure, Elle, and Vogue, plus recommendations from the websites Beautypedia, Makeupalley, and Total Beauty. We also looked for Instagram inspiration, making a list of all the mascara recommendations we could find from the top ten beauty influencers of of 2017 as profiled by Forbes, prioritizing anything that was mentioned more than once. The price of our final list varied widely — from $4 Maybelline to $30 Marc Jacobs.
We did have two standards for our finalists:
- We didn’t include mascaras containing fragrance, a common irritant that can cause itching and redness on sensitive skin. No one needs that around their eyes, and it’s a baffling addition to begin with. (Who’s going to be smelling our eyelashes?) This left off a couple of otherwise promising formulas from YSL and Dior.
- We also skipped waterproof mascara. For a special event where photos will be taken and tears will be shed, by all means indulge in a waterproof look. Top brands like Benefit Cosmetics also make highly rated waterproof formulas. But waterproof is so tough that it can easily damage your lashes as you attempt to remove it. Not ideal for daily wear.
“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.”
- Benefit Cosmetics They’re Real!
- Benefit Cosmetics Roller Lash
- Blinc Mascara Amplified
- Charlotte Tilbury Full Fat Lashes
- Lancome Definicils
- Lancome Hypnose Drama
- L’Oreal Voluminous
- L’Oreal Voluminous Lash Paradise
- Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir
- Maybelline Great Lash
- Maybelline Lash Sensational
- Maybelline The Falsies Push Up Angel
- Maybelline Volum’ Express The Colossal
- Maybelline Volum’ Express The Colossal Big Shot
- Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes
- Too Faced – Better Than Sex
- Urban Decay Perversion
The ingredient list won’t tell you much: Most mascaras contain the same basic components.
Mascara formulas have changed very little over the past 50 years. They’ve still got three basic parts:
- Pigments dye the formula black or brown, though sometimes ultramarine or other colors are used. Typical ingredient titanium dioxide and iron oxide, chemical compounds that work together to create deep hues.
- Waxes, often paraffin, carnauba, or beeswax, thicken the formula, enabling it to cling to lashes.
- Oil serves as a hydrophobic, a substance that resists water, and enables the mascara to stay put after application. Common oils include linseed, castor, lanolin, eucalyptus, and oil of turpentine.
As Into the Gloss details, most cosmetic companies don’t want to pay for the research necessary to develop totally new formulas while meeting US Food and Drug Administration safety guidelines. It’s easier and more cost effective to innovate by tweaking the stem and wiper. Different products — within and even between brands — share most of the same ingredients. Out of the first ten ingredients used by Charlotte Tilbury and Too Faced, for example, nine were the same. But each came with wildly different brush designs — and performed quite differently during testing.
Instead, we hand-tested each mascara to gauge its application style.
Since there was little to be learned from back-of-the-box details, we brought all 17 into the office and paid close attention to how each mascara performed in-person. Three testers applied one apiece every morning, wearing it for about 13 to 15 hours sans reapplication and while going about usual tasks: attending meetings, dodging the Seattle drizzle, hitting the gym. We didn’t use any other lash products — like primers, conditioners, or curlers — during testing. To find the best mascara, we were looking for three qualities:
We wanted brushes that applied just the right amount of mascara.
A key player? The wiper. The wiper is that tapered plastic ring that forms the mouth of the mascara tube. It’s the final gatekeeper, determining how much mascara makes it out of the bottle and onto the brush.
Sometimes less is messier. A number of online beauty guides suggest that depositing a small amount of mascara with every swipe is ideal. It’s the only way to get control over the final effect. We did love mascaras that allow you to slowly build your look, but we discovered it’s possible to take this rule of thumb too far. Wands with very conservative amounts of mascara, like Blinc and Maybelline Great Lash led us to apply more brashly. “I had to keep redipping my brush,” one tester complained. “It took me a good five minutes.” The result: We smudged dainty mascaras more often than clumpy ones because they took forever to apply.
If it looks clumpy on the brush, it’ll look clumpy on your lashes. On the other end of the spectrum, some mascaras unleash way too much formula. The wands of Lancome Hypnose Drama, Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes, and Too Faced Better Than Sex came out coated with more product than we could keep under control.
We were happies with mascaras that deposited a judicious amount of product, coupled with an innovative brush design. Benefit took the gold on two counts, with the slim, uniform rubber spikes of They’re Real! that continue around the domed tip, and the minute stubble of Roller Lashes arranged to gently grab your lashes and tug them into a curl.
We wanted bristles that would volumize, lengthen, or both.
We weren’t initially sure if we’d be able to tell a difference between “lengthening” and “volumizing” formulas. While the best mascara does a little of both, allowing you to sculpt exactly the look you want, some products do produce bolder eyes, while others offer delicately feathered lashes. So we searched for picks in all three categories.
Looking for volume? Bristles with more distance between them deposit enough mascara to create a dramatic look. This design is typically coupled with a generous wiper. We were surprised to find that drugstore picks held their own against department store brands in this category, sometimes besting them. While Maybelline had a couple of duds, we were impressed by Lash Sensational, The Colossal Volum’ Express, and The Colossal Big Shot Volum’ Express. They create incredible volume that impressed testers more than department store favs Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes and Too Faced Better Than Sex. “I was incredibly skeptical of Maybelline, but I really love these,” one tester noted.
The brush is a huge arbiter of the final look, and the one thing you can’t typically experience before you buy: Makeup emporiums like Sephora provide tiny, generic brushes for testing.
Looking for length? The same bristle spacing / wiper width dictum holds true in reverse. The more finely spaced the bristles and the tighter the wiper, the more defined the result, with a focus that tends to be on lengthening. Charlotte Tilbury Full Fat Lashes was our favorite here. The wand offers tightly packed bristles, coupled with a wiper that exerts extra suction as you pull the wand. One tester described her results: “A great mid-bold look — long, dark, striking lashes that have the definition to keep it looking natural.” Rather than thick volume, you get lashes akin to the Audrey Hepburn’s classic lashes-separated-with-a-needle look (detailed by Marie Claire).
Want a little of both? In this case, moderation is once again key. Bristle spacing and wiper size will fall in the middle of the spectrum, offering a look that falls short of being spiky but leave lashes looking a little plumper than a formula whose focus is length. Benefits impressed us with its perfect balancing act.
We wanted coverage that would last a full day.
When you get back to your bathroom mirror at the end of the day, you want to see that your mascara is still looking fresh and in-place. After that, you want to be able to remove it with ease.
We were surprised to discover that the amount you spend on a mascara isn’t a good indicator of how well it will last. Our Marc Jacobs noted that she was “not impressed” with her under-eye smudges by end of day; Too Faced Better Than Sex flaked out on us a couple hours after applying. Our Benefit picks, as well as Maybelline Lash Sensational, looked fresh well into the evening. Unfortunately, the longer-lived the mascara, the more of a pain it usually is to get off. Most of our favorite mascaras require a good-quality eye makeup remover to take off without tugging at eyelids or plucking out lashes.
Our unanimous favorites made it easy to build whatever style we wanted, looked as good at hour 15 as they did at hour 1, and rinsed off without a major fuss. From the 17 we brought in to test, 6 passed our tests with flying colors and had our testers asking if they could take the tubes home with them.
Our Picks for the Best Mascara
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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