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Cheap Mascara Buying Guide

The vast majority of department store or designer brands, which cost anywhere from $25 to $75, offer no better product or performance than many cheaper drugstore mascara brands. In fact, experts often recommend scrimping when it comes to mascara, because the product has a typical shelf life of only three months once it's been opened.

All that opening and closing of the tube exposes the mascara to the air and to normally circulating bacteria, and the wet consistency dries out and breeds infection.

Major cosmetic brands L'Oreal, Maybelline, and CoverGirl top our list of excellent, cheap mascaras, and one department-store brand managed to meet our price limit. Our top picks are L'Oreal Voluminous Butterfly (starting at $7) and Clinique Bottom Lash (starting at $10). We also like Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies Big Eyes (starting at $5) and Cover Girl Professional All-In-One Curved Brush mascara (starting at $5). Wet n Wild Mega Plump (starting at $4) is one product we suggest consumers pass on.

Some of the mascaras we researched, including L'Oreal Voluminous Butterfly and Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies Big Eyes, are available in both waterproof and water-soluble/washable formulas. Consider the activities you participate in, as well as your make-up routine, before purchasing a waterproof formula. You'll need eye makeup remover to wipe it away at the end of the day; using just water -- or even soap and water -- requires excessive rubbing of the delicate skin around your eyes, potentially breaking lashes and causing irritation.

No matter which mascara you buy, follow necessary precautions to limit the chance of eye infections and other problems. Never share your mascara with anyone, because doing so can spread bacteria that may result in pink eye, sties, and other ailments. Pay attention to the condition of the mascara and the wand. 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 tube.

What We Looked For:

Types of Mascara

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 with thick lashes you get great definition around the eye without having to resort to eyeliner. Experts say to look for a mascara with a comb-like wand designed to separate, define, and lengthen lashes without clumping. L'Oreal Voluminous Butterfly Mascara has a wing-tipped brush to add extra length to those tiny lashes at the inner and outer corners of the eye. Clinique Bottom Lash also lengthens short lashes -- both top and bottom, according to user reviews.

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Volumizing Mascara.

Thickening or "volumizing" mascara provides extra structure and amplitude to each individual lash. You'll want to look for a large brush with thick, dense bristles, designed to add a good amount of product to your lashes. Maybelline's Volum' Express The Falsies Big Eyes mascara is equipped with dual brushes: a larger brush for the upper lashes, which features dense bristles, and a smaller brush with short, thick bristles to add fullness to bottom lashes. Clinique Bottom Lash is another mascara to consider if you want to add extra oomph to stubby lashes. The short wand is designed especially for those little lashes that regular mascara wands have trouble reaching. Reviews on the Sephora website report that the product really catches and coats bottom lashes for a fuller look.

Curling Mascara.

Long, thick lashes are what advertisements suggest we all need and want. But if your lashes are already long and thick, they might need a bit of a curl to keep them from angling down. In that case, try a curling mascara that's formulated to firm lashes and hold them up. The brush on this type of mascara is usually curved to help shape and lift lashes. The Cover Girl Professional All-In-One mascara on our list has a curved brush that is supposed to reach even the tiniest top lashes, such as the ones on the inner corner of the eye. Cover Girl recommends using this mascara with an eyelash curler to get the most eye-opening effect. In general, any mascara will work to its maximum effect when used in conjunction with an eyelash curler. On super-straight lashes, the curler bends the lashes and a curling mascara helps hold them in place.

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