Most women probably agree that a good mascara is absolutely essential to any beauty routine. Or at least that’s what makeup companies think, if the sheer and utterly confusing amount of mascaras on the market is any indication. There are volumizing, thickening and lengthening formulas; bristle, plastic, curved, and straight wands; ones that declump, ones that purportedly help your lashes grow longer–there are even mascaras that vibrate. But with so many options on the table, how does one even begin to choose the right mascara for herself?
To add even more confusion to the matter, pop culture and high fashion are sort of at odds over the issue of lashes lately. While there are celebs (hi, Kim Kardashian) who won’t leave the house without three sets of falsies per eye, New York designers took a decidedly bare approach to lashes on the fall 2013 runways (documented nicely by Into the Gloss here). We think the majority of women probably want something in between Kardashian mega-lashes and minimalist runway lashes.
So how do you choose a mascara that’s natural yet provides some drama when you want to go there? We decided to ask some experts to help us demystify mascara. They helped us decode everything from brush shape to how to apply it. A review of the 15 latest and greatest mascaras on the market follows.
• What matters more: formula or wand?
Both are equally as important. Debra Coleman Nally, the director for research and innovation for Maybelline New York, told us, “Mascaras are a marriage of formula and applicator. Brush shape impacts delivery of the formula to the lash, and enables the consumer to reach the smallest lash and to be convenient and easy to use.” There are two types of wands now: the traditional bristle brushes and the more modern molded brushes. Neither one is necessarily “better.” L’Oréal Paris Consulting Makeup Artist Billy B. (yes, the one on Project Runway) recommends trying several to get a feel for which one delivers the best result.
• Brush shape: “Just like hair brushes, different brushes are designed to provide a different styling effect,” Nally said. “For mascaras that may mean ‘full charge volume’ or ‘highly defined lashes’.” Mascaras that claim to be curling often have curved brushes, and lengthening brushes tend to be straight and narrow with more widely spaced, almost comb-like bristles. For volume, look for thicker brushes with denser bristles. In general, brushes with shorter bristles are easier to control.
• Application tricks:
“Curl the lashes really well, then apply mascara starting from the roots of the top lashes, moving the wand first side to side then upwards toward the end of the lashes,” Chanel celebrity makeup artist, Fulvia Farolfi, recommends. “For an even application, put the wand in the mascara tube again before doing the second eye.” Billy B. agrees that curling should be the first step. “Then apply a conservative amount of mascara and let it dry completely before applying another coat,” he told us. Use as many coats as you feel comfortable with.
• Speaking of curling, do curling mascaras really work?
Not really. “You just have to manage your expectations about ‘curling’ mascara–it realistically can’t do the same things that a curling apparatus can,” Billy B. said. But it can help your pre-curled lashes retain a curl better, according to Farolfi.
• Bottom lash mascara–yes or no?
“Yes, always!…It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it makes the eyes look bigger,” Farolfi said. But use caution if you’re a bit older. “I think for women of a certain age, keeping mascara to your top lashes only can have a very lifting effect,” Billy B. said. You should also remember that a lot of brushes will potentially deposit too much product to bottom lashes, so use a light touch. (Fun fact: Clinique makes a bottom lash-only mascara if you really like specialized products.)
• What about flaking?
The bane of every mascara wearer’s existence is the dreaded flake. Farolfi told us that if your mascara is flaking, it’s time to get a new one–it means it’s too old. It could also mean that you’re using the wrong formula for what you’re trying to achieve. Billy B. said, “[Flaking] tends to happen when you over-apply a thin formula mascara trying to build volume, rather than using a smaller amount of a volume-building formula.”
So now that you know everything about mascara, allow us to help you choose one. Click through to see reviews for 15 different mascaras. (We stuck to standard formulas–no tube-forming or fiber-adding formulas here, just the basics.)