There are many different kinds of mascara formulas – some volumize, some lengthen, and others are all about preserving that curl. In most cases, you want all of these effects in one, which is why brands have altered their mascara formulations in recent years. Even so, there is still quite a bit of variety from formula to formula. Let’s break it down, so you can choose the best mascaras for you based on formula!
In this article:
- Traditional Mascara
- Volumizing Mascara
- Lengthening Mascara
- Lash-Separating or Non-Clumping Mascara
- Curling Mascara
- Subtle Mascara
- Clean Mascara
- Vegan Mascara
- Fiber Mascara
- Tubing Mascara
- Waterproof Mascara
- Bottom-Lash Mascara
- Clear Mascara
- Wet vs. Dry Formula
- Mascara Primer
A typical mascara is meant to do it all: it gives length and volume to the lashes while holding a curl but without weighing down the lashes. Most of the mascaras on the market boast this kind of formula, and for the most part, they deliver.
It’s always good to start with a traditional mascara like this, and if it works, fabulous! If it doesn’t, then it’s possible that your lashes have some unique needs that will require something more specific. The YSL Volume Effet and Benefit They’re Real! both fall under this category.
Volumizing mascara is a mascara that coats the lashes well and gives them exceptional volume or thickness. In most cases, people want a mascara that will make their lashes thicker, so this tends to be the default formula from any brand.
Most volumizing mascaras tend to also be very lengthening. Occasionally a volumizing mascara will also lead to lashes clumping together or looking thick to an unnatural level – think “spider lashes.”
Volumizing mascaras also run the risk of being on the heavier side, so some people find that they weigh their lashes down or don’t do an adequate job of holding a curl.
A final thing you should know is that while most traditional mascaras are quite volumizing, we’ve run across some mascaras that were advertised as volumizing without actually having such a dramatic effect (Kevyn Aucoin’s The Volume comes to mind).
Usually, mascaras are both volumizing and lengthening, although occasionally, you will find mascaras where the focus is on the length. These mascaras are less likely to clump up or cause “spider lashes.” Instead, they will just give the lashes natural-looking volume but with a lot of length and separation.
If you find most mascaras make your lashes clump together, then a lengthening mascara is for you! Additionally, a lengthening mascara is likely going to do a better job of holding a curl since it won’t weigh your lashes down. Urban Decay Perversion is a good example of lengthening mascara.
Lash-Separating or Non-Clumping Mascara
Non-clumping mascara is essential if you want your lashes to look naturally full, long, and fanned out, rather than clumpy. There are a few factors that make for a good lash-separating mascara.
First, the formula itself should be neither too wet nor too dry, but somewhere in the middle, where it coats lashes individually without causing them to stick to each other. When a mascara starts out too dry, it’ll be more likely to cause clumps, so replacing your mascara regularly is important.
Second, the mascara shouldn’t be too heavy or thick since that can often lead to too much build-up around the lash, which leads to a spidery appearance.
Finally, the wand will also have a big impact on how lash-separating a mascara is, so look for molded plastic or silicone wands with long, pointed bristles.
Some mascaras are designed with a formula that’s meant to help hold a curl. Their formula is usually a little drier since very wet mascaras can undo a curl (much in the same way that your blowout will disappear if you get caught in the rain).
Curling mascara can be volumizing, but usually, it won’t be intensely so. Very volumizing mascaras can be a little too heavy, which can also weigh down and straighten out a curled lash. Beyond that, a mascara’s curling action mostly comes from the wand, although the actual eyelash curler you use will also have a big impact. Maybelline Lash Sensational is a great curling mascara that is also affordable.
Mascara doesn’t always have to be dramatic! There are times when a subtle mascara formula is preferred over a very lengthening or volumizing formula. More subtle mascara formulas are usually designed to be a little thinner, so they don’t build up too strongly over the lashes. This leads to a softer look, with the lashes just slightly darker.
You might prefer a subtler mascara if you just like to rock a natural makeup look. Subtle mascaras are also great for the lower lashes, which can turn up looking a little weird if you try to enhance them with a more dramatic mascara.
Clean and natural beauty is really big these days. If you primarily buy all-natural or ‘clean’ products, then chances are that you also want that out of your mascara. Clean mascaras are normally made with natural waxes, oils, and mineral pigments and without dyes or controversial preservatives. If this is important to you, look for reputable clean beauty brands like Ilia or Kosas.
Most mascaras are made with beeswax, which many vegans choose to avoid. In fact, clean mascaras are even more likely to contain beeswax than mainstream ones since it’s a natural ingredient.
If you are a vegan, however, your priority should be a mascara that’s free from beeswax, as well as other animal byproducts like silk protein or honey. These vegan formulas are usually made with plant-based waxes and synthetic polymers.
A fiber mascara is a typical mascara formula that has little cellulose or nylon fibers suspended in it. As the mascara is applied, the fibers grab onto the lashes and increase either length, volume, or both. Glossier Lash Slick is a great fiber mascara for length, while Dior Diorshow is a fiber mascara that gives both length and a lot of volume.
Tubing mascara has a formula that surrounds the lashes and dries in a tube-like shape. It falls under the category of lengthening mascaras since it doesn’t give too much volume but does lengthen the lashes.
These are the best mascaras for people with sensitive eyes since they will not flake or get in your eyes throughout the day, but they will come off easily with warm water at the end of the day and won’t require any harsh rubbing of the eyes. They can be applied first and then followed up with a volumizing mascara if you’d like the best of both worlds.
Kevyn Aucoin The Volume Mascara is a great tubing mascara, even if its name is misleading.
In addition to all of the categories already listed, there is also the little “waterproof” checkmark. We’ve written a whole article strictly about waterproof mascaras, so suffice it to say that most brands will have their volumizing or lengthening mascaras also available in a waterproof version that won’t come off in a shower or rain.
These mascaras tend to be super long-lasting, but they can also be difficult to remove. They are best for those who have very watery eyes or if you need special mascara for a tear-jerking event, a rainy day, or a day at the pool. Check out the Isehan Kiss Me Heroine waterproof mascara.
Though you can definitely use your regular mascara for the bottom lashes, some brands have created special mascaras with ultra-thin wands to easily reach those tiny lashes. Typically the brush is long and thin, which lets you apply mascara on your bottom lashes without touching the skin. A great example of a bottom-lash mascara is the Pixi Lower Lash Mascara.
As the name already suggests, clear mascara is a transparent one with no pigment, meant to enhance your lashes by curling, defining, and lengthening them. Additionally, you can use a clear mascara to tame your eyebrows. A great example is the Maybelline Great Lash Clear Mascara.
Wet vs. Dry Formula
Some mascaras come out of the tube a little denser and drier, while others come out very wet and fluid but get drier after a few weeks of use. Very wet mascara formulas do run the risk of clumping, but they can be easily brushed out. They tend to take longer to dry, so they are a better choice if you like really layering on the mascara, as a dry formula will be harder to build up.
On the other hand, dry mascaras are better for holding a curl since they are stiffer right from the start. They are also a less messy option for those who want to quickly apply mascara and be out the door without risking it smudging up their eyeshadow.
Both dry and wet mascaras can give excellent length and volume, and even a wet mascara can become a dry formula with a bit of time and patience.
A mascara primer is not technically a mascara, but we still felt like it deserves a shoutout. Mascara primers are usually white, and they help create an initial base around your lashes.
They often contain nourishing ingredients that can condition and fortify the lashes, but more importantly, they add a lot of oomph and volume while also keeping the lashes lifted. If you’d like to bring your mascara look up to the next level, a mascara primer can make a big difference.
Photos via @leighdickson, @grishina.viktoria, Instagram