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While there are plenty of makeup products worthy of a splurge, I’ll never shell out the big bucks on mascara. In my experience, drugstore mascaras far outperform their luxury counterparts, offering dramatic volume, sky-high lengthening, smudge-proof pigment and a bit of lift for a fraction of the cost. Plus, some formulations even include nourishing ingredients that help strengthen lashes.
Drugstore brands are constantly discovering innovative ways to enhance their cosmetic offerings, and over the past year, a surge of new mascara formulations have hit the shelves. They all have a common objective of creating eye-opening flirty fringe, although there are some trends that a few of these fresh mascaras are capitalizing on.
Colored options are becoming the norm, with brown and blue beginning to emerge as an alternative to classic black. Additionally, consumers have been reevaluating what’s actually inside the products they use and making conscious efforts to select clean formulas. I found that the newest mascaras contain a laundry list of good-for-you ingredients, and plenty also secured vegan and cruelty-free certifications.
I took it upon myself to test 10 new drugstore mascaras that launched in the past year to uncover the best formulations for volumizing, lengthening and lifting. I wore each at least two times to see how they held up against busy days, sweat and inclement weather. Whether you’re searching for a new go-to mascara that will provide a false lash-level effect or prefer a more natural look, any of these picks will amplify your natural lashes without breaking the bank.
L'Oréal Voluminous Panorama Washable Mascara
In a perfect world, all my lashes would be the same precise length. In reality, I have a few sparse areas, and even though some of the hairs naturally extend up to my eyebrows, others are puny and lagging behind. It’s extremely annoying (despite the fact that no one else notices). Yet, somehow, this new mascara miraculously makes my fringe appear completely uniform — and I can’t get enough.
The magic is in the cone-shaped multilevel bristle brush. I found it to be the ideal shape for grabbing each individual lash — from corner to corner — and coating them with the volumizing formula. The first time I wore it I couldn’t stop staring at my lashes: They looked incredible! And overall, the eye-opening effect they provided made me look more awake, even if I tossed and turned all night.
The long-wear mascara also doesn’t budge until it’s ready to come off, making it a fitting choice for me and my busy lifestyle. It survived through multiple 12+ hour days, and my eyelashes still looked pristine when it was time to remove my makeup. Out of all the drugstore mascaras I tested for this story, this is the one I continuously find myself reaching for on a daily basis. New favorite: unlocked.
Maybelline The Falsies Surreal Extensions Mascara
As far as drugstore mascaras go, Maybelline consistently unveils formulas that take lashes to new extremes. As someone who prefers my lashes to have a dramatic, fanned-out effect on the daily, I regularly find myself falling back to my roster of Maybelline mascaras to provide those results.
The brand’s newest launch, The Falsies Surreal Extensions, promises to enhance length by 36% and boost volume tenfold. (Some major claims if you ask me!) This is possible, thanks to the formula and brush duo: The former is filled with fibers of varying lengths that quickly adhere to and build upon lashes. Then, the extended helix brush — which features long, twisted bristles — helps to disperse the fibers onto individual lashes from every angle.
I found that this formula-brush combination made for a va-va-voom effect after one coat, while two coats created a true false-eyelashes effect — not over-the-top bushy lashes, though. The end result resembled a pair of tasteful wispies. I did experience minor flaking after 12 hours of wear, but overall, Maybelline unsurprisingly knocked it out of the park with this mascara, and I totally understand how it has garnered over 347 million views on TikTok.
e.l.f. Lash Xtndr Mascara
Tubing mascaras are my favorite. Aside from dramatically lengthening lashes by wrapping them in little tubes that extend far past their natural length, these formulas require minimal effort to remove at the end of the night (no accidentally pulling out any lashes here!). As far as drugstore options go, e.l.f. really set the standard with its Lash Xtndr.
Everything about this mascara creates the perfect recipe for extra-long, defined eyelashes. The tapered silicone brush with short, spiked bristles acts as the ideal vehicle for grabbing and coating each individual lash. Personally, I prefer this wand style over most others because the lack of bushy bristles prevents accidental application smudges and makes for the most streamlined swipe.
Now, it’s important to read the directions: Normally, I’d add coats from root to tip, but the box explicitly states to layer this only along the tips before it dries. I did as it said, and it was as if my lashes magically grew. Even though they didn’t quite reach my eyebrows, the results were striking enough for this mascara to earn a permanent spot in my vanity.
Wet n Wild So Defined Volumizing and Defining Mascara
I hate to admit that this new mascara is the first product I’ve ever tried from the Wet n Wild … but it is. And after witnessing the way it strikingly defined my lashes, I really need to try other formulas from the affordable brand. Because my lashes naturally grow downward, I immediately gravitated toward the scooped brush because it provides an instant lifted effect sans eyelash curler. This shape paired with the plastic bristles makes for a genius combination that effortlessly combed the volumizing formula through my lashes, dispersing clumps before they appeared and succinctly coating each lash for an even, defined look.
The lashes on my left eye aren’t as uniform as my right eye — I have some sparse areas with shorter hairs (nothing to worry about, they’re just on a different growth cycle). Despite this, So Defined made every last lash look even and long so my fringe looked consistent across both eyes. Most high-end mascaras can’t do this, so I was especially happy with the result. Plus, because it’s infused with castor oil, it will help condition the tinier hairs so they can grow stronger.
The one minor inconvenience I experienced was a bit of flakiness after about six hours. I easily wiped away the minor flakes that accumulated under my eyes. Aside from that, the formula is pretty much near perfect, especially for those who want to pump up the drama.
CoverGirl Lash Blast Cleantopia Ultramarine Mascara
Colorful mascaras — I’m talking bold hues like electric blue, pink and green — are having a major moment. While fun, I find it a bit intimidating to wear a bright color on my lashes on any old day. That’s where CoverGirl comes in. The drugstore brand introduced a navy shade to their Cleantopia mascara that allows anyone to ease into the trend.
Surprisingly enough, the dark-blue tint looked like my regular black mascara color once applied. The difference is so minor that someone would have to get really close to notice that it’s actually navy. That said, I did notice the brightening benefits of the blue hue: It helped me look more wide-eyed and awake, which I greatly appreciate considering my sleep schedule has been so out of whack lately.
Aside from the color, the clean formula also impressed me. It was really refreshing to read the ingredients and be familiar with almost everything on the list. Cleantopia contains cellulose plant fibers to boost volume, as well as aloe leaf extract, ceramides and maracuja oil to condition lashes. Along with the plant-powered formula, the hourglass-shaped fluffy brush made it easy to grab shorter lashes near my inner corners to get an even coat across the board.
This doesn’t produce the falsie-level lashes that I usually prefer (I’ve yet to find a “clean” mascara to achieve this), but I am a fan and think it’s a solid choice for everyday makeup when you’re looking to subtly enhance your natural features.
Neutrogena Healthy Definition Mascara
I’m gonna be completely honest, I typically don’t like mascaras made by skin care brands. It’s not that there’s ever anything inherently bad about these formulas; they just typically create a very soft, natural effect, which, as I stated above, is the exact opposite of how I prefer my lashes to be (long, dark, dramatic).
However, Neutrogena’s Healthy Definition Mascara surprised me and proves that skin care-centric brands can carve their own space in makeup lovers’ worlds. This mascara added length, lift, volume and definition to my lashes in just a few swipes, taking them to new heights and giving me the eye-opening effect I was after. I attribute the striking results to the dual-sided brush. One side is scattered with shorter plastic bristles that lengthen with each pass. Flip it over to find longer bristles which comb the formula through the lashes and seamlessly separate them for clump-free, volumized fringe.
It’s important to follow the directions — starting with the short bristles for the first coat, then flipping over to the long side for the second — to really amplify lashes. Beyond the brush, I value that Neutrogena took the time to ensure the panthenol-infused formula was ophthalmologist-tested and safe for sensitive eyes and contact wearers.
Black Radiance Eye Appeal Length and Volume Mascara
In my opinion, mascara formulas need to have a certain consistency to perform to the best of their abilities. They shouldn’t be too watery or clumpy, and as Goldilocks would say, they need to be “just right.” I’ll admit, I had my apprehensions when I first opened my tube of Black Radiance Eye Appeal. This mascara is extremely thick and forms visible clumps on the brush. I figured it would do the same to my lashes, but that couldn’t have been further from reality.
The formula’s thickness translated to luscious, volumized lashes once applied. I was really surprised by how much fuller my fringe looked after one coat. The slender rubber brush expertly combed the mascara through each lash, making them look thicker and filling in sparse spots without leaving unsightly clumps in its wake. While this shines at volumizing lashes, it lacks at lengthening: My eyelashes are naturally pretty long, and I didn’t see much difference after a few coats. Just something to keep in mind if your main goal is to elongate your lashes.
Well People Expressionist Lengthening Mascara
The latest addition to Well People’s Expressionist mascara line, this clean formula is designed to simultaneously condition and lengthen lashes. Contrary to the other mascaras from the brand that feature big bushy wands, this one has a molded silicone brush with precise bristles that swipe the nourishing formula from root to tip. While large wands have their time and place, I almost always prefer brushes like this. Not only because of the uncanny lengthening ability but because the slim shape prevents any mishaps from happening (read: smudging mascara on my eyelids), which occurs all too often with my hooded eyes.
I loved how this delivered eye-opening length and a touch of volume, which impressed me considering the clean formula. (In my experience, clean formulas usually deliver more natural-looking results.) I also appreciated that my lashes didn’t feel or look crunchy; this was probably due to the inclusion of nourishing jojoba oil and rice bran, ingredients that are said to help strengthen and grow natural lashes. I will say this was a bit difficult to remove at the end of the night, but overall, this is a solid mascara for those who are conscious about what they put near their eyes.
Essence Lash Princess False Lash Effect Mascara in Black Brown
Essence’s iconic Lash Princess just came out in a new color — Black Brown, a rich chocolate — for those who want to dramatically magnify their lashes yet maintain a natural look. I had my doubts that a $5 mascara could live up to the hype, but I confess I understand why people love this so much (and it actually turned me into a brown mascara believer).
One swipe is enough to notice a change. My fringe looked fuller, longer and healthier. The color was also a welcome change from the pitch-black mascaras I usually wear. I found that the brown softened the overall eye look and unexpectedly brought out the green flecks in my eyes. With this year’s makeup trends leaning more natural and soft, I think this is a welcome addition to any makeup bag — and honestly, you really can’t beat that price.
Rimmel London Wonder'Volume Thrill Seeker Mascara
Volumizing mascara walks a fine line between plumping lashes and making them look clumpy. If you want to densify your fringe without the look of individually thick hairs, this is the mascara for you. The hourglass shaped brush is covered in spindly bristles that gently work the whipped formula through lashes, enhancing volume and creating a weightless, natural-looking wispy effect. I typically like a plumped-but-not-clumped look, although this was a lovely change that gave me dramatic results more appropriate for everyday wear — say to the office or out to lunch.
I was also impressed with how it held up after a misty NYC day. I experienced slight smudging under my eyes, but for the most part, my lashes still looked fresh through the unfortunate rain and humidity.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed price at the time of publication.
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