There are all kinds of different mascara wands, and they have a significant influence on how your lashes will look. They can be made of different materials, with different types of bristles and shapes. Some do a better job of lengthening the lashes, while others are perfect for keeping them curled.
In this article, we’ll discuss the different mascara wands, feature by feature, and explain which mascara wand type is best for which effect and lash type. In many cases, the type of mascara wand will have a bigger impact on the final effect than the actual formula of the mascara!
In this article:
Mascara Wand Material
First, let’s start with the most important factor to consider: Do you prefer traditional nylon wands or more modern molded silicone or plastic wands?
When you imagine a traditional mascara wand, chances are you’re picturing one made of nylon. These mascara wands look kind of fluffy, especially when compared to their plastic cousins. Nylon brushes tend to be great for volume and length because they’re flexible and able to grab the lashes well. However, they’re not always as good on the separation front. The Milk Makeup KUSH Mascara is a great option with a nylon brush.
Then we have silicone and plastic mascara wands, which tend to be great for lash separation. Their bristles are thicker and, therefore, a little stiffer. They tend to come in a much wider selection of shapes, sizes, and bristle density when compared to nylon brushes, so you’ll also want to pay attention to our section on wand shapes when considering them.
In general, they are great for very dense lashes that are prone to clumping. If your lashes are thin or delicate, you want to be careful as some plastic brushes can be rough on the eyes. CoverGirl Clump Crusher is an example of a plastic wand mascara that is quite gentle.
Size of Mascara Brush
When it comes to mascara brush size, the typical logic is that the bigger the wand, the thicker the lashes will be, but it’s not always true. In this section, we’ll discuss how different wand sizes impact the mascara application.
A smaller wand is always better for a more precise, slow, and gradual application. They allow you to work in small sections and really pay attention to every small part of your lash line. Smaller mascara wands can get into the inner corners of the eyes easily, and they cover the lashes gently and slowly, without causing clumping.
If your eyes are very small, a smaller wand will be much easier to use, but it can also be helpful if you have round eyes since it’s easier to fit the wand along the curve of your lash line.
Smaller mascara brushes also tend to be better for applying mascara to the lower lash line or to the inner and outer corners. The Clinique Bottom Lash Mascara is a great option, if you like this type.
Medium-sized mascara wands are usually our favorite choice. They offer a balance between precision and fast application, so using them is just quick enough without being messy. They will work well across most lash types and eye sizes, which is why they’re also the most common. When in doubt, opt for medium. Check out Gucci Mascara L’Obscure for this type!
If you want a quick and dramatic application and are not particularly concerned about clumping or smudging, then opt for a bigger mascara wand. While larger wands can be a little unwieldy, they can also offer fantastic volume, especially if their width comes from extra-long bristles. Their other benefit is that they can apply mascara quickly, all along the lash line.
You can totally use both a larger wand and a smaller wand. Start your application with the smaller brush for initial separation, and then follow up with a mascara with a wider brush for volume. The PAT McGRATH LABS Dark Star Volumizing Mascara is one of the best options with a large brush.
Size of Bristles
In addition to brush size, bristle size and density also matter when choosing your mascara wand!
Brushes with long bristles (usually nylon, but also plastic) often offer the lashes the most dramatic volume and the best coverage. This is because the bristles manage to wiggle right in between the lashes to coat them on all sides. The iconic Diorshow Mascara is a great example of this brush type.
Short bristles are great if you have a harder time controlling your mascara and often find yourself with smudges on your eyelids. The shorter bristles are less likely to get past the lashes to the lid. They also lengthen less, which can be helpful for the bottom lash line. Check out the It Cosmetics Tightline Mascara.
The more tightly packed the bristles are on a brush, the more volume they’re likely to give, although this can come at the cost of less separation. Especially with dense nylon bristles, the lashes get very thoroughly coated in a large amount of mascara, but the bristles can’t physically push the lashes apart because they’re so tightly spaced. However, the application can also make a difference since by wiggling the brush you can prevent some clumping. A great example is the Bite Beauty Upswing Mascara.
Spaced-out bristles, as long as they’re not overly far apart, will do a great job of separating the lashes. In general, bristles on plastic brushes tend to be a bit more spaced out, so they physically ensure there’s more of a gap between each lash, giving a fanned-out effect. Check out the Lancôme Dèfinicils mascara for this option!
Mascara Wand Shapes
Beyond material and size, the shape of your mascara wand can also have a bit of an impact on what kind of effect it has. Let’s go through the most common shapes, one by one.
The Classic Cylinder Brush
Most mascara brushes are straight cylinders with a rounded or tapered end, and we’ll admit they’re our preference. This shape is the most user-friendly since it is easy to control and doesn’t require any mental gymnastics.
You will have to angle the brush a little to cover your lashes thoroughly all along the lash line, but that’s true for other shapes as well. The tapered end allows touching up the inner corner of the eye. A nice mascara with the cylinder brush is the Too Faced Better Than Sex.
Curved brushes are usually recommended for giving lashes a bit of a curl. In practice, we’re not so convinced, but we do love curved brushes for being some of the gentlest plastic brushes around.
If the particular length and curve of the mascara wand correspond especially well with the curve of your lash line, you might find that a curved wand does a better job of quickly covering every one of your lashes with mascara… however, finding a curved brush that matches perfectly will require a lot of trial and error, so don’t bank on it. A great example is the Benefit Cosmetics Roller Lash.
Much like a curved brush, an hourglass brush also has that concave shape, albeit without the convex curve on the reverse side. In general, hourglass mascara wands are usually made with nylon bristles and paired with a volumizing formula.
It’s not necessarily a function of the brush, but these mascaras usually offer the lashes both a bit of a lift and a ton of dramatic volume, although sometimes the concave shape can also lead to a bit of clumping. A nice option is the Maybelline the Falsies Lash Lift Mascara.
A rounded fan brush shape is one of our favorite mascara wand shapes. It’s normally made of silicone, with a fan-like shape. The bristles on a fan brush are usually a little tight at the base, but then they fan out separately, so it manages to give both dramatic volume and coverage as well as separation.
Sometimes, the base is also a little curved, which can add some more lift. Maybelline Lash Sensational is an example of this kind of brush.
Tapered cone-shaped brushes are something a lot of brands have started to introduce in recent years, although we’re not fans. The idea is that the base is very large and wide to give volume in the center and outer parts of the lash line, while the tapered end gives a precise application to the inner corner.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work in practice, and the thick base can be unwieldy. We haven’t recommended many mascaras with this kind of brush throughout our various articles. Check out the Blink Mascara for this type!
Ball brushes have been mostly relegated to the trash bin of makeup history, with very few brands actually carrying such wands at the time of writing. Shaped like a little ball covered in spiky bristles, these mascaras are advertised as being able to offer a more precise application on hard-to-reach areas like the inner corner of the eye.
Unfortunately, the ball shape isn’t as easy to control as a smaller wand, so the effect is rarely all that nice – just time-consuming. The Givenchy Beauty Phenomen’Eyes Mascara is a nice option to check out.
Comb brushes are usually small, slim, and made of silicone, with bristles only on one side of the brush. These brushes are known for having a separating effect, just like a hair comb, but they’re not very volumizing or lengthening. Because of that, they’re incredibly popular for the lower lashes, specifically. The Urban Decay Lash Freak is a good option for this type.
Bubble brushes can be a lot of fun, even if they’re largely gimmick. They’re intended to give better curl and volume to the lashes, and while they’re not necessarily superior to other mascara wand shapes, they’re still a lot of fun. Check out the Givenchy Noir Couture 4 in 1 Mascara if you like this wand shape!
This variation on the ball brush combines a ball tip with a more typical cylinder brush shape. The spiky ball end on the brush gives you that precision tip, while the length of the brush works like a typical cylinder wand to cover the lashes normally. The Benefit Cosmetics They’re Real! is a highly rated option to check out.
Photos via Sephora