Is there a difference between mascara formulas?

Mascara is available in both water-based (washable) and oil-based (waterproof) formulas. Both types come in several varieties. Lengthening mascaras depend on polymers to coat lashes for the appearance of added length. Volumizing mascara strives to pump up sparse lashes with the help of special plumping agents. Curling mascaras employ special polymers that shrink as they dry, causing lashes to curve upwards.

While a mascara's formula is important, experts say the brush design is also a factor. Volumizing mascaras typically come with densely bristled wands to more generously pile on the product, while curling formulas often include curved-shaped wands to better lift lashes. More and more mascaras are now including anti-clump plastic and rubber bristles.

The big question is whether drugstore brands, commonly found in the $6 to $10 price range, are drastically different from department store mascara brands that cost more than $20. Unfortunately, we didn't settle on a truly satisfying answer. We certainly found far more review support for the more expensive brands -- in professional and user reviews. Users often fiercely devoted to a particular mascara. That said, we couldn't identify any big scientific differences between fancy and drugstore formulas.

Experts say the best mascaras should deliver their promised affect without smudging, smearing, running or flaking. Below, some additional shopping advice:

  • Toss your tube after three months. The dark, wet environment inside of a mascara tube is a prime location for infection-causing bacteria. Experts suggest throwing out mascaras after three months -- sooner if you notice a bad smell or if the consistency seems to be getting thicker or stickier.
  • Mascara bases are not necessary. These products, designed to be applied to lashes before mascara, can add volume. But in most cases an extra layer of mascara or two can have the same or better effect.
  • Never share your mascara. The mucous membranes around the eye harbor all sorts of bacteria that can latch on to a mascara brush. Consequently, sharing your brush could lead to serious eye infections.
  • Use waterproof mascara sparingly. Because of their oil base, these formulations can be harder to remove than washable mascaras, which can lead to the tugging, pulling or breaking of fragile lashes. Because of this, experts suggest limiting usage.

Back to top