Despite their seemingly endless variety, today's mascaras generally fall into one of four main forms: waterproof, volumizing, lengthening and curling. While combo products also exist, most mascara brands strive to deliver at least one of these benefits.
Traditional mascaras are made with water base, making them easier to remove, while waterproof products are created with a more stubborn oil base. Volumizing mascaras use plumping agents to thicken the appearance of sparse or skimpy lashes, while lengthening products employ the use of cosmetic compounds called polymers to make hairs appear longer. Curling mascaras use special polymers that shrink as they dry, causing eyelashes to curve upward.
Though a mascara's formula is important, experts say the brush is equally key. That's because its design directly affects how the formula is applied -- a fact that can influence overall product satisfaction. For example, volumizing mascaras typically come with densely bristled wands to pile on the product, while curling formulas often include spiral or curved wands to better grasp and lift lashes. Additionally, more and more mascara brushes now feature anti-clump bristles, as well as pulsating wands that promise a more even application.
So how can you tell what's right for you? First, price shouldn't be your guide. Although high-end mascaras maintain a devoted following, perhaps due to their sleek packaging and designer labels, experts insist quality products can be found in every price range. The best deliver without smudging, smearing, running or flaking. Beyond this, we found that there is a lack of information about the science behind today's mascaras and the detailed differences between touted formulas.
Additionally, it's important to note that user reviews for all cosmetics -- including mascara -- can be highly subjective. While common consensus between several review sources is a good indicator of whether or not a mascara is good, satisfaction often comes down to personal preference. Differences in opinion can be caused by several factors, including variances in natural lash appearance, application techniques, even skin types. Since desired results can vary, experts suggest experimenting until you find a product that works for you. The products we've chosen for our Best Reviewed section represent a good starting point.
We found the most thorough mascara critiques at Beautypedia.com, author Paula Begoun's online database of beauty product reviews. Begoun, a makeup artist turned cosmetic critic, studies the ingredients of beauty products and uses a slew of resources to compile her reviews -- including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and medical studies -- along with her own personal testing. Mascara brands are rated on their performance, ease of application and ingredients. Editors at Splendora.com, an online beauty magazine, also test more than 50 mascaras, comparing their thickening, lengthening and separating qualities as well as their clumping and smudge factor, consistency and ease of application and removal. ConsumerReports.org is thorough, but not nearly as detailed in its report on washable mascaras. In its January 2009 evaluation, 34 staffers test 16 washable mascaras, rating them on overall performance, ease of application, look, durability and ease of removal. A list of ratings is provided but details about the findings of each mascara test are not explained.
Both Good Housekeeping and New Zealand's Consumer magazine also test several mascaras and provide detailed descriptions of their findings. Editors of several fashion magazines, including InStyle, Allure, Natural Health and Self, recommend favorites for their annual beauty awards. While testing methods in these sources are not clearly defined, their top picks are generally well-reviewed in consumer reviews.