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Spoiler alert: Finding a mascara that delivers your ultimate lash goals doesn’t require a trip to your local luxe makeup store. Believe it or not, some pretty stellar lash products are just waiting to be discovered at the drugstore, including mascara. While this may seem shocking, the fact of the matter is that there really are formulas that are affordable but don't sacrifice quality—and new ones are hitting the shelves all the time, too.
“I always have a drugstore mascara in my kit," says New York-based makeup artist Neil Scibelli. "They’re right up there with luxury mascaras, and many of them share the same research departments and formulation labs. Don’t forget that a lot of these massive drugstore brands have the budget to do extensive testing and reformulating."
Meet the Expert
- Neil Scibelli is a makeup artist and beauty expert based in New York City. His clients include major supermodels, recording artists, and fashion houses. His work has been featured on national television, in print and online magazines, on the red carpet, and on runways during New York Fashion Week.
With this in mind, you might think that all drugstore mascaras are great options—but that’s where you’d be wrong. To save you from snagging a less-than-stellar product, we spent 132 hours researching drugstore mascaras and personally testing 12 of the most popular formulas at home. Each mascara was scored on a scale of one to five based on different tests that assessed wand design, lash separation and clumping, wear, ease of removal, and overall performance.
Read on to learn more about the best drugstore mascaras on the market now.
Best Overall: Flower Beauty Warrior Princess Mascara
Noticeably enhanced lashes with one coat
Wand picks up a lot of product
Slight smudging after 11 hours
Flower Beauty’s Warrior Princess Mascara reigned supreme in our testing of the best drugstore mascaras. In a wear test, we applied this mascara around 7 AM, and by 10 PM, our tester's lashes looked just as lifted and full as they did when first applying the creamy product—and with very minimal smudging, to boot! To say we’re impressed by this drugstore beauty buy is an understatement.
In our book, a major reason why this mascara worked so well is because of its expertly-shaped wand. Much like Too Faced’s cult-favorite Better Than Sex Mascara, Warrior Princess features a feathery hourglass shape that makes coating the tricky inner and outer lashes just as simple as coating the longer middle lashes.
Beyond the wand, the formula itself is impressive, albeit a touch thicker than other mascaras on this list. Despite its chunkier texture, Warrior Princess didn’t lead to any major clumping or unflattering separating. And, most impressively, it didn’t take forever to dry—which is so often the case with thicker formulas (and so often the reason that they end up on your upper lid). Not this Flower Beauty formula, though.
What’s more, Warrior Princess is easy to remove. As a controlled variable in our testing, we relied on Drunk Elephant’s E-Rase Milki Micellar Water for removal. And, when it came to Warrior Princess, a single micellar water-soaked cotton round was enough to remove the jet-black product fully.
Our one recommendation with this product is to wipe off any excess mascara on the rim of the tube before applying it to lashes. As a thicker, creamier formula, the wand picks up a lot of product, which can lead to slight clumping if directly applied.
Formula and Type: Volumizing and thickening | Ophthalmologist-Tested: No | Color Range: Royal black | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Editors Say
"I have naturally thin lashes that fall flat even after curling, so I hold mascaras to a very, very high standard. This new launch from Flower Beauty, Warrior Princess, is my new favorite. The brush is thick and fluffy, so it adds major volume in just a few sweeps. But the thing that impressed me the most was its ability to hold a curl. Most volumizing formulas make my lashes droop and weigh them down, but this one lifted them higher than I’ve ever seen and kept the curl in place all day. Plus, it’s only $10—a total steal." —Faith Xue, Former Editorial Director
Best Lifting: e.l.f. Cosmetics Big Mood Mascara
Feathery hourglass wand
Slightly more difficult to remove
If it weren’t for slightly more difficult removal, e.l.f. Cosmetics’ Big Mood Mascara would have tied with Warrior Princess for the best overall drugstore mascara. The creamy formula applies like a dream from the very first swipe, smoothly coating and lifting lashes without a single clump in sight. One coat of the fan-favorite formula resulted in noticeably darker and fuller lashes; three coats made them look like full-on falsies.
Best of all, Big Mood creates volume and lift that lasts. After 11 hours of wear, our tester found that her lashes still looked full and lifted, with zero smudging or flaking. The formula is to thank for that. Infused with jojoba oil, it’s designed to stay put while also nourishing the lashes, keeping them from drying out and flaking onto the under-eye area and cheeks.
As for the aforementioned removal, it’s not that Big Mood is terribly difficult to remove—it’s just that it’s so pigmented that it required two cotton rounds soaked with micellar water to remove it completely. Still, that just goes to show the long-lasting wear power of this drugstore must-have.
Formula and Type: Volume and lifting | Ophthalmologist-Tested: No | Color Range: Three shades, including deep brown, black, and pitch black | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Editors Say
“I’ve run the gambit of lash lifts, lash extensions, and pricey prestige mascaras, and truly nothing compares to the natural, fluttery look I get from Big Mood. Just a few coats give me a full-on falsies effect, coating my short, blonde, sparse lashes in a rich, jet-black formula that works like a push-up bra for my lashes. That, and this formula stays put all day. I’m fairly active, and this formula never leaks down my face during workouts or transfers onto my lids during sweaty New York City subway rides. The way I see it, this is a $7 miracle.” —Holly Rhue, Senior Editor
Best Lengthening: Essence Cosmetics Lash Princess False Lash Effect Mascara
Wand coats and separates each lash
Highly pigmented formula
Dramatically lengthens and lifts lashes
Product tends to clump on wand
Flakes after all-day wear
If your goal is to achieve false-looking lashes with just a few coats of mascara, look no further than Essence’s Lash Princess False Lash Effect Mascara. From a performance perspective, we found that a single coat immediately lifted and volumized lashes, while three coats dramatically increased both volume and length.
It's also worth mentioning, however, that thanks to a slightly thicker formula, this creamy mascara does tend to clump on the end of the wand, so it’s best to wipe it off before applying. What’s more, as stunningly as it applies and wears for hours on end, after the eight-hour mark, it starts to falter in the form of noticeable flakes. Still, it wears so well during those first eight hours that it remains a top contender.
Formula and Type: Volumizing | Ophthalmologist-Tested: Yes | Color Range: Black | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
“I’ll be honest: I did not expect this mascara to perform as well as it did or give me results that were similar to those I'm used to getting from a more expensive formula. My lashes immediately looked longer, fuller, and separated. I did not notice much of a curl with this formula, but the biggest takeaway was how long my lashes looked and the instant definition. I also really liked the wand, which was easy to use, and even after applying it a few times on my lashes, the finish was very smooth.” —Ashley Rebecca, Product Tester
Best Defining: Maybelline Lash Sensational Sky High Mascara
Noticeably defines lashes
Not highly pigmented (despite name)
Maybelline’s Lash Sensational Sky High Mascara is neither lightweight nor chunky. According to our tester, in just one coat, it noticeably lengthened and lifted her lashes. Also, the wand is made with spiked plastic, rather than with bristles, which we believe adds to the ultra-defined, easy-to-apply nature of the mascara.
That said, the wand is very flexible (purposefully so), and the formula itself is lighter than we expected—both of which made it more difficult to adequately coat lashes from base to ends in one fell swoop. Instead, it required a few coats to achieve noticeably darker and defined lashes. But once we did apply a few coats, the results were noticeable.
Be advised that this mascara isn’t labeled as cruelty-free, nor is it Byrdie Clean, as it contains paraffin and PEGs. This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker but is more something to think about if you place a high value on those qualifications.
Formula and Type: Volumizing and lengthening | Ophthalmologist-Tested: Yes | Color Range: Very black and blackest black | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
What Our Testers Say
“The Maybelline Lash Sensational Sky High Mascara is great for anyone looking for a product that can give your lashes length, definition, and curl while without any clumping whatsoever. It doesn't give as much volume as others I've tried, but it's a great option if long, healthy-looking lashes are what you're after.” —Khera Alexander, Product Tester
Best Color Selection: L'Oréal Paris Voluminous Original Mascara
Wide color selection
Creates noticeable volume
Causes minor sticking with added coats
Slight flaking by end of day
If you’re tired of classic black mascaras, you’ll love the wide selection of colors that the L'Oréal Paris Voluminous Mascara comes in—namely the popular Cobalt Blue and Deep Violet shades. Plus, since this mascara is super pigmented, it doesn’t require endless coats to achieve dramatically darker lashes.
The main problem with this mascara, however, is that with multiple coats comes a chance of minor sticking and clumping. That said, we found that it’s best applied with slow care, making sure to wiggle the wand from the base of the lashes to the tips, rather than quickly swiping it on.
Although clumping is possible, the fact that this volumizing mascara made lashes pop with a single coat makes it a worthwhile drugstore find in our book. Plus, even after 11 hours of wear, there was hardly any flaking or smudging, making it a great option for those looking for a long-lasting formula.
One other slight deterrent to be mentioned is that this formula is sadly not Byrdie Clean, as it contains paraffin. Still, it remains a cult-favorite mascara for those looking for volume, length, and lift.
Formula and Type: Volumizing | Ophthalmologist-Tested: Yes | Color Range: Seven colors, including cobalt blue, deep violet, and deep green | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Vegan: CoverGirl Lash Blast Clean Volume Mascara
Nourishes lashes with marula and argan oils
Not super pigmented
Requires multiple coats for dramatic lift
There’s a lot to love about Covergirl’s Lash Blast Clean Volume Mascara. For starters, despite having the same wand as the classic Covergirl Lash Blast Volume Mascara, we found that a single coat of this smooth, clump-free formula offered better results than five coats of the OG formula. Still, hoping to put it to the ultimate test, we applied five coats of the creamy formula and found that it worked wonders to deliver beautifully curled voluminous lashes.
However, is that despite being a cleaner version of the original formula, Covergirl's Lash Blast Clean Volume mascara is not Byrdie Clean, as it contains triethanolamine. That said, the ingredient list is notably closer to meeting our standards than the original.
Formula and Type: Volumizing | Ophthalmologist-Tested: No | Color Range: Pitch Black and Very Black | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
“If you want long, defined, full lashes that still look natural, the Covergirl Lash Blast Clean Volume Mascara is for you. The plastic wand provides great separation and lift, but it doesn't deposit heaps of product, so it’s not too clumpy or intense. I found one coat was pretty subtle, but after five or so applications (I’m heavy-handed), my lashes were curly and really noticeable; the kind of noticeable that gets you compliments from strangers.” —Emily Algar, Product Tester
Best Buildable: L'Oréal Paris Telescopic Original Mascara
Adds immediate length
Creates eye-opening lift
Little to no clumping
Product easily transfers onto lash line
If your main goal is jaw-dropping length, you can’t go wrong with L'Oréal Paris’ Telescopic Mascara. The formula is creamy and lightweight and doesn't cause major clumping or sticking when swiping it from base to tip. Best of all, a single coat offers immediate length, lift, and pigment. And after five coats, the length was even more of a wow factor.
That said, in order to achieve such length, it was impossible not to have some mascara transfer through to the lash line. That’s an easy fix, though—a cotton swab soaked in micellar water works as an effective touch-up tool for this mascara. Another thing to note about this mascara is that the wand is particularly spikey, which makes wiggling it along the base of your lashes a bit uncomfortable, but not so much that it’s worth forgetting altogether.
Lastly, while this mascara isn’t marketed as a tubing formula, that’s exactly the results it seems to deliver. As such, removing it was a bit more difficult—in fact, it was the most difficult formula to remove among those we tested. The results make it worth a few extra swipes of micellar water, though.
Formula and Type: Lengthening | Ophthalmologist-Tested: Yes | Color Range: Three colors | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for a Natural Look: Neutrogena Healthy Lengths Mascara
Good no-makeup-makeup effect
Doesn’t offer dramatic volume or lift
Last but not least, we have Neutrogena’s Healthy Lengths Mascara. The lightly pigmented mascara might not dramatically enhance the color of lashes, but it works well to define and lengthen lashes thanks to its soft bristle brush complete with nicely spaced bristles to comb lashes.
As a result, we found this mascara to be a great option for those looking for a no-makeup-makeup look, as the color is subtle and the length looks natural yet enhanced. That said, if the goal is dramatic volume or lift, this isn’t the mascara for you.
Formula and Type: Lengthening | Ophthalmologist-Tested: Yes | Color Range: Black and Black Brown | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: No
There are dozens of highly-rated drugstore mascaras on the market, but our top pick is the Flower Beauty Warrior Princess Mascara. The feathery brush and smooth formula make for easy application from base to tip, offering extreme volume, length, and lift in the process, not to mention overall dramatically enhanced pigment. Our runner-up is the e.l.f. Cosmetics Big Mood Mascara—which, while slightly more difficult to remove, offers a dark, full, falsie-like flutter in just a couple of coats.
Other Options We Tested
Covergirl Lash Blast Volume ($10): While the Covergirl Lash Blast Volume Mascara is beloved by many shoppers thanks to its smooth and lightweight formula, we found that it was too lightweight to deliver any real noticeable volume. The brush is partly to blame for that. It's spiky and rigid (not like the soft silicone brushes that resemble it), which made the application slightly uncomfortable. What’s more, despite being a Very Black shade, the mascara only slightly added pigment to our lashes, which ultimately gave them a more natural look—however, it still didn't accentuate our lashes the way we'd expect from a volumizing formula.
NYX Worth the Hype Volumizing & Lengthening Mascara ($8): Put simply, this popular drugstore mascara isn’t worth the hype in our book. It added zero length or volume with a single coat. That said, with five coats, it did make for a super feathery application that offered noticeable length and lift, albeit not nearly as pigmented as we’d like. While it did stay put throughout the day, with minimal flaking as the hours went by, the little lift it did offer noticeably decreased by the end of the day.
JOAH Lash Up Rising Volumizing & Lengthening Mascara ($10): This mascara was a shocking letdown considering how much one tester loved the brand’s companion lash primer, the JOAH Lash UPrising Boosting Primer. While that product is the ultimate luxe dupe, the mascara itself fails to deliver noteworthy pigment, volume, or length. However, it did keep lashes free of clumps and kept them nicely separated and natural-looking (though not lengthened by any notable measure).
Wet n Wild Mega Volume Mascara ($4): Although this mascara worked well to keep lashes free of clumps, it didn't work well to deliver any notable volume. While it offered buildable length, even with three coats, we were unable to achieve any notable volume. It was also lacking in the pigment department. We thought it was buildable with multiple coats, but not enough that we'd reach for it again.
How We Test Drugstore Mascaras
The author of this piece, Byrdie contributor Rebecca Norris, spent three weeks researching drugstore mascaras and sorting through reviews to land on the product selection. Once the team narrowed down the drugstore mascaras with the highest accolades, it was time to put them to the test. Rebecca then spent 132 hours evaluating a dozen of the best drugstore mascaras on the market, taking into consideration everything from the packaging and formula to the number of coats it took to achieve the intended result and any flaking or smudging throughout the day.
Each mascara was rated on a scale of one to five for performance, separation and clumping, wand design, wear, and ease of removal. At the end of the testing period, Rebecca selected the top eight drugstore mascaras and offered input as to why the others didn’t make the cut. All testing was conducted at her home in the Washington, D.C. area.
What to Look For in a Drugstore Mascara
Type of formula
When selecting a drugstore mascara, you want to keep your overall goals in mind. If you have extremely light lashes, you may want a highly pigmented formula. If you have short lashes, a lengthening formula will be your BFF. If you have limp lashes, a volumizing and lifting formula can help give them more shape. Additionally, you’ll want to think about what matters most to you from an ethical and sustainable standpoint, as well as overall wear. If ethics and animals are top of mind, then a cruelty-free formula is a must. If sustainability and general health are of importance to you, looking for a clean formula (specifically Byrdie Clean) is a worthwhile endeavor. And if ultra-long-lasting wear is your main goal, considering a waterproof formula may be your best bet.
Beauty products are targeted—even drugstore mascaras. As such, we’ve written a whole guide to the best mascara wand according to your lash type. Where a thick, oversized brush can give dense lashes lift and curl, a long, skinny, fine-toothed wand can breathe new life into curly, short, fine lashes. Have sparse lashes? An hourglass wand can help you fake enviable volume and lift.
Ease of removal
Even though we want a mascara that withstands the test of time from morning to night, we don’t want a formula that’s so difficult to remove that it requires massive amounts of friction, which can drastically damage lashes. In a past article on proper eye makeup removal techniques, New York-based, board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian shared that “gentle dabbing and soft circular movements should be enough to lift the eye makeup off, without traumatizing the skin.” If that’s not the case for your mascara, it’s time to try a new cleanser (like a makeup-melting balm) or find a new mascara.
With so many products on the market, word-of-mouth reviews can prove beneficial. When taking other people’s reviews into mind, however, you’ll want to ensure that their lash type coincides with your own—otherwise, their perspective may not be super effective for your own flutter.
Meet the Expert
- Rachel Nazarian is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. She specializes in a range of medical and cosmetic dermatology services and is also a faculty member at Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Department of Dermatology, where she completed her dermatology residency.
What should I do if I get a drugstore mascara formula in my eye?
Anytime you get anything in your eye, the proper approach is to flush it out with water. If after doing so your eye continues to feel irritated, you should seek medical attention. It’s always better to be safe than sorry—especially when your eyes (and vision) are at risk.
What should I do if I get a drugstore mascara on my eyelid?
It’s a simple fix. Simply soak a cotton swab with micellar water and gently wipe it away. For even more target removal, opt for a pointed swab. Or, if you don’t want to embrace a multi-step process, consider stocking your beauty routine with Alleyoop’s Tip Off Liquid Filled Makeup Removing Swabs. Simply crack off the tip, let the other tip fill with liquid, and swipe away.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie beauty writer Rebecca Norris has been contributing articles to the site for over three years and has been working within the beauty field for over eight years. She’s in the know on all the latest and greatest mascara formulas or used her knowledge to hand-select top drugstore options, which she then tested first-hand to offer expert input on the category. Rather than being based on brand preference alone, each mascara was rated on a standardized scale to conclude the best drugstore mascaras of 2021.