I Tested $292 Worth Of Mascara — & A $7 Formula Was My Favorite

Mascara is the push-up bra of the makeup world: It lifts and enhances our lashes and is an essential step in our glam routine. Thankfully, the product's popularity means there are countless tubes to choose from. For example, Ulta's website lists over 375 options, while Sephora boasts precisely 284. Translation: Picking one isn't as straightforward as it seems. Want length without clumps, a maximum curl, and a waterproof formulation? You have hundreds of options to pick from — at least.
For me, I look for dramatic length first, with volume a close second. Seems reasonable and doable, right? You'd think, especially considering there are so many tubes flooding the market. But I've sampled dozens upon dozens of mascaras over the years, from drugstore to luxury, but have yet to find The One. I end up using a tube for a month or two, but rarely replace it. What can I say? My lashes have commitment issues.
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After surveying friends and colleagues, I found that mascara fatigue was actually quite common, and very few people I spoke with had actually found their holy grail tube. So in the name of lash commitment, I put 11 mascaras to the test — and my favorites might actually shock you.
For a breakdown of every formula I tried, complete with before and after lash shots, click ahead. Here's hoping this bring you one step closer to finding your mascara soulmate.
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The Mascara: Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir Major Volume mascara, $26, available at Sephora.

The Claims: The wide, curved brush gives maximum volume and the ultra-black pigment boldly defines lashes.
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Before

I'd heard makeup YouTuber Tati Westbrook rave about this mascara as one of her all-time faves, so it was first on my list to test. I was intrigued by the wand, as I generally like bristles formed into this impactful shape.
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After

The brush shape and tapered center gave my lashes insane length, especially the lashes in the center of my eyes. I loved the formula, too, which built really well on itself, didn't feel heavy or clumpy on my eyes, and separated my lashes very well. The only drawback was that, for $26 a tube, I wanted more volume.

The Verdict: Length is a big barometer of success for me, which this definitely had, but I wish there was more volume.
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The Mascara: Essence Lash Princess False Lash Effect Mascara, $4.99, available at Ulta.

The Claims: It sculpts and individually lengthens lashes for easy-to-build volume.
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Before

I'd heard magical things about this mascara via Reddit, where users were claiming it was falsies in a tube. Fake lashes without the glue? Sold.
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After

I liked this product — it wasn't quite false lashes in a tube, but it definitely made my lashes look nice. I also really liked the brush for getting the inner/outer corner lashes as well as the lower lash line.

One of the big drawbacks, however , was that the brush didn't hold enough product to fully coat my lashes, so I felt like I had to dip back into the tube a few times. I also didn't think it gave me enough in the length department, partially due to the lack of product on the brush. But for $4.99, this product is a good deal, and could work well for people who want a more everyday, less dramatic, lash look.

The Verdict: While I liked this product — and would use it again — it wasn't my favorite drugstore offering.
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The Mascara: Givenchy Noir Interdit, $29, available at Sephora.

The Claims: The 90 degree bendable brush creates intense length and volume while separating individual lashes.
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Before

I had high hopes for this product. Maybe it was the Givenchy name, maybe it was the 90 degree brush, but it spoke to me.
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After

I loved the novelty of the bendable brush, and do think it helped coat the lashes from root to tip. However, I didn't love the applicator's bristles, which poked the skin on my eye during application, and despite coating the lashes thoroughly, the formula didn't build well upon itself to give me the length I wanted.

The Verdict: I think this would be beautiful on someone with natural, long lashes that just need a bit of volume, but since I want length, first and foremost, it wasn't a winner for me.
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The Mascara: IT Cosmetics Superhero, $24, available at Sephora.

The Claims: Gives lashes length, volume, and "elastic stretch" with as little as one coat.
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Before

I really like It Cosmetics: Its CC cream is my holy grail foundation and the Bye Bye Under Eye concealer is my favorite for covering irritated blemishes. I've tried this product before and really enjoyed it, but haven't used it in a few months, so wanted to see how it would stack up in comparison to others.
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After

I loved this mascara, but it's definitely the clumpiest of the bunch, which meant it didn't curl or define my lashes as much as some of the others. I didn't mind that at all though, because the brush was packed with product and gave me killer volume, length, and lift at the base of my lashes.

It took me a few coats to build it up to the look here, but the brush's shape made that easy to do. This tube also made my lash band look think and full, almost falsie-like. Bonus!

The Verdict: If you're interested in maximum volume and nice length, and don't mind a heavier lash, this is the tube for you.
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The Mascara: Too Cool For School Dinoplatz Escalator Mascara, $25, available at Nordstrom.

The Claims: Smudge-proof mascara that thickens and lengthens with a customizable wand.
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Before

This K-beauty brand has some really unique items, like its Egg Cream mask and Pumpkin Sleeping Pack mask, so I was intrigued. This mascara follows suit: It has a customizable wand that you twist to create a smaller, fatter brush, or a longer, thinner one.
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After

I really like the innovation behind the brush, which I had never seen before. However, the bristles didn't seem to work for my lashes — they weren't long enough to coat my lashes in one swipe, which made application uneven and kind of awkward. The firm bristles also felt uncomfortable against my eyelids when I tried to get to the root of my lashes.

The Verdict: Because of my application issues, this mascara couldn't give me much volume or length. I love the name and the packaging, though!
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The Mascara: Maybelline Colossal Big Shot Mascara, $7.99, available at Ulta.

The Claims: It delivers volume from root to tip via wavy bristles and a collagen-enhanced formula.
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Before

My friend raved about this mascara when it first came out in late 2016, and I've long been a fan of their cult-classic Great Lash, so I had high hopes.
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After

This product thickened my lashes and made them look very voluminous, and I really liked the brush shape, which made it easy to cover the full length of my lashes. But this formula couldn't quite give me the length I wanted, so I think it would work best for people with naturally longer lashes.

The Verdict: A really solid drugstore option with a great wand that gave nice volume, but I was left wishing for more length.
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The Mascara: MTJ High Definition Mascara, $20, available at Procosmet.com.

I had never heard of MTJ before uncovering this product in our beauty closet. Upon further investigation (thanks, Google), I learned that MTJ is an Italian brand launched in 2011 and sold on Procosmet.com, a manufacturer based out of Italy. Aside from that intel, there wasn't much I could figure out about this brand. True indie status.
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Before

I had no idea what to expect, but was certainly curious about the interesting brush.
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After

This mascara surprised me. I really liked the formula, which was thinner and more viscous than others I'd tried, and the want worked really well: It elongated my lashes with ease.

The Verdict: This mascara felt light on my lashes, didn't flake throughout day, and lengthened the lashes really well. It was a surprise hit.
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The Mascara: Catrice Pret-a-Volume Smokey Velvet Mascara, $6.99, available at Ulta.

The Claims: It simultaneously gives dramatic volume and lengthens lashes without clumps.
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Before

We've written about Catrice before, specifically its liquid eyeshadows, and I love the low price point of its items.
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After

I absolutely loved the balance of curl and volume that this mascara gave me. I had to apply several coats to achieve my desired lash look, but I have to do that with every mascara.

I also really liked the brush shape, which dispersed a perfect amount of product on my lashes, and the tapered end let me hit the outer corner lashes with a bit of extra product, which gave me a stunning fanned out effect.

The Verdict: This is the mascara I've started using every day. If that doesn't tell you how much I love it, I don't know what will. Plus, it's only $7! 10/10
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The Mascara: Benefit Roller Lash Mascara, $24, available at Sephora.

The Claims: Separates, lifts, and curls lashes up to 12 hours after application.
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Before

This mascara is a cult favorite in the beauty community, but I had never tested it before. Since I hate curling my lashes (I don't even own an eyelash curler), the curling properties were intriguing.
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After

I don't traditionally find rubber wands to be the most effective, but this wand might have changed my whole perspective. This mascara was easy to apply, lengthened while separating the lashes, and the layers built really nicely on top of each other. My lashes also felt light as a feather throughout the day, so this wins maximum points for comfort.

The Verdict: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the wand and how light the formula felt on my lashes. Win-win!
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The Mascara: L'Oreal Voluminous Lash Paradise, $9.99, available at Ulta.

The Claims: This mascara's wavy bristles provide a full-fringe effect, coating all lashes, and giving voluptuous volume.
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Before

This mascara looks awfully similar to a certain higher-end tube and has received rave reviews from YouTubers and magazines alike.
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After

This mascara gave my eyes an instant lash lift, separating and lengthening my lashes incredibly. It was, by far, the most defining of the tubes I tried. My only gripe with this mascara was that the product dried pretty quickly, which meant I didn't have a ton of time to go in and add extra volume before the product dried down and became stiff.

Overall, though, I was blown away by how curled and full my lashes looked.

The Verdict: This mascara felt really similar to the Catrice tube, with less volume and a bit more curl. I prefer the Catrice, but this is a close second.
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The Mascara: Hourglass Curator Lash Instrument, $78 for wand, $36 for Curator Realist Defining Mascara, available on HourglassCosmetics.com

The Claims: The brush-free applicator provides a 360 degree range of motion to coat lashes evenly, as the mascara lengthens and defines.
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Before

This was the last mascara I tested, and by the end of this experiment, I've become genuinely shocked by the sight of my bare lashes. Nevertheless, I was excited to test this fancy mascara wand and formula because I'd never seen anything like it. And for $114, it better be really freaking good.
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After

This s**t was good. The bristle-free applicator was weird to get used to, but the wand really, really lengthened my lashes and separated them well. In terms of volume, I didn't get as much as I'd like, but this mascara didn't claim to provide volume, so I can't hold that against it.

The Verdict: I really liked this mascara, and it did what it promised — if you're looking for a splurge.
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illustrated by Anna Sudit.
The Final Verdict

This experiment helped me realize a few things. First, not all mascaras are created equal. Second, just because a mascara is more expensive does not mean it's better. Catrice's $6.99 Pret-a-Volume was the secret hero of this experiment: a mascara that I hadn't heard much about but totally knocked my socks off.

Catrice was followed closely by L'Oreal Lash Paradise as my second favorite tube. For higher priced options, I loved the Marc Jacobs for length and the It Cosmetics gave me the best volume.

Moral of the story? The drugstore's mascara game is very lit right now and Catrice has found a new, special place in my heart. While there are definitely amazing higher-end mascaras that I'd reach for regularly, I'll stick to the drugstore for now.
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