13 best mascaras for adding volume and drama to your lashes
We’ve found the formulas that will keep your lashes looking enviably long and pigmented
When it comes to finding the perfect mascara, the choice is overwhelming. Head to any beauty counter and each and every mascara promises perfection for your peepers. It’s the desert island beauty must-have for most, the beauty holy grail.
But which wands really deliver? You can tell almost immediately what a mascara is designed to achieve by its brush. Broadly, the bigger it is, the more volume you get. But there are several variations. Here’s the low down:
Thick bristles make lashes dense, curved wands curl, conical shapes lengthen and draw out a cat-eye look, bubble shapes lift, skinny wands define shorter lashes, pointed ones add length, spiral wands add volume and curl, jumbo brushes give fast and easy volume and thickness (but may not catch the tiny corner hairs), and hourglass wands volumise and lift.
Bristle brushes give fullness and a fluttery look, and are kinder to eyes than the rubber or plastic wands, although these are great for precision and definition.
We put over 40 mascaras to the test – we were vigorous in our demands and high in our standards. We don’t tolerate clumping, flaking or smudging. We love brushes that pick up just the right amount of product, bristles that separate so you don’t need to comb through after, a brush shape that catches the tiny hairs in the corners, and a good dense pigment for volume and drama.
We also like a lightness in our mascara – no heavy, weighed-down lids. And ease of removal, so no tugging and damaging lashes while cleansing at night. With all that in mind, here are the products that made the cut.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
La Roche-Posay Toleriane volume mascara: £13.60, Escentual
It’s not often in beauty you find a product for sensitive skin or eyes that outperforms regular products, because the ingredients are often toned down. But this is an exception. We found it was thickening, lengthening and completely non-clumping and it’s specially formulated to be comfortable for contact lens wearers and sensitive skin.
The brush doesn’t pick up too much product, so it’s possible to build colour and volume with several swipes – and a buildable mascara means you can add to it after work before going out, without flaking. We found the aerated formula meant a good cover of product, but with a lightweight feel so lashes don’t feel weighed down. Added ceramides help strengthen lashes long term and thickening carnauba wax adds density to each lash.
Nars Climax dramatic volumising mascara: £17.85, John Lewis & Partners
This jumbo-size, full-bodied brush has ribbed bristles, so we found each and every lash was captured, coated and separated quickly and easily. It doesn’t deposit too much pigment in one hit, so several layers were needed to build up the intensity for super-size lashes – but as we layered, we didn’t experience any clumping at all. It gives a lovely lifted look and pulls lashes into a great curl that stays put. We found the formula gorgeously lightweight and even with layer upon layer for a really dramatic look, lashes didn’t ever feel heavy.
Too Faced Better than Sex mascara: £19, Cult Beauty
This number one selling mascara in the US has garnered fans all over the world, and on testing we could immediately see why. A wide hour-glass bristle brush separates, thickens, lifts, lengthens, curls and coats with every swipe, leaving absolutely no lashes behind.
Collagen fuelled and polymer-packed, the formula has incredible staying power and is completely smudge proof – it's almost as effective as a waterproof mascara, but is still easy to remove at night with a normal cleanser.
Sisley So Volume mascara: £45, John Lewis & Partners
This offering from luxury skincare brand Sisley has a big tube and extra-large brush – before we even got it on our lashes we knew this was going to add some serious volume. And it didn’t disappoint. Length, curl and volume were all extraordinary, separation of lashes was excellent and we found it easy to catch the tiny corner hairs – impressive for such wide bristles on this wand. The brush shape ensured a neat finish – with no pigment accidently hitting the eye lids.
This is an expensive mascara, but the science involved makes it a good purchase if you have weak lashes that need a little TLC. The vitamin-rich, peptide based formula works on length and thickness, while carnauba wax coats and creates denser lashes. Not only are lashes instantly bigger, but over time, their condition improves thanks to nourishing castor oil, protecting beeswax and pro-vitamin B5 – while rice phytoceramides strengthen and reinforce the lash structure.
It also contains a curling and fixing agent, so the lash maintains the curl you put in as you draw the mascara up through the lashes – a real game-changer for very straight hairs. We found it was also clump-free and flake-free, it’s good for sensitive eyes and contact lens wearers and it only took a couple of weeks of daily use for lashes to feel thicker and stronger.
Revlon Ultra Volume mascara: £6.65, Feel Unique
If you want to go out straight from work and build up from a natural day look to a stronger night eye, choose this one, as it won’t flake even with the extra product applied hours later. The big round bristle brush combs through and separates lashes with near-perfect symmetry, wrapping each lash from root to tip with its gentle black formula. There was absolutely no clumping, combing through isn’t required and it doesn’t smudge under the eye at all. Great value for money too.
Smashbox Super Fan Fanned-Out mascara: £17.50, Smashbox
Rubber bristles are usually primarily designed to give definition, while regular bristles are for achieving volume. But this oval-shaped wand with rubber bristles gives a lengthened, plumped-up lash look and expertly catches even those hidden fine corner lashes, all in one go without clumps, smudges or flakes. We found it gave a lifted, fanned-out cat-eye look. Choose Smashbox if you want dramatic lashes on a smokey eye.
Delilah Definitive Volumising and Defining mascara: £24, Look Fantastic
The surprisingly spaced out bristles on this wand ensure lash definition and separation is absolute perfection – no clumping possible here as the bristles can’t get clogged with pigment – and this results in a really pretty natural look. No smudging at all, even during exercise, and the stretchable film in the formula helps add length to shorter lashes.
Olive wax also condition and add a softness to the mascara, making it easy to add layers and build up for a dramatic evening look. If you wear a softer daytime eye and want to add to your mascara after work for a night out, this is a great choice.
Rimmel London Volume Colourist mascara: £4.08, Amazon
This is a great one to use before your summer holiday as it contains a semi-permanent lash tint. The more you wear it, the more tint it deposits on your lashes, slowly darkening them over time. It took about two weeks of use to see a difference, but we then found lashes looked made-up without any mascara on.
The conical tapered brush lengthens and volumises and is able to catch smaller corner lashes. Lashes do need a quick comb through after application – it doesn’t separate as well as some of the other mascaras in the line-up – but the added tint element more than makes up it. And the tint doesn’t make it any more difficult to remove – a normal creamy cleanser does the job easily.
Charlotte Tilbury Full Fat Lashes: £23, Charlotte Tilbury
This one without a doubt ticks all the mascara boxes. Curling, separating, volumising, lengthening – we found Full Fat Lashes can do it all. The five-grooved brush delivers enough formula at the base of the lashes to help pull them up and out – like a push-up bra for lashes. You can make it as glossy and dramatic as you need – we found it layers really successfully without flaking or clumping.
Max Factor False Lash Effect mascara: £4.60, Amazon
This rubber-bristled wand has the most bristles Max Factor has ever used on a mascara wand, which combined with a strong pigment means you don’t need many layers as it fully loads up every time you pull the wand out of the tube. We found it separates lashes brilliantly and catches small hairs easily to fan out the lash line. It doesn’t flake or smudge either. As the tube says it gives a false lash look, which isn’t to everyone’s taste, but if you like them fluttery, plumped-up and defined, this is the one to choose.
L’Oreal Paris So Couture Volume Million Lashes: £7.65, Feel Unique
A fairly average-sized, conical-shaped fine rubber bristled brush that manages to perform like a jumbo, over-sized bristle brush. This has been a staple in our makeup kit for a while and it’s not often we actually finish a beauty product, when there are so many others waiting to be tested – this was used right up to its bitter end. The ultra-light formula makes it easy to apply with zero clumping and clogging, while the brush delivers pigment from root to tip on every lash, while also curling, lifting, lengthening and volumising. A great high street mascara that out performed many of the high-end brands.
MAC Cosmetics In Extreme Dimension 3D black mascara: £20, Debenhams
We found this mascara gives the dense look of false lashes, but without the weight. The supersized rubber bristled wand picks up just the right amount of pigment – you don’t have to go over and over the same lashes, but it also won’t load up lashes too quickly and end up clumping. Not only is this one a good volumiser and lengthener, but if you have very straight lashes, you’ll find it curls and lifts too. It also comes in a waterproof version.
Ardell Double Up Volumising mascara: £8, Amazon
The clever double cap on this tube means you don’t need a separate comb for defining lashes. Pull the wand through the first wider neck to pick up as much product as possible for the first application. Then, replace the wand and draw it up through the narrower neck to remove excess mascara, brushing through to separate the lashes and remove any clumping. The tapered end of this cone wand gets into the corners to catch the tiny lashes and the wide, long bristles on the other end load up the lashes with mascara to give maximum volume.
The verdict: Mascaras
For suits-all perfection, La Roche Posay is our IndyBest winner. It's well-priced, suitable for sensitive skin and contact lens wearers, is buildable, lightweight and has a strengthening formula to keep lashes in great condition. For smudge-proof staying power, Too Faced is a firm choice, while Sisley is great for beautifully conditioning lashes.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.
Black Friday 2019 is nearly here. Find out how to get the best deals here