How We Tested
I’m Brigitt Earley. Having worked as a lifestyle writer and editor for more than 10 years, I have extensive experience testing beauty products. I am also an expectant mom with two very busy toddlers, so I need a product that delivers great, long-lasting results with minimal effort and a reasonable price tag.
We scoured best-seller lists across retailers, beauty blogs, social media, and other best-of lists to find the top drugstore mascaras on the market, all with price tags below $17. Then, we glammed it up, pitting the top-rated brands against one another to find a winner.
Like a lot of beauty products, what makes a good mascara is rather subjective, depending on what your goals are: Do you want a dramatic look? A smooth application? Something that’ll stay put no matter what?
That said, many of the products I tested held their own in all of the most important areas: ease of application, end result (how it lengthened, curled, and added volume), longevity, and ease of removal. In fact, I walked away from this series of tests wondering why I have spent $24 on the Make Up For Ever Smoky Stretch Lengthening and Defining Mascara, a high-end product, when, as I learned, the majority of the drugstore versions are just as effective.
I tested the mascara the same way you might: I applied the product during my normally frenzied morning rush, wore each one all day (about 12 hours) without touching up, and removed the mascara with StriVectin Multi-Action Bi-Phase R&R eye makeup remover before bed.
Unlike the way you might test, though, I also teamed up with Reviewed’s senior scientist to score and weigh results on a scientifically calibrated rubric. I also swatched each mascara on my arm to measure drying time and execute durability tests.
But to find which drugstore mascara really is best, I answered questions like:
Application: Does the wand hold enough mascara to easily apply it in one stroke? Does the mascara go on smoothly? How well does the mascara separate lashes? How many coats do you need to apply for the optimal dramatic look?
Wear: Does the mascara achieve its stated claim? Does the mascara flake, transfer, or smudge throughout the day? Compared to a fresh application, how does the mascara look at the end of the day?
When I ran the results from each mascara test through the scoring rubric, the results weren’t surprising. The scoring reflected my instincts during testing: The majority of these drugstore mascaras were perfectly suitable products, with less than a half-point margin between the highest-scoring product and the lowest-scoring product.
What You Should Know About Drugstore Mascara
Our tests show it’s hard to go wrong with a top-rated drugstore mascara, and many beauty editors and makeup artists land on these products as their go-tos for a reason. We love them especially for their low cost, as experts recommend replacing mascara every three months for both hygiene and efficacy. Still, there are a few things you should know that may influence your purchasing decision:
Wand shape: Tests show you don’t need a fancy wand shape to achieve a flawless finish. In fact, the more “unique” wand shapes felt gimmicky—they were more difficult to use and led to more mistakes and smudges during application. Stick with what you know and are comfortable with.
Performance: Though every tube of mascara tested had grand claims (10 times the volume! Eighty percent longer lashes!), I found these hard to quantify and, in many cases, there wasn’t a discernible difference among products. Instead, I recommend defaulting to a wand shape that looks familiar and is easy to maneuver, as already mentioned.
Formula: This is where I noticed the biggest discrepancy amongst mascaras tested. Is the formula gloppy and thick? Is it so dry that it crumbles when you layer on a second coat? If either answer is yes, it doesn’t matter what shape wand you have in your hands: You’re going to end up with clumpy, stiff lashes and/or black soot speckled along your undereyes.
Removal: Though we didn’t test anything specifically billed as waterproof mascara, some resisted water better than others. When I submerged my face, some came off upon contact with water, others didn’t come off unless rubbed a bit. It’s interesting to note that didn’t seem to have any bearing on whether the makeup smudged, flaked, or transferred throughout the day. It did, however, mean some makeup was harder to remove at the end of the day—a deciding factor for some.
Other Drugstore Mascara We Tested
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Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.