Makeup basics from a makeup artist: The top 10 mascaras (both new and classic)

Guest post by Tania D. Russell

Non-pro, aspiring pro, makeup journeyman, makeup novice, etc.:
We are starting a new series of posts from Tania of Makeup To Go — a makeup artist for the entertainment industries, and friend of the Empire. These posts are all about makeup: the basics, advice, and products. I, for one, am super excited, because I know NOTHING about makeup. So think of these as “Megan simple makeup” posts for folks like, well, me.
-Megan, Offbeat Home editor

By: darwinbell – CC BY 2.0
By: darwinbellCC BY 2.0

Without. A. Doubt. the number one product I am asked about is mascara. All the folks who ask about it — laypeople and fellow makeup artists alike — seem to be on the eternal quest for the perfect mascara. It’s kind of a setup of a question, however, because I also find that mascara is an intensely personal choice. So what I might look for in a mascara someone else may hate, and my “Holy Grail” mascaras might end up in someone else’s trash bin.

All I can do is offer my advice as someone who — because of my work as a makeup artist — has tried a lot of different mascara on a lot of different eyes.

Actually I don’t personally wear mascara. However, having used a lot of different products on a lot of different faces, I have some pretty concrete ideas about what I’m looking for. My criteria for The Basic Mascara are:

  1. Volume: Length can be created with just about any modern mascara with the right technique, but what I really like to add to all lashes I work with is Volume. Therefore, I tend to like thicker mascara formulations.
  2. Definition: I like to pick up every single lash. This adds to the illusion of increased volume and gives lashes that “flirty” look I like.
  3. Non-clumpy: Spider eyes — off the runway — are unattractive. I do not want the lashes sticking to one another.
  4. Long-lasting: Needless to say, having to reapply is a non-starter. Adding more if you want more is one thing, but the initial application should be able to go the distance.
  5. Finish: Like any healthy hair, lashes have a natural sheen to them. I prefer mascaras that do not dry too matte and cake-y.

Criteria established, here are some of my top mascara picks, both new and classic. Oh, and another thing: I base my assessment on the formulation, not the brush.

In no particular order, here are my top 10 best mascaras:

RMS Beauty – Mascara


This naturally derived, eco-certified brand constantly delivers. If you’ve been disappointed by the performance of natural mascaras before, look no further than RMS. Rose Marie Swift is a makeup artist, and her line performs like a makeup artist’s line. The mascara is available in either a Defining or a Volumizing formula. While I like both, I tend to gravitate to the Volumizing whenever it’s time for a restock.

2. Korres – B5 & Rice Bran Mascara


Korres used to be a fully naturally derived brand as well. Unfortunately because of corporate buy-outs, that’s no longer the case. In fact, I hear they may no longer be cruelty-free, which is unfortunate. Back when these things were not an issue, I used their B5 & Rice Bran Mascara regularly. They describe it as lengthening and defining, but I found it gave nice volume as well. I used to describe it as my “natural Great Lash.”

3. Dior – Diorshow

Diorshow Iconic Mascara

What can be said about Diorshow that hasn’t been said already? Thirty thousand “Loves” and counting on the Sephora website tells the tale. This mascara creates thick, juicy, velvety lashes even when you do not use their legendary wand (just use a fat disposable wand for similar effect).

4. Benefit – They’re Real Mascara


As the name implies, this mascara is supposed give the illusion that you’re wearing falsies. It doesn’t look like you’re wearing false eyelashes, but it does a very nice job of building up lashes, particularly those on the — shall we say — more puny side.

This formula is lengthening, volumizing, and curling all in one. I have heard, however, people say it caused their lashes to dry out and break off, so they must be using some powerful stuff in the formulation. I’d either save this one for special occasions or use a lash conditioner regularly (vitamin E or jojoba oil works wonders to condition the lash line).

5. Besame – 1932 Cake Mascara


Every now and then I encounter a client who says that any mascara they use just slips off almost immediately. For folks who find this to be the case, I recommend going to a cake mascara.

All mascaras used to come in cake form before mascara tubes. The formulation is drier by nature (to use, you just activate with water) and less prone to slippage. Besame Cosmetics is a relatively new brand with a vintage feel, and I’m digging their cake mascara. The colors (available in black and brown) are rich, the formulation is smooth, you can apply as many layers as you dare to get the depth and fullness you desire, and once applied, it lasted all day. I recently used it on a photo shoot, and it was fabtastic.

6. Tarte – Lights, Camera, Lashes 4-in-1 Mascara

lights camera lashes mascara

I love Tarte cosmetics, so let’s just get this out of the way: I’m totally biased. Over the years they’ve had a number of mascaras, and they’ve all been excellent in my opinion. What’s nice is Tarte has “greened” their line and become a largely naturally derived brand, yet the performance has remained the same. This 4-in-1 mascara lengthens, curls, volumizes, and conditions for lush and dramatic lashes. I prefer this for private clients versus photographic use (I think the conditioning oils make this mascara break down a bit faster under lights). They also make an extra Volumizing formula and a waterproof formula.

7. Givenchy Phenomen’Eyes Mascara


Okay, remember when I said I was judging these mascaras based on the formula not the wand? Well, this one really IS about the wand. I know some folks who disdain the ball, but it is the secret to picking up every. single. lash. I mean EVERY lash, even those teeny tiny ones in the inner corner. If you prefer to use a traditional wand, you’ll still be happy with the result. The formula itself is creamy, smooth, and non-flaking and leaves you with well-defined, long, and lush lashes with a nice sheen.

8. Maybelline – Great Lash


The legend and with good reason. Thick, gloopy, and crazy pliable, with the change of a wand type, I can create any kind of lash I want. For me, Great Lash is the “winner and still champion” of all mascaras. And at $6-$8 a tube, it isn’t painful to throw it out and get a new one when three months are up.

Honorable mentions:

I have a couple of items I think are worth a mention, even though one I do not use often and one is new to me:

  • Buxom Custom Mascara Bar. I do not have any insight as to how well it works, but it’s a pretty cool idea. Basically you purchase Buxom’s Vanity Lash mascara and then based on the desired lash (volume, length, definition, etc.), you choose the perfect brush to accomplish the look. I used the Vanity Lash mascara on a private client this past weekend (it was her own mascara), and I did like the way it amplified her lashes which are rather short. So if you’re a fan of Buxom, or if you’re trying to find what brush works best for you, this is worth trying.

Alright, makeup-loving Homies, let’s keep the great advice going. What are your favorite mascaras?

Comments on Makeup basics from a makeup artist: The top 10 mascaras (both new and classic)

  1. Oh wow I am soexcited for this series.

    Because I have super-sensitive eyes, mascara is difficult for me; my standby tends to be Clinique’s Naturally Glossy mascara, which doesn’t “do” much — you’ll definitely get more impact from, oh, basically anything else, but it’s lightweight, doesn’t make my eyes start swimming instantly, and honestly doesn’t look like I’m wearing makeup at all, I just look “better”.

    • Yes, I love this one too! I try others, but always come back to Clinique Naturally Glossy. It’s great for sensitive eyes and has a lovely natural look, and it never flakes. On my wedding day I used Liz Earle eyelash primer underneath this mascara and it gave the same effect, but a bit stronger and more fancy. (the Liz Earle range is also great for cruelty free and natural ingredients)

    • Came here to say this. I like this mascara when I just want to give my lashes a little extra definition. I feel weird for saying this, but I have fairly long, thick eyelashes. This means most mascaras actually freak me out because I don’t need any more volume. However, if I want to dress up my eyes a little bit, this mascara is great, and I truly forget I’m wearing it.

      (That said, anyone else here possess lashes that can hold their own?)

    • I also have sensitive eyes, and have had terrible reactions to the Maybelline Great Lash.
      My pick for not on this list is MAC waterproof. It doesn’t flake off like a lot of brands do. But I also see why it didn’t make this list, it doesn’t do a lot of give your lashes “oomph”. It’s good if you just want a little more definition or color for your lashes.

    • I should add that I like to stick the mascara in my bra, under my thigh, in my armpit, or elsewhere close to my body to warm it up for a few minutes. It seems to help quite a bit with the clumpiness.

  2. I’ve always wondered why Great Lash is on everyone’s list. I am not a fan. I just don’t get it…mostly because it just doesn’t work on my lashes. In the early days (late 70s, early 80s), I was allergic to it and it made my eyes swell shut. Sometime in the 90s (I think) they changed the formula. I’m no longer allergic to it, but it still does nothing for my lashes except dye them—no length, no volume. I am certainly an anomaly; they are always on the top ten lists. Perhaps it’s because my lashes are so short—crazy short, blonde, and thin.

    Now, Benefit’s They’re Real really does ROCK! This is the mascara that I treat myself to every Christmas (price!), but for the rest of the year, I buy Maybelline Volum’ Express Colossal Cat Eyes Mascara. It’s the only one that defines and lengthens my puny, sparse lashes.

  3. I can’t believe Kat Von D’s mascara isn’t on this list! I love all her make up, but I find that her mascara doesn’t fall, at all, even after crazy intense work outs or wearing the stuff from before work until like 3 a.m. My lashes always look awesome and don’t flake. The wand is really cool, too, and lets you catch every lash, and the stuff doesn’t clump so I can layer it a million times with no worries. Not to mention, her stuff is cruelty free, which is my favorite bonus.

  4. I’m so excited for this series too! I hope other product lists will continue to include good but low-cost options like this one does. I like that the classic Great Lash is on here, but not just for the price. Now Maybelline has a million other options, and I’ve been wondering if any of them were really worth it/better (I bought one, it was okay, but there are still a million others). I feel like this list gives me the ok to stick with the original. I have long, dark lashes anyway and don’t like to add much to them – I only wear makeup for work and almost never have special-fancy-events to attend.

  5. Oh fun! I wear mascara most days, and it really is a personal thing, because my favorites are pretty different. I used Great Lash for years and didn’t realize there was a whole other world out there, and when I switched I realized what I was missing (count me as another who doesn’t really “get” the Great Lash obsession).

    My new favorite at the drugstore is Covergirl Clump Crusher, though I haven’t tried a lot of different mascaras. I heard about that one online and it just worked for me. I wanted to try high end mascaras, but the prices made that difficult, so what I did was wait until Sephora came out with a set of 10 deluxe sample size mascaras for the holidays and bought that last year (it was $45). This year’s will probably be coming out in a couple months, so that might be a good time to experiment with mascaras.

    Some caveats: for me I found the wand actually matters a hell of a lot, and I prefer the ones with silicone/rubberized bristles, and nothing too crazy. Since I’m not a makeup artist I don’t need to use disposable wands, and my preference is not to fuss with another separate piece, so I want the wand it comes with to just work for me. I want the mascara to not clump from the get-go, so I don’t have to do anything extra beyond swiping it on. Another really important factor is how easy it is to take off at the end of the day, while still not flaking or turning me into a raccoon until I’m actually done.

    Benefit They’re Real actually failed me on two counts–its wand kept stabbing me painfully in the eye, and it was also really hard to take off completely, so I would end up with my eyelashes still stiff and dark and a ring of black underneath my eye. Kat Von D Immortal lash was too fiddly (a unique spiral brush that I couldn’t get the hang of), Urban Decay Perversion was crazy clumpy. My favorite from the set (so far, I still have a couple left I haven’t tried) is Buxom’s basic Lash mascara, by far. Honorable mentions are Josie Maran Black Oil (though it’s a natural bristle brush and clumps a little) and YSL Faux Cils, though that one is way too expensive for me.

    Basically, I totally agree that individual people will have wildly different preferences. Find a way to try out what you’re interested in on the cheap (sets, buying individual deluxe sample sizes, getting them as freebies), because you don’t know until you actually put it on for a day.

    • I love the Covergirl mascaras! I also found that I have a hard time applying with some wands (for me the fatter the bristle head, the harder to apply). From time to time I switch things up and try other brands, but I always go back to the Covergirl Clump Crusher too!

      Recently I tried out Benefit’s They’re Real and noticed the the bristles felt a little pinchy, but did love the formula’s coverage and the wand’s lash separation. The only downside was that it felt tacky and did smudge. Taking it off wasn’t an issue – I use a mixture of jojoba and vitamin E oil to remove my makeup.

  6. So excited about this series too! I’m a closet makeup-fiend because I know so much about it but I never wear it, and I want that to change.

    Ahh..mascara. Honestly, I find many of them irritate my eyes. All the Rimmel and Benefit mascara’s in particular I stay far, far away from now.

    I haven’t tried the DiorShow yet, or the Givenchy, but I did try some of the new NARS Audacious mascara at the counter and I thought it was great!

  7. So first of all, I too am very excited for this series! I know how to do NOTHING with makeup, and I am loving that so far we’re getting recommendations based on things I didn’t even know to think about. If we could get one on how to do eyes (especially eye liner) on different shaped eyes and lids… that would be incredible.

    But, I keep seeing people referencing throwing their mascara away after a few months… what? Should I do that? Again, I know nothing about makeup, and because i’m so ignorant I typically only wear makeup a few times a year, but I’m pretty sure I still have all my makeup from several years ago… Is that bad? 🙁 Halp!

    • It’s not a good idea to keep already-opened mascara around for a long time, since that environment (wet, dark) tends to breed bacteria. Then you’re putting it right up against your eyes! Here’s a great article summarizing a study that was done on bacteria growth in mascara tubes. (It’s also a great site in general for other kinds of makeup science and analysis.)

      For makeup in general, all cosmetics in the US (and likely elsewhere, though I can’t speak to that) come with a little mark that looks like an open container with a length of time on it, such as 12M for 12 months. That’s the recommended length of time that something will stay good after it’s been opened. My mascaras all say 6M, but unless I really can’t bear to part with them, I toss them at three months. Otherwise my own hard cutoff is absolutely six months, though in the past I had no idea and would keep things for years with no issues. Still, better safe than sorry, especially with your eyes! For powder cosmetics, I have no problem holding onto things for longer than recommended (usually 24M) because they can be sanitized, brushes can be cleaned, and they are way less likely to breed nasty stuff.

      Everyone’s risk tolerance is different, but if you wanted to push the length of time on your mascara, it’s probably worth getting disposable applicators and using those for the few times a year you want to use it. If you don’t double-dip (i.e. use a clean one for each eye and any time you need to go back in the tube), you’re less likely to be introducing bacteria into your mascara. For the rest of your makeup, before putting it away for a while you can spritz powders with 70% alcohol solution and let them dry, clean your brushes, etc. Pencils and lipsticks can be sharpened/the top layer rubbed off before the next use, and stuff in squeeze tubes or with pumps is probably okay since it isn’t in contact with your skin until it comes out of the package. But watch out for changes in texture, smell, color, and so on that mean something has gone bad.

    • I usually just toss mine when it starts feeling thick and giving me more clumps (which ends up being after a few months, usually.) I do really hate wasting it though.

      My absolute favorite is Honeybee Gardens Truly Natural Mascara– it’s just a good all around. Some length, some volume, not too clumpy (and easy to pluck the occasional blob off), nice natural ingredients, not too super pricey.

  8. For years I always found mascara very frustrating because I tend to have very oily skin, and mascara would inevitably leave me with raccoon eyes after very little time (I know this is a problem for some people after a full day, but for me, this can be a problem within an hour). My eyes also tend to water when I laugh or when I’m sleepy, so I need something waterproof.

    The ONLY mascara I’ve ever found to work for me, never leaving me with raccoon eyes or coming off before I want it to, is Blinc Mascara. I LOVE it. It’s on the expensive side (~$22), so when my last tube ran out I switched back to using another waterproof/no-smudge mascara, and the raccoon eyes came back with vengeance. I’m back to using Blinc exclusively and can’t imaging ever switching.

  9. I absolutely LOVE Tarte cosmetics!! I’ve tried their foundation, concealer, tinted moisturizer, and blush and they’re all great, so I can’t wait to try their mascara! The best part- they don’t test on animals or use animal ingredients!!!

  10. I am SUPER stoked for a make-up series!! I get so lost at even the basics. I’ve never even been in a store marketed solely at make up. Eye liner and mascara are about the only two items I’ve learned to use. Out of the drug store isle, I found that both great lash and the cover girl’s lash blast line work really well for me. I really love the lash blast and is what I’m currently using. I have no information on it though, seeing on how I’m such a noob.

  11. Oh man, I have so many feelings about mascara! It’s my favorite cosmetic, and definitely the one I hoard the most. Like another commenter, I also really loved the sample pack from Sephora for trying things I wouldn’t normally buy, although the one I got was 5 half-size mascaras and a voucher for a full-size product for $35 or so.

    I’d have to say my favorite is blinc mascara amplified. It definitely defines and adds volume without ever clumping. It’s a “tubing” mascara, which is different than normal, so once it sets you can’t really go back over it with another layer, but you can build all you want during the initial application. As a person with pretty sensitive eyes and pretty much year-round allergies, I get raccoon eyes from most mascaras, but not so with blinc! It doesn’t smear/smudge/run, but it does come off easily with just regular soap/whatever you use on your face, no need for the greasy eye makeup remover. I sound like an evangelist, I should at least go review it on Sephora’s site.
    I’ve discovered that in general I prefer mascaras with a drier formula, wetter mascaras tend to clump much more for me.

    Benefit’s They’re Real was one that was too wet for me – I can see how it would work well for someone who prefers that consistency, but I just didn’t care for it. For me a better alternative was Too Faced Better Than Sex, it seemed to have a similar effect for me that Benefit does for others just with a drier feel.

    My current favorite drugstore mascara is L’Oreal Voluminous Butterfly Lashes. It actually has a really nice brush that is good at separating as you apply for good definition, and the consistency is just right for me. It strikes a good balance of volume and length in one coat, so it’s really good for every day makeup where I don’t necessarily want to look super dolled up or spend lots of time getting ready.

    The honorable mention from my Sephora stash is the Josie Maran Black Argan Oil mascara. It doesn’t give me raccoon eyes as long as I only do top lashes, and it looks great with just one application. It also washes off very easily, no crazy scrubbing or anything which is nice.

    Yep, I have too much mascara. So glad to see fun makeup posts like this on OBH!

  12. My current favorites are Benefit Bad Girl and Makeup Forever’s Smokey Extravagant. Also I like to finish with Stila’s Stay All Day mascara, a mascara I bought completely by accident.

    I have been on quest to find a cheap mascara that I like with no luck so far. I’ve tried Rimmel Volume Accelerator, L’Oreal Voluminous and various flavors of Cover Girl. No love.

    It’s interesting what you’re saying about judging about the formula and not the wand. I think at least 75% of my opinion is based on the wand but really.. I could buy different wands? Can you buy those ball wands separately from that mascara?

    Also: what applicator would I use with the powder mascara? I’m having a hard time picturing it with a wand but at the same time I can’t imagine using a brush on my lashes!

    Thanks for all the suggestions. I’m definitely going to check some of these out.

    • Howdy. Yes, you can get disposable wands – including the ball wands – but outside of LA or NYC where you have ready access to the pro makeup shops you may be looking at ordering online. Otherwise Sally Beauty Supply carries disposables but they’re usually just the basic wand.

      The cake mascara is water activated and instead of using a spoolie it’s easier to use a small fan brush. So just dampen (not soaking wet) the fan brush, lightly swipe it over the cake a few times and apply to your lashes. 🙂

  13. Looking forward to the rest of this series. Not really a girly girl n have a limited/basic knowledge of make up. Now excuse me while I go Google all of them 🙂

  14. I’m keen for more of these posts, but because make up lists are a dime a dozen on the internet, I’d like to see the mascaras actually tried on.
    As in get one person, and take a set of photos with each individual mascara on the same eye so we can see the differences.
    That would be amazing. (I know that might not be cheap, so might not be possible, but if you do have access to/can borrow then that would be amazing.)

  15. I only use drug store brands, but I’ve tried them all and I love mascara the most of all make-up.

    I get the best results from using 2 different ones together.
    First, I like L’Oreal Butterfly Mascara. This one gives great definition to individual lashes.
    Second, I like to come in with a thickening mascara to really make them pop. I like the CoverGirl LashBlast Mascara best for that.

  16. For the UK lot, Essence extreme maximum definition mascara has a great tiny brush thing that gets in really close. Also it costs £2.80 from Wilkinsons!

    I’m awaiting the pale as fuck foundation tutorial! Expect a big ass comment detailing all my efforts and the eventual combination that I’ve found after years and a small fortune spent searching

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