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Best Cheap Mascara Buying Guide

The vast majority of department store or specialty store brands, which cost anywhere from $25 to $75, offer no better a product or performance than many cheaper drugstore mascara brands. The truth is that most of the cost of cosmetics is in the packaging, and high-end packaging is what you get at the department store cosmetics counter.

Our research indicates that mascara, including cheap mascara, is one of those things consumers feel strongly about.

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Reviewers love a particular brand or they hate it; rarely does anyone feel "meh" about it. Each brand has its passionate (and vocal) supporters as well as its critics, so the only way to really tell if a particular brand or type is right for you is to try it. With such a staggering array of low-cost choices, you're bound to find one that works for you. And at prices under $10 for good quality mascaras, you can experiment without compromising on results or breaking the bank.

Mascara Features

Mascara Types.

We use mascara to enhance our lashes -- to lengthen, curl, or thicken, or in some cases, all three. And the best cheap mascara for you depends on your lash type. Someone with dark, thick but short lashes doesn't need the same kind of mascara as someone who has sparse, thin lashes. A blonde and a brunette don't want the same shade mascara, and mascara used by the star of the local swim team must withstand the demands of the sporting life. Here's a quick rundown of the common formulas you'll find in the mascara displays at your local drugstore.

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Lengthening Mascara.

People with short lashes may feel they've gotten the short end of the stick, but there is an upside. Short lashes are usually pretty thick and thick lashes give great definition around the eye without having to resort to eyeliner -- all you need do is add a bit of length. L'Oréal Telescopic Mascara (starting at $7.99), Maybelline Define-A-Lash Lengthening Mascara (starting at $5.9), and Almay One Coat Nourishing Mascara (starting at $5.99) are good cheap lengthening mascara options.

Curling Mascara.

Long, thick lashes are what advertisements tell us we all want. But even if your lashes are long and thick, they might need a bit of a curl to keep them from angling up. Curling mascaras are formulated to firm your lashes and their specially curved brushes help shape and lift lashes into place. L'Oréal Voluminous Curved Brush Volume Building Mascara (starting at $7.29) offers smooth, clump-free application as well as great curl, according to user reviews of the cheap mascara on Amazon. One of the newest curling mascaras on the U.S. market is Boots No7 Ultimate Curl Mascara (starting at $6.78), a popular British brand. One of the cheapest products, Wet n' Wild MegaWink Lash Curling Mascara (starting at $2.14), gets glowing reviews from Walgreens customers for lifting and curling the most stubborn lashes.

Thickening (Volumizing) Mascara.

If your lashes are straight and thin, you may think you've lost the lash lottery. But with the right product -- in this case, a thickening mascara -- your lashes can be as plump and eye-catching as the next girl's. Thin lashes are the easiest to curl but need help holding the curl. Cheap thickening mascara provides extra structure and strength to each individual lash, and the additional use of an eyelash curler provides greater longevity. Users swear by Prescriptives "Lash Envy" Mascara, but at $19.50, the price gives frugal users some pause. The budget-friendly volume mascara of choice is CoverGirl LashBlast (starting at $6.49), but if you're looking for a product that will last through hot summer days or the saddest movie and still look soft and natural, check out L'Oréal's Voluminous Mascara Waterproof (starting at $6.48).

Waterproof and Water-Soluble Mascaras.

Many drugstore brands offer their top cheap mascaras in both waterproof and water-soluble formulas -- Maybelline Great Lash, or CoverGirl's Lash Blast, for example. So consider the activities you participate in, as well as your make-up routine, before making a purchase. Cheap waterproof mascara stands up to moisture, be it sweat, rain, or tears, and will last through the day without reapplication. Mascara reviews by swimmers and other physically active consumers attest to the staying power of L'Oréal's Voluminous Mascara Waterproof in posts on Total Beauty. But when it's time to remove these waterproof varieties, you'll need eye makeup remover; using just water -- even soap and water -- requires excessive and potentially harmful rubbing of the delicate area around your eyes.

Water-soluble mascara should clean off easily; gentle wiping around the eyes with warm water usually does it. You may worry that such mascara might not last as long or smudges more easily than waterproof mascara, but plenty of cheap water-soluble mascaras have real staying power. (Even the heartiest waterproof mascara will smudge when you rub your irritated or tired eyes.) Enthusiastic users of Avon SuperShock Mascara (starting at $2.99) note in reviews on Viewpoints that this cheap mascara seems to last all day without smudging. In other mascara reviews, some disgruntled users report on sites like Drugstore.com and ChickAdvisor that Maybelline Great Lash smudges and runs even if you're not crying.

Mascara Brushes.

Mascaras come with a brush (or occasionally, two) of varying design -- straight, curved, long, short, or even vibrating. The standard straight brush creates length and covers more lashes at once. A curved brush, an option with L'Oréal Voluminous Mascara, boosts curl and reaches corner lashes more easily. Longer brushes, like you get with CoverGirl LashBlast or Almay One Coat, deliver more product to your lashes. Larger brushes often produce clumps on thin lashes, so DailyMakeover suggests using a brush with thinner, shorter bristles of the sort you find packaged with L'Oréal Telescopic, and apply the makeup sparingly in two coats.

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Some cheap mascaras come with specialized brushes. CoverGirl LashBlast features a patent-pending plastic wand that is designed for clump-free application and easy clean up. Maybelline's Define-A-Lash has a flexible brush with many tiny bristles that works well on sparse or thin lashes. The "Bold Impact Brush" sold with Revlon 3D Extreme has both short and extended bristles and a tapered tip that a mascara review by a user on Epinions criticizes for being too small and pulling too much mascara out of the bottle.

Most of the new vibrating mascara brushes are found at the pricier end of the market -- Lancôme Ôscillation, for example, sells for $34. Maybelline mascara is the first drugstore brand to hit the shelves with its own vibrating mascara, Pulse Perfection (starting at $9.99). Mascara reviews by Walgreens shoppers seem to like this product for its smooth look and easy application.

Two-Step Mascaras.

Some mascaras are almost two-in-one products in that they involve a two-step application process. They feature dual-sided wands and two compartments, one that holds some sort of "lash conditioner" or base coat and one for the actual mascara. The majority of two-step products are fairly expensive; examples include LORAC Special Effects Mascara (starting at $22) and Blinc Kiss Me Black Mascara and Eyelash Primer (starting at $20.99). But even in the cheap mascara department, frugal users have several choices. The unusual boxcutter-shape packaging of L'Oréal Volume Shocking 2-Step Volume Construction Mascara (starting at $8.99) is certainly an eye-catcher, and the end result, according to comparative mascara reviews at Splendora, is long, voluminous lashes -- if you do the two-step routine correctly. Another option from L'Oréal is Double Extend Lash Extension Effect Mascara (starting at $8.99), which adds volume and length and is preferred by the mascara reviews on Face Candy blog to the more expensive competition. XXL Volume + Length Microfiber Mascara (starting at $3.99) by Maybelline disappoints some users. A review on All Women Stalk says you get volume and length even without the base coat, but you need two coats of the mascara itself to create the proper effect.

Mascaras Performance

Overall Performance.

Most mascara advertising emphasizes some special aspect of the product, be it the lash-lengthening formula or curl-creating brush. Marketing hype aside, what most women want is a good, overall mascara -- one that gives length, volume, and definition; goes on smoothly; and lasts until the wearer chooses to take it off. That's really not much to ask, and excellent all-purpose mascaras can be found at every price range and in every specialty niche.

Lancôme "Définicils" High Definition Mascara is a regular on the "best mascara" lists of make-up artists, beauty editors, and in mascara reviews by consumers, but it's never going to be on anyone's beauty bargain list with a price tag of $24. The budget-friendly Maybelline Great Lash, on the other hand, has been a top choice in mascara reviews by editors and readers of magazines like Allure, Teen Vogue, Essence, and Woman's Day. Thrifty shoppers searching for a good every-day mascara might also look to L'Oréal Waterproof Voluminous Mascara, CoverGirl's LashExact, or Max Factor 2000 Calorie (starting at $5.99), and Max Factor Lash Perfection (starting at $8.69). Both Max Factor products claim loyal followers, with mascara reviews by Drugstore.com users noting that Lash Perfection doesn't clump, looks great even after a workout, and comes off easily with eye makeup remover. The 2000 Calorie mascara, especially the Aqua Lash waterproof version (starting at $6.29), also earns praise from users posting on Total Beauty for producing big, thick, natural-looking lashes that survive the most humid days. Unfortunately for Max Factor fans, the product will soon disappear from the U.S. market, so stock up while you can.

Mascara Staying Power.

Regardless of the marketing claims made for any particular mascara, if it smudges, runs, flakes, or just plain wears off, it isn't worth spending money on. Despite some dissenting opinions, Maybelline Great Lash is frequently lauded in mascara reviews on sites like Viewpoints for its staying power; Glamour magazine readers named Great Lash one of their favorite, must-have beauty products and particularly like the smear-proof results, according to a CBS News report. L'Oréal Telescopic Mascara lasts through workouts at the gym, write reviewers on the Walgreens site. Among the low-cost two-step mascaras, Maybelline's XXL Volume + Length Microfiber Mascara wins an endorsement in mascara reviews on Epinions for looking as good at the end of the day as at the beginning.

Mascara Application.

No one wants to spend more than a minute or two applying mascara or worrying about how much (too little? too much?) is on the brush. Removing excess formula is messy and can damage the brush or introduce unwanted elements (like water or bacteria) into the tube. And anyone who has ever hurried to separate clumped lashes before the mascara dries knows that clumping is second to smudging on the list of sins mascara can commit. So, how does your mascara of choice fare? Users of perennial favorite Great Lash write on Buzzillions that it applies smoothly, without clumps or flakes. Maybelline Define-A-Lash counts the beauty editor of BellaOnline among its fans and also won top spot in a comparative test of drugstore mascaras by Splendora. Both of these mascara reviews credit the flexible brush with a built-in wiper for the smooth deposit of mascara on lash. Users also voted Almay One Coat a spot on Total Beauty's list of top drugstore mascaras for its applicator wand and clump-free, flake-free application.

Ease of Removal.

After a long day of running around, the last thing you want to do is struggle to remove your mascara before turning in for the night. Although you might be tempted to just leave it on, don't -- you'll probably wake up with raccoon eyes and, more importantly, risk the consequences of dried and hardened mascara flakes getting trapped under your closed eyelids. Whether your mascara is waterproof or water soluble, it should be easy to remove. CoverGirl Remarkable Waterproof Washable Mascara (starting at $4.21) neatly illustrates that point: one user comments in a mascara review on Epinions that she cried through a wedding with makeup intact but later washed it away with no-fuss soap and water. Ironically, some water-soluble mascaras are hard to remove; Revlon's 3D Extreme (starting at $8.48) seems to be one such product. The 15 Minute Beauty blog reports name-brand eye makeup removers aren't up to the task and traces of mascara were found on the tester's pillow in the morning.

Health and Safety.

No matter which mascara you buy, you should follow necessary precautions to limit the chance of eye infections or other problems.

Never share your mascara with anyone because doing so can spread bacteria that may result in pink eye, sties, and other eye infections. Pay attention to the condition of the mascara and the wand -- once opened, exposure to the air (and normally circulating bacteria) affects product performance and can lead to medical problems. Has the mascara changed color? Do you detect a change in how it smells? Is it clumping more than it did originally? Is it hard to get out of the container? Is the brush showing signs of wear? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," it's time to buy a new package.

Another thing to remember about cosmetics is that time is not on your side. Cosmetics don't last indefinitely, and mascara, in particular, has a very short shelf life. There are no rules requiring cosmetics manufacturers to include expiration dates on their products, so use your judgment. Most optometrists and makeup and beauty experts agree that new, unopened mascara is fine on the shelf for about two years but is only good for three or four months once it's opened.

by Maralyn Edid (Google+ Profile)

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