this thing's incredible

I’m Not Wearing False Eyelashes — Just This $5 Mascara

Just a few swipes have an incredible effect. Photo: Bert Stern/Condé Nast via Getty Images

An effective but inexpensive mascara is hard to find. I would know — I’ve tried everything on my very short, stubbornly straight Asian lashes, from cheap drugstore brands to the pricey high-end stuff, and it’s rare that a mascara will do more than two things — some offer length but not volume, others give volume but not curling, and so on. It’s why so many women I know take to a double-mascara maneuver, mixing two different brands on top of another. All I’ve ever wanted was one no-frills mascara that can do it all.

Based on a tip from a beauty editor friend (who’s used the mascara on her own Asian lashes), I now use a mascara that checks all the mascara boxes — for less than $5. The Lash Princess False Lash Effect Mascara from Essence, true to its name, dramatically plumps and intensifies my lashes in every single way — it lengthens, volumizes, lifts, and curls each tiny hair (without the use of a tool) — to the point where my eyes look more open, brighter, and more alert.

Essence Lash Princess False Lash Effect Mascara
Essence Lash Princess False Lash Effect Mascara.
Essence Lash Princess False Lash Effect Mascara
$5 at Ulta

Because I have sparse, stubby lashes to begin with, the mascara takes a few strokes to get into “false lash” territory, but it will likely enhance more well-endowed lashes with just a stroke or two. I’ve recommended Essence’s mascara to almost everyone I know (Asians and non-Asians alike), and the results are staggering. Those who’ve fallen under its cult spell post stunning before and after photos on Reddit (seriously, look at those photos). Recently, at a family engagement party, my own father asked if I had gone in for eyelash extensions. I’ve never been more flattered.

Some reviewers complain that the mascara is a pain to remove, but I consider that one of the mascara’s best qualities — it’s an all-day, long-lasting product that doesn’t require constant upkeep. Though not touted as waterproof, it’s even survived sweaty yoga sessions and barre classes smudge-free. When I’m ready to take it off, I simply wash my eye area carefully with a soapy cleanser (I like this Shiseido) and then swipe it with Bioderma micellar water to pick up any lingering residue.

If you prefer, you can buy it at Amazon.

More Strat-approved eye-openers

Isehan Kiss Me Heroine Mascara
$10 at Amazon

Writer Risa Needleman calls the Heroine mascara from Japan the “darkest black I’ve ever seen, but it doesn’t clump (a huge issue for most mascaras), even if you put on two coats. It has an incredible lengthening quality that expands your eyes.”

Chanel Inimitable Waterproof Mascara
$32 at Nordstrom

If you’re looking for the very best waterproof mascara, several agree that it’s Chanel’s. None other than Kim Kardashian’s makeup artist says Chanel Inimitable Waterproof Mascara is the best because it’s “waterproof but also curls, lengthens, and gives volume in just one coat. A lot of waterproof-mascara formulas tend to be drying, but this one feels soft and is conditioning.”

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I’m Not Wearing False Eyelashes — Just This $5 Mascara