Mascara buying guide

Last updated: March 2013
Getting started

Getting started

Dark nail polish, body glitter, and other beauty trends come and go, but black mascara is a classic. Odds are you've had the same brand of mascara in your makeup bag for years. But if you're craving thicker and longer lashes without smudges, flakes, or clumps, check out what our mascara testers found.

We had 34 women try "lengthening" and/or "thickening" formulas (none was waterproof) to find out which mascara did the best job. All the labels on the mascaras were covered so testers wouldn't be influenced by brand names. They used each mascara for two consecutive days and rated how each one looked, how well the brush worked, how easy the mascara was to put on and remove, and how it lasted through the day. Then our statisticians and experts crunched the numbers.

The eye-opening results: You don't have to spend a lot to get a great mascara. One of our top mascaras was among the least expensive we tested. Another surprise: A top seller that gets raves in beauty magazines rated very good overall, but several panelists said it was nothing special, and some complained about clumps. One expensive brand we tested cost more than twice as much as some of our top picks, and was also in the middle of our Ratings.

Dos and don'ts of mascara

DO try different brands. We found that brushes and wands varied by brand, and testers often had strong preferences. Some, for example, liked a shorter wand; others preferred the longer ones. The shape of the brush can also make a big difference.

DON'T add liquid to mascara. Adding saliva or water can introduce bacteria to the mascara, and that can cause an eye infection.

DO protect your eyes when applying mascara. Look down when brushing your upper lashes, and raise your chin and look at the ceiling when brushing your lower lashes. And apply mascara only to the tips of your lashes. If it gets too close to the root of your lashes, it can block glands on the eyelids that help form tears, and your eyes can dry out, causing pain and even diminished vision.

DON'T pump the brush inside the tube because you might push air inside, which can dry out the mascara. Instead, pull the brush out slowly and turn it as you go. If necessary, gently scrape the brush against the inside opening of the tube to remove excess mascara.

DON'T use your eyelash curler after applying mascara. Mascara stiffens the lashes and makes them more likely to break off.

DO keep in mind that there's a learning curve when trying out a new mascara. Using a product with a different brush style can be challenging. Check a store's return policy on beauty products if you want to try a new mascara, so you can return it if you don't like it.

DON'T hang on to mascara for more than a few months. The wet, dark stuff in the tube is a potential breeding ground for infection-causing bacteria. So are those shared samples at makeup counters!


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