A Complete Guide to the Confusing World of Mascara Wands

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A Complete Guide to the Confusing World of Mascara Wands
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Photo: Imaxtree

For reasons that should be glaringly clear, most women would choose mascara as their desert-island product: Not only does it define your eyes which are supposed to be the window to your soul all all, but a good mascara can make you look like you actually slept well last night, even if you’ve been up all night Googling flu-like symptoms (just me?).

MORE: This Life-Changing Mascara Hack Will Make Your Eyes Look Bigger

And while we’ve long been told that the formula—waterproof, lengthening, volumizing—is what matters most, it’s really all in the brush. “In my years of mascara testing, I’ve found 100% that the mascara wand is the most important for getting the lash look you want,” says NYC-based makeup artist Ashleigh Ciucci, who’s responsible for this gorgeous look. “It really doesn’t matter the formula: Every brush shape, size, and material will deposit product differently.”

MORE: Drugstore Smackdown: 5 Volumizing Mascaras, 1 Ultimate Winner

And of course, using a mascara wand that was made for volume when you really want length won’t be a total buzzkill on your look, but you’re cutting yourself off at the knees if you totally ignore the brush. Ahead, a primer on which mascara wand you should choose—and options to shop at every price point.

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Ball-Tipped
Ball-Tipped

A ball-tipped brush—one that has a spiked sphere on the end of the wand—helps coat both tiny inner lashes and longer outer lashes. Just be careful you don’t overdo it on the first shot: “A ball-tipped brush deposits loads of product quickly,” says Ciucci.

It Cosmetics Hello Lashes Extensions Mascara, $24; at Ulta

Photo: Ulta
Ball-Tipped
Ball-Tipped

e.l.f. 3-in-1 Mascara, $3; at Target

Photo: Target
Ball-Tipped
Ball-Tipped

Benefit They're Real! Lengthening Mascara, $24; at Ulta

Photo: Ulta
Ball-Tipped
Ball-Tipped

Givenchy Beauty Phenomen'Eyes Mascara, $31; at Barneys

Photo: Barneys
Curved
Curved

While a curved wand won’t completely replace your lash curler, the arched row of bristles helps coax your lashes upward, especially if you wiggle it mid-stroke.

Urban Decay Mascara Resurrection, $16; at Urban Decay

Photo: Urban Decay
Curved
Curved

Kevin Aucoin Expert Mascara, $29; at Bloomingdale's

Photo: Bloomingdale's
Curved
Curved

Maybelline Volum' Express The Colossal Chaotic Lash Mascara, $5.69; at Target

Photo: Target
Curved
Curved

Antonym Cosmetics Lola Lash Mascara, $23; at Credo Beauty

Photo: Credo Beauty
Thin
Thin

A thin, comb-like wand will allow you to coat each lash individually while separating at the same time,” says Ciucci. “I find that a thin brush give the most natural look.”

L'Oréal Telescopic Carbon Black Mascara, $9.99; at Ulta

Photo: Ulta
Thin
Thin

e.l.f. Lash Tiny Mascara, $4; at Target

Photo: Target
Thin
Thin

Estée Lauder Double Wear Zero-Smudge Lengthening Mascara, $26; at Sephora

Photo: Sephora
Thin
Thin

RMS Mascara Defining, $28; at Credo Beauty 

Photo: Credo Beauty
Pine Cone
Pine Cone

Just as the shape suggests, a tapered pine-cone brush is perfect for a cat-eye look—the longer bristles at the end grip the outer lashes while still managing to lightly coat the inner and middle lashes.

Make Up For Ever Smoky Extravagant Mascara, $24; at Sephora

Photo: Sephora
Pine Cone
Pine Cone

BeYu Magic Eyes Long Lasting Volume Mascara, $12.99; at Target

Photo: Target
Pine Cone
Pine Cone

Smashbox Full Exposure Mascara, $22; at Ulta

Photo: Ulta
Bottom Lashes
Bottom Lashes

Both Ciucci and I are big proponents of mascara on the bottom lashes, but with one caveat: “Apply mascara only on the outer corners if you have smaller eyes,” says Ciucci, who recommends pressing the brush into the lashes, rather than swiping it on. “But if your lashes are a little sparser, hold the brush vertical and use the tip to swish product on back and forth.”

Clinique Bottom Lash Mascara, $11.50; at Sephora

Photo: Sephora
Bottom Lashes
Bottom Lashes

Pixi Lower Lash Mascara, $11; at Target

Photo: Target
Bottom Lashes
Bottom Lashes

Ulta Twice as Nice Mascara, $5.97; at Ulta

Photo: Ulta
Expandable
Expandable

A newer type of mascara brush, an expandable wand’s bristles can space out and distribute the product to coat each individual lash to define them. When the bristles more tightly or densely spaced, they force lashes to clump together—in a good way.

Buxom Amplified Lash Mascara, $22; at bareMinerals

Photo: bareMinerals
Expandable
Expandable

Too Cool for School Dinoblatz Mascara, $25; at Sephora

Corkscrew
Corkscrew

The helix of bristles helps define each lash; try using this brush on either side of your lashes for a dramatic look.

Dior Diorshow 360 Mascara, $35; at Amazon

Photo: Amazon
Corkscrew
Corkscrew

Too Faced Size Queen Mascara, $21; at Sephora

Photo: Sephora
Corkscrew
Corkscrew

Milk Makeup Ubame Mascara, $24; at Sephora

Photo: Sephora
Rubber-Bristled
Rubber-Bristled

“Rubber bristles grip onto the hair and deposit product better than traditional bristles,” says Ciucci, who recommends this mascara brush for more defined, separated lashes. They also “maintain their shape so you are able to really get the desired effect of the wand structure and the formula of the mascara,” says Sephora Pro Lead Artist Julie Taing, who says rubber-bristled wands don’t clump or flake as easily, either.

W3LL PEOPLE Expressionist Pro Mascara, $21.99; at Target

Photo: Target
Rubber-Bristled
Rubber-Bristled

Ilia Asphalt Jungle Mascara, $26; at Ilia Beauty

Photo: Ilia Beauty
Rubber-Bristled
Rubber-Bristled

NARS Audacious Mascara, $26; at Sephora

Photo: Sephora
Super Bushy
Super Bushy

This type of wand was probably the one you reached for as a teen—or whenever you started wearing mascara. A classic plush brush helps lengthen lashes at the tip for a wide-eyed look.

Chantecaille 'Faux Cils' Longest Lash Mascara, $72; at Nordstrom

Photo: Nordstrom
Super Bushy
Super Bushy

Dior Diorshow Lash-Extension Effect Volume Mascara, $28.50; at Nordstrom

Photo: Nordstrom
Super Bushy
Super Bushy

Revlon Ultra Volume Mascara, $5.99; at Target

Photo: Target
U-Shaped
U-Shaped

A U-shaped brush is great for reaching the outer corners and pulling them up and out in one fell swipe. The result is equal parts voluminous and eye-opening.

Too Faced Better Than Sex Waterproof Mascara, $23; at Ulta

Photo: Ulta
U-Shaped
U-Shaped

Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir Major Volume Mascara, $26; at Sephora

Photo: Sephora
U-Shaped
U-Shaped

COVERGIRL Flamed Out Mascara, $4.99; at Target

Photo: Target

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  • Ball-Tipped
  • Ball-Tipped
  • Ball-Tipped
  • Ball-Tipped
  • Curved
  • Curved
  • Curved
  • Curved
  • Thin
  • Thin
  • Thin
  • Thin
  • Pine Cone
  • Pine Cone
  • Pine Cone
  • Bottom Lashes
  • Bottom Lashes
  • Bottom Lashes
  • Expandable
  • Expandable
  • Corkscrew
  • Corkscrew
  • Corkscrew
  • Rubber-Bristled
  • Rubber-Bristled
  • Rubber-Bristled
  • Super Bushy
  • Super Bushy
  • Super Bushy
  • U-Shaped
  • U-Shaped
  • U-Shaped
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