Finding the best cheap mascara is one of the great fashion quests, right up there along with the search for the perfect white shirt or pair of jeans. Advice and advertisements abound, as do product options. There are mascaras that lengthen and mascaras that "volumize." There are waterproof formulas, clear formulas, mascaras with vibrating brushes and others that make lashes look false. When it comes to mascara, you can set your price limit at $10 without giving up selection or results.
Cheap Mascara Buying Guide
The vast majority of department store or designer brands, which cost anywhere from $25 to $75, offer no better product or performance than many cheaper drugstore mascara brands. In fact, experts often recommend scrimping when it comes to mascara, because the product has a typical shelf life of only three months once it's been opened. All that opening and closing of the tube exposes the mascara to the air and to normally circulating bacteria, and the wet consistency dries out and breeds infection.
Major cosmetic brands L'Oreal, Maybelline, and CoverGirl top our list of excellent, cheap mascaras, and one department-store brand managed to meet our price limit. Our top picks are L'Oreal Voluminous Butterfly (starting at $7) and Clinique Bottom Lash (starting at $10). We also like Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies Big Eyes (starting at $5) and Cover Girl Professional All-In-One Curved Brush mascara (starting at $5). Wet n Wild Mega Plump (starting at $4) is one product we suggest consumers pass on.
Some of the mascaras we researched, including L'Oreal Voluminous Butterfly and Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies Big Eyes, are available in both waterproof and water-soluble/washable formulas. Consider the activities you participate in, as well as your make-up routine, before purchasing a waterproof formula. You'll need eye makeup remover to wipe it away at the end of the day; using just water -- or even soap and water -- requires excessive rubbing of the delicate skin around your eyes, potentially breaking lashes and causing irritation.
No matter which mascara you buy, follow necessary precautions to limit the chance of eye infections and other problems. Never share your mascara with anyone, because doing so can spread bacteria that may result in pink eye, sties, and other ailments. Pay attention to the condition of the mascara and the wand. Has the mascara changed color? Do you detect a change in how it smells? Is it clumping more than it did originally? Is it hard to get out of the container? Is the brush showing signs of wear? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," it's time to buy a new tube.
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What We Looked For: Types of Mascara
Lengthening Mascara.People with short lashes may feel they've gotten the short end of the stick, but there is an upside. Short lashes are usually pretty thick, and with thick lashes you get great definition around the eye without having to resort to eyeliner. Experts say to look for a mascara with a comb-like wand designed to separate, define, and lengthen lashes without clumping. L'Oreal Voluminous Butterfly Mascara has a wing-tipped brush to add extra length to those tiny lashes at the inner and outer corners of the eye. Clinique Bottom Lash also lengthens short lashes -- both top and bottom, according to user reviews.
Volumizing Mascara.Thickening or "volumizing" mascara provides extra structure and amplitude to each individual lash. You'll want to look for a large brush with thick, dense bristles, designed to add a good amount of product to your lashes. Maybelline's Volum' Express The Falsies Big Eyes mascara is equipped with dual brushes: a larger brush for the upper lashes, which features dense bristles, and a smaller brush with short, thick bristles to add fullness to bottom lashes. Clinique Bottom Lash is another mascara to consider if you want to add extra oomph to stubby lashes. The short wand is designed especially for those little lashes that regular mascara wands have trouble reaching. Reviews on the Sephora website report that the product really catches and coats bottom lashes for a fuller look.
Curling Mascara.Long, thick lashes are what advertisements suggest we all need and want. But if your lashes are already long and thick, they might need a bit of a curl to keep them from angling down. In that case, try a curling mascara that's formulated to firm lashes and hold them up. The brush on this type of mascara is usually curved to help shape and lift lashes. The Cover Girl Professional All-In-One mascara on our list has a curved brush that is supposed to reach even the tiniest top lashes, such as the ones on the inner corner of the eye. Cover Girl recommends using this mascara with an eyelash curler to get the most eye-opening effect. In general, any mascara will work to its maximum effect when used in conjunction with an eyelash curler. On super-straight lashes, the curler bends the lashes and a curling mascara helps hold them in place.
We analyzed mascara reviews by consumers, beauty bloggers, and other experts on retail and beauty websites such as Makeup Alley, Allure.com, and Target.com to determine which mascaras do what they claim to do, whether it be lengthening, volumizing, curling, or all of the above. Staying power and ease of application and removal were also critical in deciding what constitutes an excellent, good, or ineffective mascara. Reviewers look for mascara that goes on smoothly, lasts all day, and provides the perfect amount of length, volume, and definition.
Overall Effectiveness.Online reviews slam mascaras that don't make a noticeable difference, leave clumps, or make lashes stick together. An effective mascara creates long, plush, defined lashes. Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies Big Eyes (starting at $5) really opens up the eyes and makes them pop, according to reviews. Clinique Bottom Lash (starting at $10) seems to live up to its promise of enhancing bottom lashes, and many reviewers say it goes beyond that mandate to provide precise coverage for upper lashes, as well. On the other hand, users of Wet n Wild Mega Plump (starting at $4) claim the mascara makes lashes look anything but ample. One reviewer posting on the retail site Makeup Alley had to put on five coats to see even a minimal difference in her lashes.
Easy Application and Removal.A minute or two applying mascara is more than enough time to spend, which means you shouldn't have to deal with removing too much excess formula from the brush or getting clumps out of your lashes. Likewise, you shouldn't have to scrub to get the mascara off at the end of the day, pulling out lashes and leaving eyes irritated in the process.Proper technique does play a role in clean application. A PopSugar beauty reporter demonstrates ways to prevent clumping and help define your lashes. Tips include wiggling the wand upward from the base of the lashes and even holding the wand vertically to apply mascara to individual lashes. That said, reviews identify mascaras with well-designed wands and formulas that go on smooth and clump-free.
Reviewers have high praise for the small brushes that come with Clinique Bottom Lash and Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies Big Eyes, which has separate applicators for upper and lower lashes. The Clinique wand manages to grab little lashes and coat them without smearing, reviewers say, which is especially important for under the eye to avoid the raccoon effect.
Some reviews of Cover Girl Professional All-In-One Curved Brush mascara (starting at $5) attribute its easy application to the curved design of the brush. This product enjoys a better reputation among online reviewers than the regular Professional All-In-One mascara with a straight brush. Users have found that L'Oreal Voluminous Butterfly (starting at $7) also goes on evenly and doesn't create any clumps. Conversely, users of Wet n Wild Mega Plump seem to notice more clumping than plumping. On Makeup Alley, reviewers are in broad agreement that the formula is rather dry compared with the consistency of most mascaras, making it hard to apply the product.
Experts warn not to leave mascara on overnight, because you risk allowing dried mascara flakes to get trapped under your closed eyelids and cause infection. At a minimum, you are likely to wake up with puffy, irritated eyes. Whether your mascara is waterproof or water soluble, it should be easy to remove with a basic eye-makeup remover. We saw a few complaints here and there about a product being difficult to take off, but reviewers seem more concerned with how well mascara stays on.