There’s something incredibly illuminating about mascara for even the dullest of WFH days. The piece-de-resistance akin to a blotted red lip or delightfully natural flush – effortless and elevating in equal measure. Amidst the masked-mayhem, eyes that peer and peep in stellar fashion are ever more important. Lashes come in all lengths, directions and hues – so too do the mascaras that coat our fine whispies. You’d be forgiven for getting lost amongst the woods of wand options and synonyms for the color black when looking for your go-to. (A New York Times crossword puzzle dream really.)
Enter this sensitive-eyed writer with a penchant for making my blues pop all but out of their socket. Where I’d once over-lined, I now shimmy my brush from the outside in, loading up on coats for eyelashes as I do Heattech for my torso. Thinking I wanted a lifted but nary a trace of enhancement look, I searched for the blandest of brushes. A straight across, no-flex and no-flake situation that would deposit a switch-your-phone-to-silent whisper of color. And far too often – momentarily forgetting my empathetic eyes – I’d leave mascara as the final touch. A mere scrape before turning out the door. Instead, as if whalloped by several Sally Rooney novels, my eyes leaked persistently, washing away my otherwise hard-blended work.
Needless to type, my criteria for mascara has since shifted. Comfort is key, lash enhancement long-term is paramount and as little flambéing the edges of my retina as possible is preferred. To save you from such peril too, here’s the lash lowdown.
On Coats and Curl
Michele Holmes, a brow and lash wunderkind with her own studio in San Francisco has tended all types, “We see it all; long, short, curly with different densities just like the hair on your head. The most flattering hair patterns are the ones you are born with because they generally follow the shape of your eyelids. Say dark or thicker lashes don’t necessarily need tinting or mascara, but it can be extra-flattering with a lash lift to open the eyes and make them appear bigger.”
The directionally challenged know the mood-boosting switch that is a lash curler day to day and a lash lift offers that woke-up-like-this freshness only organic OJ could mirror. (If you’re a perpetual curler, Shu Uemera’s is top tier.)
For thicker lashes with the lash lift or curl, follow then with a mascara that distributes color with care and you’ll be subtle and set. Michele recommends length over volume and a smaller wand “I love this new lash tint mascara from Surratt. The Japanese-made metal “brush” is truly an anomaly with an almost screw-like head… a few swipes to get used to it, but it doesn’t over deposit and ZERO flakes.”
A tint made for the adventurous with 20/20 vision but not for the perilously short-sighted – the barely-a-brush catches even the finest of hairs and coats without smudge. A shape reminiscent of the original eye-shading wand – Mascara-Magic launched in 1957 – it’s novel not novelty, delivering on even distribution. And with a steady hand and contacts, it’s precision warrants the praise.
For the less density-blessed, slender or otherwise sparse, Michele reaches for, “A thickening or volumizing mascara with a bigger and dense bristled brush. The result is more of a 3D lash building effect. I love this Westman Atelier 95% natural mascara. The formula blends volume building properties with natural ingredients that thicken and condition your lashes simultaneously.”
Chief educator of clean beauty haven Credo Joshua Pierce agrees, “It has a nice big brush that allows a lot of mascara to hit the lash while still keeping them defined. My sister and mom LOVE it.” His personal favorite though? “The Vapour Mesmerize Mascara. I love how hydrating it is. I like the volume and separation. Plus it doesn’t crumble or transfer on me.”
A formula bountiful in conditioning, jojoba oil meets amino acids and natural waxes to treat it as it colors. Bonus points for ease of removal with an oil cleanser in hand, not a raccoon-rimmed eye in sight.
Goopy never, unless Gwyneth is nearby. But the battle of the clump can be ever persistent for those who enjoy a multi-layered finish. Tackling this is two-prong: artful application and product design.
“Mascara is the most difficult product to develop. Period.” says Laney Crowell, founder of Saie Beauty and creator of Mascara 101 – the most requested product from the burgeoning, lilac-tinted clean beauty crew – Saie’s FB Group community. And she just might’ve nailed it, earning comparisons to Dior Show with a smudge-free formula and clump-corralling brush. “The most important factor is that your clean formula and brush must work together perfectly. It’s kind of like dating! If your formula and brush work well together, then you’ve got the perfect marriage (or lash look)!”
The Mascara 101 finish though refined on the eye, appears generously on the curvy, spiked wand, so you can control the color to the outer corners. (As you see fit and flattering). The lift is soft in an eyes-wide-open sort of way, which I prefer for 342 of the year. Where Dior Show’s fluffier brush (think your mom’s rollers) feels breezier on the lash, this risks the product bunching for lashes that lean downwards.
For your lashes-but-better, celebrity makeup artist Grace Pae, (who’s tended to the eyes of many a superstar and knows how to dial up the doe-eyed dynamic) focuses on the root. “Concentrating most of the mascara at the root of your lashes by wiggling it, and then brushing it up the rest of your lashes with whatever’s left on the brush will help define your eye, but not make your lashes look clumpy.”
Her beloved? Pat McGrath FetishEyes for volume that demands photos. “I love that it really lengthens and thickens, but also the consistency and brush coats every lash and isn’t clumpy.” Prior to Grace’s artistic advice on working from the root, I hadn’t quite loved this formula for my eye shape. (Or skill level). The hedgehog brush was so densely packed I felt all but whisked up into a carwash. On second swipe with an MUA in my back pocket? A separating wonder that coats liberally for those who enjoy unmitigated volume.
The flake-free phenomenon that bettered many a linen cupboard, banishing panda eyes and soothing sensitive eyes. Loaded with actives that would dizzy your skincare serums, tubular is the format of the future for most.
An innovation whereby the mascara forms tube-like casings around each lash hair, adding volume and length in one Twiggy-esque swoop. Think fiber but flake-free, the tubes bind with each of your lashes for durable color that washes off with a splash of warm water. In the very same rigatoni-shapes they hold upon your eye.
For the tubular superfan (ahem, c’est moi). The Hourglass Instant Extensions is a luscious swipe of sumptuous formula that goes on as delightfully as it washes off. Tested for sensitive eyes without forgoing color, smudge or lift goals. Bonus that the golden-packaging won’t get lost in your bag for back-of-the-uber touchups.
And for those who enjoy more control over their deposit (we’re still talking mascara not foreign transfers promise) Em Cosmetics Pick Me Up marries volume and length with a brush that bends to you. A tubular lengthener that earns its jet black shade name, a true pigment powerhouse. Take it slow with this one (to avoid a nose smudge like yours truly) and you’ll be able to fan your ideal finish in moments.
The single downside to tubular – an incompatibility with lash extensions. The fiber-tubes that case each lash don’t play well with lash glue used in most extensions, and therefore it’s better to reach for a water-based mascara instead such as the ever accessible Great Lash by Maybelline or the Lancome Defincils Mascara for a fuller fan.
If you’re a tubing-foe or lash-extension savant and lean teary, the most often culprit of irritation? “Fragrance is the most common ingredient that causes sensitivity for the eyes.” adds Laney Crowell of Saie Beauty.
While mascara descriptions admittedly could be swapped to describe nightclubs or thigh-high boots, the skin-ification of makeup has seen formulas become powerhouses all of their own and the dramatic language warranted. The Amina Maudi heels of makeup multi-taskers. Color alone? Never. You’ll spot hyaluronic acid, vitamin b5, rice bran oil, shea butter, peptides and patented complexes aplenty.
The By Terry Mascara Terrbyly is one notable Alexa-Chung sort of enigma, pigment meets growth serum. I’ve been testing a travel-size so maneuverability is high, placing bottom lashes within my grasp minus the under eye remanence. In the 46 days of trialing prior to this testing bonanza, I noticed lengthier and more robust lashes. A feat that has me considering dipping into other hues no less!
On Primer and Lash Health
If you want to build the best base, look to a lash serum and your vitamin cabinet in tandem. When it comes to lash serums, there’s two types to consider: hormone or natural-based. The former requires a prescription and can work their growing best but that can cause extreme length, think Dr Seuss character depending on your growth patterns. Michele notes it might feel a bit much for most, typically she recommends over the counter serums that work slower for a natural look. (Grace adores the NeuLash serum for an are-those-falsies finish sans makeup.) Alongside a hair-focused supplement, adequate iron, protein and overall nutrition are what pull ahead in enhancing the length and quality of your hair – from scalp to lid.
Beyond the basin, priming sets the tone for a defined lash that lasts all award show or 52-errand-day-long according to Grace, “If you have sparse eyelashes, mascara primer is a MUST! It will add much more volume and thickness even before applying mascara. Even better is that most eyelash primers have conditioning benefits to your lashes, so in the process of wearing them, they’re actually helping to nourish your lashes. My favorites are Shiseido Nourishing Mascara Base and Grande Cosmetics Grande Primer Pre-Mascara Lengthener and Thickener.”
Mascaras have a shorter lifespan than most beauty selects and if you’re eager to avoid irritation, it’s best to refresh your beloved formula every 3-6 months. All the more reason to find one you love to wear and can enjoy removing, so you can finish it down to the jet black or buoyant blue bottom of the bottle.
Pumping and stirring your mascara is also a falsehood that may compromise its utility – unlike martinis sadly. Rather than juicing up your finish, it introduces extra air into the formula and that can affect how it colors or behaves once coating your eyelashes. If you’re feeling the need to pump or layer on your mascara beyond three coats it’s time to consider whether that’s the mascara made for you and your lash type. A worthy breakup in favor of a multi-tasking, does-the-dishes-without-quarrel kind of find.
And there you have it, a guide for the wand-wary and watery-eyed alike.