Some lengthen, volumize, separate, and curl. Some are tearproof and tint your lashes to unknown depths of blackness, while others promise the featheriness of false eyelashes. The massive variety is part of the fun — and the challenge — in choosing a mascara. To help narrow down the choices, we talked to tons of makeup artists about their favorite mascaras in every category, whether you’re searching for one that will give you natural-looking lashes, a drugstore dupe for a high-end brand, a formula that won’t irritate sensitive eyes, or all of the above.
No matter which you choose, here’s a tip from makeup artist Lauren Aiello on the best technique for enhancing your lashes’ thickness and giving them an extra lift: “After applying a coat to the underside of your lashes, look down and apply one to the top, starting from the root and combing through, flicking upward at the ends.” And of course, to magnify the results, always go for a second coat.
Use the handy links below to jump right to the type of mascara you’re looking for, or read on to learn more about the criteria we considered as we put together this list.
Best overall | Best for natural-looking lashes | Best (less expensive) for natural-looking lashes | Best volumizing | Best (less expensive) volumizing | Best lengthening | Best (less expensive) lengthening | Best curling | Best (less expensive) curling | Best precision| Best (less expensive) precision | Best tubing | Best (less expensive) tubing | Best “clean” | Best (less expensive) “clean” | Best for sensitive eyes | Best (less expensive) for sensitive eyes | Best dramatic | Best (less expensive) dramatic | Best conditioning | Best (less expensive) conditioning | Best waterproof | Best (less expensive) waterproof | Best colorful | Best (less expensive) colorful | Best primer | Best (less expensive) primer
What we’re looking for
Formulation: The basic ingredients in mascara typically don’t differ too much from tube to tube — they essentially all boil down to a combination of wax and pigment — but the specific ingredients included in a certain product can vary widely. For example, if wearing makeup that is vegan and cruelty free is important to you, you’ll want to steer clear of animal ingredients or animal-derived ingredients like honey, beeswax, lanolin, or carmine (a red colorant obtained from insect shells). If you have sensitive eyes or skin, look for “clean” formulations that are free of parabens, fragrance, sulfates, and silicones, which could potentially be irritating.
Meanwhile, if you want your mascara to be waterproof and smudgeproof, the presence of extra waxes and silicones will increase its water resistance, but they can also cause your lashes to dry out or shed. That’s why many mascara formulas also contain nourishing ingredients like castor, almond, or jojoba oil to moisturize your lashes and promote growth. Also keep an eye out for the term “tubing.” Rather than coating your lashes with a layer of pigment, tubing mascaras wrap each individual lash in water-resistant, tubelike polymers for a more lengthened, defined, and separated effect (but don’t worry, they’ll come right off with makeup remover or some warm water and a washcloth). Below, we’ve noted what each mascara is formulated to do, whether it’s clean and/or cruelty free, and whether it’s waterproof or comes in both waterproof and non-waterproof options.
Brush type and material: The shape of the brush at the end of the mascara wand is really what gives a mascara its “lengthening” or “volumizing” abilities. Most mascara makers will promise their own unique brush design equipped with slight proprietary tweaks, but in general, a thin, skinny brush will give you length and definition; a more substantial, fluffier brush will provide thickness and volume; and a curved brush will help you achieve a lifted and curled effect.
The material a brush is made of may also vary. Nylon brushes are more “traditional,” with a fluffier, more flexible shape and bristles that are more akin to those of a hairbrush; they’re great for volumizing and lengthening but not as much for separating and defining individual eyelashes. That’s where silicone and plastic brushes excel, as their bristles tend to be stiffer and thicker. They’re also more durable and will hold up to months of regular use — if you like the shape of a certain silicone brush, you can wash and reuse it even after the mascara it came with runs out or expires. Finally, thinner brushes with shorter bristles offer more precision and control if you’re looking to reach corner and lower lashes, while jumbo-size brushes with longer bristles will grant you a more sweeping, dramatic falsies look.
Performance: It’s no fun to look in the mirror and realize you’ve been walking around with raccoon eyes because your mascara flaked or ran. Upon application, a good mascara won’t clump, feel crunchy or dry, or make your eyelashes stick together. It should also noticeably do what it claims it will do on the packaging, whether that’s lifting, lengthening, volumizing, or curling your lashes. Additionally, it should stay in place for several hours of wear without flaking, smudging, or transferring to your eyelids. But it also shouldn’t be impossible to remove, and should come off fairly easily with makeup remover or cleanser and water. (Any formula that requires an inordinate amount of scrubbing at your delicate eye area is a no-go in our book.) Though different mascaras will wear differently on different people due to a number of variables, and though the concept of a mascara’s performance is somewhat subjective, all the mascaras on this list have either come recommended by multiple experts or held up well enough in our tests that we feel confident including them here.
Best overall mascara
Volumizing, defining | Washable | Conic nylon brush with full, soft bristles
Whether you’re a makeup minimalist who wants to own just one go-to mascara or a beauty junkie who’s always searching for the next best thing, it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong if you have Essence’s Lash Princess False Lash Effect in your kit. This cult-favorite mascara boasts a stamp of approval from multiple makeup artists we talked to; Strategist contributor Jinnie Lee; our discerning friends over at the Cut; and over 160,000 five-star Amazon reviewers. “It really does give you amazing length and volume,” says makeup artist Anabelle LaGuardia. “It separates well; it doesn’t clump; I don’t have any smudging or fallout.” Lee was astonished at how it managed to “dramatically plump and intensify my lashes in every single way — it lengthens, volumizes, lifts, and curls each tiny hair.” After reading so many glowing reviews, I simply had to test Lash Princess out for myself — and I’m happy to report it lives up to the hype. After one swipe, my lashes were considerably lifted and lengthened, even without the use of a curling wand. For just $5, the Essence mascara gives you incredible bang for your buck and then some.
Best mascara for natural-looking lashes
Lengthening, lifting | Water-resistant | Tapered silicone brush with tiered bristles
If you’re going for a no-makeup makeup look, I’ve found that a few passes of Glossier’s Lash Slick is just enough to make my eyes seem brighter and more awake. Strategist beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton swears by it for the daytime, when she wants her lashes to look “fluttery” and “feathery” but not overly striking. “With it, your lashes just look better: longer, but not in a dramatic way, and darker, but not in an obvious way,” Viera-Newton writes. Lash Slick is also a go-to for makeup artist Amanda Shackleton, who likes its effect on her naturally thin lashes. The tiny fibers on the brush and the mascara’s formula “work together seamlessly to coat your lashes and volumize,” she says. She also describes it as a very workable mascara, “meaning you can build it up with multiple coats throughout the day and take it from day to night without clumping.”
Best (less expensive) mascara for natural-looking lashes
Defining, lengthening | Washable and waterproof versions | Skinny, low-profile brush with sparse, short bristles
Maybelline Lash Discovery comes recommended by makeup artists Dillon Peña and Lauren Aiello, who love its very “natural-looking” effect. This mascara gives a subtle lift and tint with no noticeable clumps, so while your lashes won’t appear super-thick or dramatic, you will get just enough curl to draw attention to and open up your eyes. And since Maybelline is priced in the more affordable range, Peña sees this as an opportunity to go ahead and buy yourself two tubes: the regular version for your top lashes and the waterproof version for the bottom ones to avoid raccoon eyes. (Although waterproof mascara is more difficult to remove, when you’re dealing with thinner bottom lashes, less scrubbing is involved.) “The mini-brush really hits those hard-to-reach lashes on the inner and outer corners and distributes a nice, even coat of product while separating and adding length to the lash,” says Aiello.
Best volumizing mascara
Volumizing, lengthening | Water-resistant | Silicone brush with spiky, evenly spaced bristles and pointed precision tip
“This product definitely lives up to its name,” says makeup artist Amy Zdunowski-Roeder, who promises your lashes will appear dramatically thicker and fuller from the first coat. “The formula is long-wearing, non-smudging, and won’t dry out.” Plus, the tips at the end of the uniquely designed brush work with the product to separate and define your lashes. The domed brush also features staggered bristles that grab lashes from the root, while the rich, long-wearing pigment keeps them looking great all day. Since this mascara can be difficult to take off, you’ll want to use a gentle oil-based remover, like Viera-Newton’s favorite, Glossier Milky Oil.
Best (less expensive) volumizing mascara
Volumizing | Washable | Nylon brush with full, fluffy bristles
Maybelline’s Volum’ Express Falsies mascara counts multiple makeup artists among its fans, including LaGuardia and Peña. “It’s a little thicker of a formula, and it’s buildable,” Peña advises. “As you build more it looks like false lashes.” And LaGuardia says she “just loves” this mascara because it “really does a great job at lengthening and thickening … It goes on well, it doesn’t really clump, and there’s no fallout or any smudging throughout the day.”
Best lengthening mascara
Lengthening, volumizing | Washable and waterproof formulas | Nylon brush with full, fluffy criss-cross bristles
When makeup artist Kornelija Slunjski first saw how much longer a client’s lashes looked after applying this mascara, she actually said “Wow” out loud. The brand claims to have a creamy, jet-black pigment that extends the lash, and although the lengthening effect is the standout here, Slunjski notes that it’s also volumizing and that “the brush separates the lashes really nicely and doesn’t make your lashes look clumpy.” The formula contains honey extract and marine collagen to nourish and moisturize your lashes.
Best (less expensive) lengthening mascara
Lengthening, lifting | Washable | Bendable elastomer tapered brush with full bristles
Shackleton says this is her favorite lengthening mascara. But what makes it really special is the adjustable wand, which can bend to a 90-degree angle, making it easy to apply mascara in hard-to-reach areas like the inner and outer corners of your eyes. “L’Oréal took a tip from pro makeup artists and came out with a mascara that allows you to bend the brush for more precise application,” says Shackleton.
Best curling mascara
Curling, lifting | Water-resistant | Curved silicone brush with spiky, asymmetrical, spaced-out bristles
True to its name, Benefit Cosmetics Roller Lash will add serious lift and curl to your eyelashes. “I don’t know how they did it, but it curls even the straightest, shortest lashes I work on and keeps them that way,” says Shackleton. The mascara also contains provitamin B5 and serine to condition lashes and prevent breakage.
Best (less expensive) curling mascara
Curling, volumizing | Water-resistant | Curved nylon brush with full, soft bristles
For a less-expensive curling mascara, makeup artist Margina Dennis recommends Essence’s Extreme Volume and Curl mascara. The brush’s curved design “helps coax your lashes up into position,” while the lightweight formula is long-lasting and holds a curl without dragging your lashes down. “A lot of times, mascara will end up weighing down the lashes, so it’s hard to hold a curl. But this formula, if you curl your lashes, it’s going to hold,” Dennis says.
Best precision mascara
Lifting, defining | Waterproof | Thin, low-profile brush with spiral bristles
A thin, low-profile mascara brush like the one that comes with M.A.C.’s Extended Play Gigablack Mascara allows more accuracy and precision when handling the wand, so you can “get tiny lashes with ease,” according to makeup artist Jill Powell. She adds that the Gigablack is also smudgeproof, “so you don’t have to worry about having raccoon eyes by the end of the day.”
For Lori Leib, who now works as the creative director of Bodyography, this mascara is another option for those “lucky folks with long lashes,” since “a long-wear and dry formula works best, as it will stop mascara transfer from lashes to the under eyes and brow bone.” She also points out its small brush and its ability to get to the root of lashes. Celebrity makeup artist Jessica DeBen likes this mascara for its ability to separate lashes and keep them from clumping together. “I use this for a natural look and brush the lashes after I apply it for the illusion of a makeup-free face,” she says.
Best (less expensive) precision mascara
Curling, defining | Waterproof | Extra-skinny brush with micro bristles
For an even thinner brush option, Innisfree’s Skinny Waterproof Microcara Mascara is one of Shackleton’s favorites. She says it has “the price of a drugstore mascara with the pack of a professional brand,” thanks to its super-fine brush. “Without a doubt, this one stands out for getting even the tiniest lashes noticed,” she adds.
Best tubing mascara
Tubing, volumizing | Water-resistant| Low-profile brush with spiral bristles
According to deBen, any tubing mascara has two benefits: It “won’t run or smudge,” and it’s “easy to remove with warm water.” This Kevyn Aucoin mascara “builds extreme volume and length for even the most stubbornly short lashes,” says makeup artist Porsche Cooper. She loves its “dense, fiber-filled” brush that “ensures no lash goes untouched,” and it leaves eyes “framed and smudge-free all day long.” Peña and Dennis are both fans as well: Peña likes how close it allows him to get to the lash line for a “more defined lash,” and Dennis calls it simply “the best tubing mascara” and one of her “all-time favorites” because “it creates volume and length without looking spidery and washes off with warm water.”
Best (less expensive) tubing mascara
Tubing, lengthening | Water-resistant | Nylon brush with full, fluffy bristles
Using a lash primer isn’t always necessary, but this mascara does include it, which is like getting two products for the price of one. The primer protects and strengthens your lashes, creating a solid base for the tubing application. Slunjski suggests that anyone applying primer to their lashes before mascara should use just a tiny amount — otherwise, your lashes will end up looking clumpy. She also advises “gently curling your lashes” before applying mascara to get the most dramatic results. Another application trick comes from deBen, who suggests using a slanted eyeliner brush to apply mascara at the roots of your eyelashes. “It gives the appearance of very full lashes and is a very sleek, minimal way to line the eyes,” she explains.
Best “clean” mascara
Volumizing, lengthening | Clean, vegan, and cruelty-free | Washable and waterproof formulas | Tapered nylon brush with full, fluffy bristles
Milk Makeup’s cruelty-free Kush mascara is also vegan, gluten free, and formulated without parabens, fragrance, sulfates, and silicones. And it works: “When I want something that adds volume and length quickly, I use Milk Makeup Kush mascara,” says Peña. “One coat is a huge difference, but when you add several coats, this mascara gives a faux-lash effect” because the formula’s heart-shaped fibers adhere to your natural lashes to give added length and density. The mascara is infused with hemp-derived cannabis-seed oil to help condition lashes and prevent fallout and breakage. Viera-Newton reaches for this mascara to complete her glam night-on-the-town looks, saying it makes her lashes look “look really big and fluffy.”
Best (less expensive) “clean” mascara
Volumizing, defining | Clean and cruelty-free | Washable and waterproof formulas | Silicone brush with evenly spaced bristles
For a clean, cruelty-free product that still delivers on volume, try Covergirl’s Lash Blast Clean Volume Mascara. Covergirl is certified by Cruelty Free International, meaning none of its products are tested on animals. It’s also formulated without parabens, sulfates, talc, or mineral oil. According to Slunjski, “this mascara is the closest you’ll get to lash extensions without the actual extensions.” Because the silicone brush has bristles that are on the shorter side, it separates the lashes nicely with little smudging. Makeup artist Amanda Christan Burran also swears by it because it “doesn’t dry out” and “goes on really well” even with multiple coats, which means you can build it up without it looking thick or clumpy.
Best mascara for sensitive eyes
Lifting, lengthening | Clean | Washable | Silicone brush with asymmetrical bristles
Makeup artist Sandy Ganzer describes Ilia’s Limitless Lash mascara as “a great mascara for people with sensitivities” because it’s clean and its gentle formula includes conditioning beeswax and nourishing shea butter. “It’s buildable and fabulous for lengthening short lashes,” she says. While some “clean-beauty mascaras have a bad rap for smudging easier than others,” Ganzer adds, “this one does a great job at staying put.” Zdunowski-Roeder is another fan of this mascara, especially for its nonirritating formula (although, she recommends it specifically for those with longer lashes). Zdunowski-Roeder appreciates the wand in particular with its two sides — one for volumizing and curling and the other for lengthening and separating. It’s a mascara that will create “a gorgeous lash that will definitely get you compliments,” she says.
Best (less expensive) mascara for sensitive eyes
Volumizing, lengthening | Clean, organic formula | Water-resistant | Tapered plastic brush with soft bristles
Burran loves (and personally uses) this hypoallergenic mascara from Physicians Formula that contains no synthetic preservatives, parabens, fibers, or dyes. She describes it as “super-affordable, buildable, nontoxic, non-clumping, and extremely easy to take off.” Burran also says she always instructs clients to use the tip of the brush when applying mascara to the base of the lashes, which will help give them an even better lift. “I always focus on lifting the outer lashes to give you that really doe-eyed look.”
Best dramatic mascara
Volumizing, curling | Washable and waterproof formulas | Hourglass nylon brush with full, fluffy bristles
“This one has all the elements needed to get lashes thick, long, and separated,” promises Shackleton. The formula is designed to be buildable, but, unlike other mascaras, it doesn’t clump as you add additional coats, she says. Because of the hourglass-shaped brush, you can use different parts of the wand to really coat your lashes with plenty of product.
Best (less expensive) dramatic mascara
Volumizing, lengthening, thickening | Washable | Curved brush with nylon bristles
Maybelline’s Lash Sensational mascara comes with a curved brush that features ten layers of bristles to help lift and separate your lashes for a dramatic, fanned out effect. Makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff loves this mascara “because it delivers full volume and limitless length” without any smudging or flaking, she told us. Sheriff suggests going for the Blackest Black shade, which is even darker than regular Black, since “the darker the mascara, the more rich, full, and long lashes will look.”
Best conditioning mascara
Volumizing, thickening | Vegan and cruelty-free | Washable | Hourglass nylon brush with full, fluffy bristles
According to Powell, this Grande Cosmetics mascara “is infused with castor oil, which helps condition the lashes and can promote growth.” She adds that it creates “fluffy, voluminous lashes” that “always look full and healthy” and feel soft.
Best (less expensive) conditioning mascara
Lifting, lengthening | Clean, vegan, and cruelty-free | Water-resistant | Silicone brush with convertible bristles
This mascara doubles as a nourishing lash serum thanks to ingredients like vitamin B, coconut, and kelp. Makeup artist T. Cooper recommends it, noting that the mascara’s formula isn’t its only innovative quality. “My favorite feature of this mascara is the applicator,” she tells us: It can “expand or condense depending on whether you choose to use it for length or volume.”
Best waterproof mascara
Curling, lengthening | Waterproof | Curved nylon brush with evenly spaced bristles
Strategist contributor Risa Needleman raved about this budgeproof Japanese mascara back in 2017: “It’s impossible to remove … you can take an actual swim, or sweat your face off at the gym, or get caught in a torrential rainstorm and emerge with your eyes totally intact.” Such claims sounded too good to be true, so I ordered a tube and then stepped into the shower wearing it, expecting it to at least run a little bit, and … nothing. This mascara was cemented onto my lashes like superglue — even rubbing at it with my fingers was futile. Only after multiple applications of an oil-based makeup remover (I used Farmacy’s Green Clean cleansing balm), plus three more rounds of face wash, did it finally start to slough off. I wouldn’t recommend this mascara for everyday wear — the vigorous removal process may cause lash loss over time — but if you’re planning to get married during a hurricane, the Heroine mascara is your best bet.
Best (less expensive) waterproof mascara
Volumizing, thickening | Waterproof | Nylon brush with soft, evenly spaced bristles
Both Shackleton and Amy Marie Wilson say this mascara from L’Oréal is the most dependable waterproof option in their kits. “I use it on everyone when there’s even a remote possibility of tears,” like at weddings, says Shackleton. Burran adds that because waterproof mascaras have a tendency to be drier — not to mention tougher to take off — it’s best to use them only for special events or nights out. Wilson says the mascara is “inexpensive, lasts all day, and doesn’t transfer.”
Best colorful mascara
Lengthening, thickening | Washable and waterproof formulas | Conic nylon brush with jumbo bristles
Many of the mascaras on this list come in shades of black and brown. But if you’re looking for a mascara that’s a little more out-of-the-box, both Slunjski and Peña recommend Dior’s Diorshow mascara in a deep, rich indigo blue, which Peña calls an “iconic formula.” Slunjski has noticed that some colorful mascaras will lose their bright tint once they’ve dried down, but Dior doesn’t skimp when adding pigment to their formula, resulting in a great color payoff, she says. Burran is also a fan of the Diorshow’s “gorgeous” color, adding, “When someone walks up with that blue on, you notice it for sure.”
Best (less expensive) colorful mascara
Volumizing, lengthening | Washable | Triangular nylon brush with asymmetrical bristles
Or perhaps you want to try a creative makeup look with a more affordable mascara before splurging on a pricier option. For a more budget-friendly colorful mascara, Dennis loves Kiko Milano’s Smart Colour line, which she has used on editorial shoots and clients for special events. The mascara does “a nice job of depositing color on the lashes without having to put a base underneath,” she explains. It’s available in eight colors: metallic purple, warm brown, metallic burgundy, electric blue, pearly anthracite, navy blue, jungle green, and black.
Best mascara primer
Thickening, conditioning | Washable | Plastic brush with spaced-out bristles
As noted above, mascara primer isn’t always necessary, especially if you’re going for a natural look. But if you want to give your lashes some extra oomph or need your mascara to last a long day, a priming coat can make a huge difference. This primer has been a “much-loved staple” in Shackleton’s makeup kit, so much so that she can’t imagine herself working without it. “The fibers lock onto lashes and create an almost false-lash look when combined with mascara,” Shackleton says. “Since every client I have ever worked with wants bigger, lusher lashes, it’s my trick to create a false-lash look without the added strips and glue that a lot of people shy away from.” This primer is best for those who want “a falsie look without the weight and feel of traditional strip lashes,” she adds.
Best (less expensive) mascara primer
Thickening, conditioning | Cruelty-free | Washable | Plastic brush with spiky bristles
For a less expensive option, Slunjski likes CoverGirl’s primer for how it “builds your lashes up.” Even if your lashes aren’t the thickest or longest, this primer will help “create an ‘artificial’ lash or a fake lash look” as a base to build upon, she says.
• Lauren Aiello, makeup artist
• Amanda Christan Burran, makeup artist
• Porsche Cooper, makeup artist
• T. Cooper, makeup artist
• Jessica deBen, makeup artist
• Margina Dennis, makeup artist
• Sandy Ganzer, makeup artist
• Anabelle LaGuardia, makeup artist
• Lori Leib, creative director of Bodyography
• Dillon Peña, makeup artist
• Jill Powell, makeup artist
• Clara Rae, makeup artist
• Amanda Shackleton, makeup artist
• Ashunta Sheriff, makeup artist
• Kornelija Slunjski, makeup artist
• Amy Marie Wilson, makeup artist
• Amy Zdunowski-Roeder, makeup artist
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