Whether we knew it or not, images presented to us in grade school set the standard for eyes as a beauty focal point. “What?” you say, “makeup propaganda in elementary school!?” Think Cleopatra and other ancient world beauties: a prominent image that emerges is that of their eyes (Business Reference Service). Exaggerating the eyes as an ornamental decoration is as old as boy meets girls, or so it seems.
Today we are faced with walls of mascara choices, and once you narrow your focus based on color, price point, aesthetic appeal of the tube/container, and whether it’s waterproof or not, the most important aspect becomes how it looks once you put it on, which I contend, starts with the brush. I recently undertook a personal study of sorts that involved hunting and gathering several brands and brush types for an unofficial study on mascara, or more specifically: the impact of brush style and shape across different brands. My collection includes price points from $5 for Maybelline’s Great Lash (pink and green neon tube) up through a Dior Extase Mascara for $28.50 and several in between. The brush shapes include the traditional mascara brush (nothing fancy) and several variations on this theme. Over the period of a couple weeks, I used one brand each day, and made notes on the way it went on, and looked and wore through til bedtime when I removed my makeup. Here’s what I found.
For the drugstore brands, I went Maybelline, so I could test out the brand’s numerous brush types. The least expensive mascara product I used was Maybelline’s Great Lash – Lots of Lashes ($5.29, amazon.com) with what Maybelline calls its “Great Little Grabber Brush.” Their claim is that the little grabber brush “…easily reaches all lashes — even in the corners — for a multiplied lash look without the clumps,” which is something it does.
This mascara went on easily, and the brush which appears to be more of a flexible plastic construction than a traditional fiber wand, separated my lashes, applied the mascara evenly and gave me great-looking, defined lashes. Although it imparts limited individual lash volume, for the overall performance this was a keeper, and you can’t beat the price. It’s usually just about $6, and I scored this one for the sale price of $5. Based on the results, I could have paid twice the price and been satisfied. The next mascara I tried was Maybelline Lash Stiletto Voluptuous Mascara ($8.99, amazon.com). It sports a “dual-action brush” which is an elongated ‘S’ shape. Retailing for $8.99 in the drugstore, I figured this would be a step up from the performance of the $5 Lots of Lash by the same company, but I was wrong. The mascara clumped, and I did not achieve the separation of the individual lashes or the definition that gives a full complement of lashes across the eyelid that we hope for with mascara. I sampled two other Maybelline brands, Volum’Express Mega Plush ($5.49, amazon.com), which I liked, and Colossal Cat Eyes ($8.14, amazon.com), which was uninspiring.
The Volum’Express Mega Plush retails for around $6 and sports a bushy, thick applicator brush, while the Colossal Cat Eyes sells for $8 and includes what Maybelline describes as a “claw brush.” It’s no doubt in reference to the feline branding, but it looks suspiciously like a curved mascara brush and underperforms the cheaper Great Lash and MegaPlush in application and lash definition. Overall, my favorite was the cheapest: Maybelline Great Lash, which couldn’t be beat for getting good defined lashes, even if the volume wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I then moved on to test the more pricey brands to see if I simply got lucky with the Great Lash.
Over the past few months, I have been using Buxom by Bare Escentuals ($18, amazon.com) which retails for $19. It goes on smoothly, no clumping, wears well and sports a “curvy hourglass-shaped brush” which looks very much like a plump version of a traditional mascara brush.
I also sampled Benefit’s “They’re Real!” Mascara ($23, amazon.com) which offers a brush with “staggered bristles” and a “custom-domed tip” which applies easily, and imparts good lash volume. At $23 it is definitely a boutique mascara purchase, and like Buxom at $19, does not leave you feeling that you were duped into a pretty package with poor performance. One caveat on the Benefit brand, however; once you apply it to one eye, and move on to your other eye – you can’t come back; the mascara has dried and you will get clumps if you attempt to put a second coat over top of the first one. I definitely docked some points because I wouldn’t have been able to build volume. Overall, I’d say they’re about equal but the Buxom just eked out over the Benefit brand because it allows for building.
At the very top end of my experiment I tried Lancôme’s Hypnose DRAMA ($25.15, amazon.com) and Dior’s Extase ($28.50, dior.com) which retail at $26 and $28.50, respectively. The Lancôme mascara was recommended by a beauty adviser at Sephora as one of her “top 4 best products,” and the Dior was selected to represent one of the higher priced brands in the store. The Lancôme Hypnose DRAMA mascara boasts a “full contact brush” with an S-shaped curve, but it is a more subtle curve than the Stiletto brand. It goes on well, with smooth application and coats fairly evenly, though it does not have as much lash separation as you get with the Great Lash or the Buxom.
The Dior Extase comes in a beautiful foiled container and boasts a new twist on the mascara brush, which Dior describes as a “tiered brush … inspired by the couture dresses created by the House of Dior.” At $28.50 I was expecting some serious performance and was more than willing to pay if it kicked my lashes into the next realm of fabulous.
Unfortunately, couture-inspired brush and all, this was a disappointment. It did not clump, but it also failed to lift and separate my lashes. While not as rough as the Maybelline Stilletto, it underperformed the Lancôme, the Buxom, and the Great Lash in application ease. It didn’t define lashes as well as Buxom or Lancôme, but it did outperform the Great Lash in terms of volume. One thing I will say: With it’s foil-decorated case it looked a lot flashier and more luxurious coming out of my makeup case than the neon pink and green plastic Maybelline Great Lash or the boring black plastic Buxom mascaras.
At the end of the day, I suspect that there is more involved in a mascara purchase decision than performance or price alone. After all, while I found that the Maybelline Great Lash and Volum’Express brands competed strongly against my favorite, Buxom, I’m not ready to switch brands. At the same time, there are no single brush types or shapes that appear to be superior leaving mascara lovers everywhere without a definitive answer on size and shape. From a research perspective, this leaves us with only 1 option: more research (aka mascara purchases)! In my next blog, I’ll deep dive into the brush issue by comparing brush types within a single line: Buxom, where I’ll test their hourglass-shaped brush (identified in this post), their expandable brush and their S-shaped brush to see if we control for the formula and consistency of the mascara product, what difference the brush shape can make. Post by Rebecca Harmon