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Meet the New Multi-Step Mascara Regimen

Beauty companies are extolling the virtues of mascara add-ons, including primers and topcoats.
A model backstage at Berlin Fashion Week. Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images 

A model backstage at Berlin Fashion Week. Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images 

It's no secret that makeup has become very specialized lately, and with specialization comes multiple steps. People think nothing of using six products to contour or slathering on 12 products in a Korean-inspired skin care regimen. Now this "more is more" philosophy is moving up to the eyes, and more specifically, to lashes.

It all started with Latisse, the prescription eyelash growth promoter that launched in 2009, and subsequently inspired a thousand over-the-counter copycat serums. Not coincidentally, that’s about the same time the Kardashians, in all their false-lash-wearing glory, got really popular. According to Karen Grant, beauty analyst at NPD Group, mascara is the number one product used by women across makeup categories, and is number three in sales for prestige brands, behind foundation and lip color. Bottom line: women want nice lashes.

Mascara does a really good job of enhancing lashes, but it’s far from perfect, as evidenced by the endless number of formula and brush combinations that currently exist. It was only a matter of time before adjunct products popped up to fill the perceived void. Eyelash primers, which are applied as a base layer pre-mascara, emerged shortly after eye shadow primers got really popular, according to Grant, and they’ve been around for a few years now. A rep for the product development team at Fiberwig, a popular Japanese mascara brand, wrote by email, “Depending on the product, it may be necessary to use multiple products in your application routine. This has been a common practice in Japan for years.”

Clinique and Lancome both offer popular versions of lash primers. Urban Decay had one and discontinued it, but the company has since re-released a newly formulated version called Subversion Lash Primer due to popular demand, according to founder Wende Zomnir. The company calls it “foreplay for your lashes.” It adds weight to your lashes and conditions them.

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Makeup artists swear by primers, and I’ve become a convert too. Nick Barose, Lupita N’yongo’s makeup artist, wrote in an email that he uses them to enhance volume. Marni Burton, a celebrity makeup artist, calls it a “regular” step in her usual application process, and she recommends that you use one if your mascara is more drying. Generally, primers coat and soften and help the mascara stick better. I’ve been rotating a few different brands and I’ve noticed that my lashes are softer and more supple throughout the day. By day's end, my lashes no longer feel like they're so stiff and brittle they might actually crack off.

The newest innovations in mascara currently, though, involve products that you use after mascara application. Beauty categories often borrow ideas from each other (see: skincare principles applied to haircare), and mascara seems to be borrowing from nail polish in this case, in the form of so-called mascara top coats. Anastasia, the brand that Grant says helped catapult the brow category into the stratosphere, has been dabbling in other eye products, one of which is a clear waterproof topcoat. It claims to “refresh” your mascara as well as make it waterproof. Affordable brands Nyx and Elf also offer waterproof top coats, as does Bare Minerals.

Urban Decay also just launched a really unique product called Resurrection, which you use to refresh and de-clump your mascara throughout the day. “The one thing I’ve always hated about touching up my makeup before a night out is that I couldn’t refresh my mascara,” Zomnir says. “With Mascara Resurrection, this clear serum brings your mascara back to life so you can keep piling it on. I also use it as a ‘liquid lash comb’ if I need more lash definition.”

Aesthetic top coats, meaning products that add some pizzazz to regular mascara, are also getting some play, but it’s too soon to know whether they’ll take off. Eva Mendes’s new cosmetic line, Circa, which is carried at Walgreens, features a double-ended mascara with a bronzey, subtly shimmering topcoat. I was skeptical, but it makes your eyes shine without looking like you’re at a rave. (Benefit and Milani used to have over-the-top sparkly mascara top coat products, but they’re no longer available.)

Right now, these extra mascara products are a micro-trend, but the NPD’s Grant says that in the beauty industry now, micro-trends are important to watch. “While it’s not yet a mover in our market, I don’t necessarily think that means it should be discounted as something that is unimportant,” she says. “When a brand like Urban Decay, which has really honed its reputation as an eye expert, [promotes new products like this], they literally can help to create a whole new dimension to something that people didn’t think about.” Zomnir certainly feels like women are ready for multi-step mascara regimens. “Beauty customers will do multi-step regimens, and the trend is going to continue,” she says. “If the regimen works and she knows how to recreate the effect, she won’t mind taking the time to get a great result.”

Here are some vetted mascara add-ons to try: