There’s a real benefit to being able to get everything you need—groceries, toiletries, and even makeup—all in one spot. And, when it comes to makeup, you don’t have to sacrifice on quality for the benefit of one-stop shopping. We tested 20 of the most highly rated drugstore mascaras, over two rounds of testing, to help you find hidden gems without breaking the bank.
While most impressed us, and our former best overall Covergirl LashBlast Volume (available at Amazon) held its own in our second round of testing, we've crowned a new drugstore mascara winner: Milani Highly Rated(available at Milani), which glides on as smoothly as can be, adds volume and length with just one coat, and doesn't flake or smudge throughout the day.
(And if waterproof mascara is what you’re after, we have a roundup of the best of high-end and drugstore ones.)
These are the best drugstore mascaras we tested ranked, in order:
Milani Highly Rated 10-in-1 Volume
Rimmel Lash Accelerator
Covergirl LashBlast Volume
Joah Lash Uprising
Maybelline Full ‘N Soft Washable
E.L.F. Cosmetics Mineral Infused
Maybelline Lash Sensation Sky High
L’Oreal Double Extend Beauty Tubes
Maybelline Lash Sensational Washable
Neutrogena Healthy Lengths
Burt’s Bees Nourishing
Maybelline Great Lash
L’Oreal Voluminous Butterfly
Maybelline Volum’express: The Colossal
L’Oreal Voluminous Carbon Black
Wet n Wild Mega Volume
L’Oreal Voluminous Lash Paradise
Honest Beauty Extreme Length
Essence Lash Princess
Milani Highly Rated 10-in-1 Volume Mascara
Milani Highly Rated is the top drugstore mascara we tested—it's like a lash lift in a tube. The application process is exactly what you want—the wand holds the perfect amount of mascara to produce darker, longer lashes in one coat. But for those who want a more dramatic look, an additional coat masterfully elongates and adds intense volume to the lashes. The formula glides on smoothly and whether you go for one coat or two, you can coat each individual lash with no clumping to speak of. Just as importantly, this is one of the few mascaras we tested that looked just as good at the end of a more than 12-hour day. And although the formula stuck to the lashes without flaking or smudging, makeup remover took the Milani mascara off easily.
I'm Brigitt Earley. Having worked as a lifestyle writer and editor for more than 10 years, I have extensive experience testing beauty products. I am also an expectant mom with two very busy toddlers, so I need a product that delivers great, long-lasting results with minimal effort and a reasonable price tag.
We scoured best-seller lists across retailers, beauty blogs, social media, and other best-of lists to find the top drugstore mascaras on the market, all with price tags below $17. Then, we glammed it up, pitting the top-rated brands against one another to find a winner.
Like a lot of beauty products, what makes a good mascara is rather subjective, depending on what your goals are: Do you want a dramatic look? A smooth application? Something that'll stay put no matter what?
That said, many of the products I tested held their own in all of the most important areas: ease of application, end result (how it lengthened, curled, and added volume), longevity, and ease of removal. In fact, I walked away from this series of tests wondering why I have spent $24 on the Make Up For Ever Smoky Stretch Lengthening and Defining Mascara, a high-end product, when, as I learned, the majority of the drugstore versions are just as effective.
Unlike the way you might test, though, I also teamed up with Reviewed’s senior scientist to score and weigh results on a scientifically calibrated rubric. I also swatched each mascara on my arm to measure drying time and execute durability tests.
But to find which drugstore mascara really is best, I answered questions like:
Application: Does the wand hold enough mascara to easily apply it in one stroke? Does the mascara go on smoothly? How well does the product separate lashes? How many coats do you need to apply for the optimal dramatic look?
Wear: Does the mascara achieve its stated claim? Does the mascara flake, transfer, or smudge throughout the day? How well do the lashes hold a curl with the mascara? Compared to a fresh application, how does the mascara look at the end of the day?
When I ran the results from each test through the scoring rubric, the results weren’t surprising. The scoring reflected my instincts during testing: The majority of these drugstore mascaras work fine and are perfectly suitable products, with less than a half-point margin between the highest-scoring product and the lowest-scoring product.
What You Should Know About Drugstore Mascara
Our tests show it’s hard to go wrong with a top-rated drugstore mascara, and many beauty editors and makeup artists land on these products as their go-tos for a reason. We love them especially for their low cost, as experts recommend replacing mascara every three months for both hygiene and efficacy. Still, there are a few things you should know that may influence your purchasing decision:
Wand shape: Tests show you don’t need a fancy wand shape to achieve a flawless finish. In fact, the more "unique" wand shapes felt gimmicky—they were more difficult to use and led to more mistakes and smudges during application. Stick with what you know and are comfortable with.
Performance: Though every tube of mascara tested had grand claims (10 times the volume! Eighty percent longer lashes!), I found these hard to quantify and, in many cases, there wasn’t a discernible difference among products. Instead, I recommend defaulting to a wand shape that looks familiar and is easy to maneuver, as already mentioned.
Formula: This is where I noticed the biggest discrepancy amongst mascaras tested. Is the formula gloppy and thick? Is it so dry that it crumbles when you layer on a second coat? If either answer is yes, it doesn’t matter what shape wand you have in your hands: You're going to end up with clumpy, stiff lashes and/or black pigment speckled along your under-eyes.
Removal: Though we didn’t test anything specifically billed as waterproof mascara, some resisted water better than others. When I submerged my face, some mascaras' formula came off upon contact with warm water, but others didn’t come off unless rubbed a bit—a hassle you might expect of a waterproof formula and not ideal for sensitive eyes. It’s interesting to note that didn’t seem to have any bearing on whether the makeup smudged, flaked, or transferred throughout the day. It did, however, mean some makeup was harder to remove at the end of the day—a deciding factor for some.
Other Drugstore Mascara We Tested
Almay Thickening Mascara
The packaging touts this product as a “one-coat mascara.” I largely agree: The smooth, jet-black formula yields an impressive first coat that would likely satisfy most, but I’m partial to a second coat to get a look that really pops. Applying a second coat isn’t troublesome, either, because the added formula doesn’t cause much clumping or lash tangling. I love the slim tube, too. It’s easy to wield, and the tapered end of the wand means you don’t end up with any excess mascara on your eyelids, even when you’re applying in a rush.
If there’s any downside to this product, it’s that it’s not waterproof in any capacity—as soon as my face came into contact with water, I had black streaks down my cheeks. While it’s important to note that the product doesn’t claim to be waterproof, my testing showed that many similar mascaras can withstand a little bit of rain or sweat without immediately melting down your face.
Although the wand initially looks quite dry, it supplies a pretty good first coat with the little formula it picks up. I wouldn’t exactly call it an “instant wow,” as the packaging states, but a second coat doesn’t clump or tangle and results in beautiful, long, full lashes. The tube is nice and narrow, which makes it easy to hold—a must if you want a clean application without much fuss.
My biggest qualm was that this mascara took a little longer than other formulas to dry, meaning I had to be more patient in between coats—not always my strong suit.
One of this product’s biggest claims is that it “helps lashes look 117 percent longer in 30 days” with an ingredient called procapil that supposedly stimulates hair growth, but the duration of our testing did not allow me to test whether or not this is true. Furthermore, that’s not exactly my goal when applying mascara—instead, I’m looking for my daily swipe to give my lashes an instant pick-me-up.
Previously our Best Overall, this is a reliable mascara that lengthens and separates in just one coat. In previous tests, this was enough to separate the mascara from the rest of the pack, but a second round of testing uncovered an additional few picks that also satisfy in just one coat—plus offer other benefits, like an easier to wield wand.
The plastic, spiky bristles are shorter and stubbier than the nylon brush of a classic wand, meaning it requires a steady, patient hand and more precision, but I found the wand easier to maneuver. It didn’t pick up too much formula, making for a smooth and clump-free application in a breeze.
This hypoallergenic formula promises 10 times the volume and was also one of the only mascaras we tested that only required one coat to achieve noticeable results. And although it was relatively easy to remove, this product had serious staying power. It didn’t flake or smudge at all—despite how many times this tired mom rubbed her eyes.
Though the wand initially seemed a bit dry, the formula that this wand picked up went on very smoothly, with no worry about excess formula getting on your lids during application. Still, a first coat didn’t live up to the claim that it “dramatically lengthens and lifts.” I was even skeptical that a light second coat would be enough to do the trick. Fortunately, I was wrong: The second coat of the “conditioning formula” swiped on so easily—no clumping whatsoever—and the difference was staggering. The results were so beautiful—the longest lashes of any product I tried—that I literally said “wow” out loud when I was done.
Though the Joah Lash Uprising needs two coats, I wouldn’t hesitate to use this mascara as my go-to product. It yields soft, but long, lush lashes—plus, the “cruelty-free” formula doesn’t contain any parabens or phthalates, ingredients that some folks look to avoid. Ultimately, though, this ended up a bit further down the list because other mascaras we tested could deliver similar-looking results in just one coat.
This mascara does exactly what it claims. It keeps lashes full and soft all day—a nice perk, considering many other formulas that deliver similar results leave lashes feeling coarse and brittle. The lightweight formula swipes on easily and quickly without clumps. The bristled wand is long and skinny, with a slight taper at the end, making it easy to maneuver even to the inner-corner lashes.
The downside is that those who want a fuller or more dramatic look will need to apply two or three coats, and because it takes a minute or so to dry, that adds time to your routine. The trade-off is soft, natural-looking lashes that stay full all day long, as claimed.
This is a quality mascara, especially when you consider it’s one of the cheapest finds on the list. The tube is easy to hold, the wand separates well, and the formula goes on smoothly. As was the case with most of the mascaras I tested, I preferred the more dramatic look of two coats, and appreciated that there was minimal clumping or tangling when depositing the extra formula from the second coat.
I don’t often stop long enough to check my makeup throughout the day, but I noticed a bit of flaking throughout the day. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind a quick touch-up, this might not bother you, but for me, it knocked this mascara down a few notches.
As its waterproof counterpart was one of my favorites when we tested waterproof mascaras, it didn’t surprise me to find this product toward the top of my rankings.
I loved the size and shape of the tube—it was easy to hold in my hands and I was able to wield the slightly wavy wand without much error. But the standard formula is wetter and gloppier than its waterproof version, which meant I had to apply this at a slower pace than usual, otherwise, the dense, fluffy wand occasionally brushed against my eyelid and left some formula behind.
I also had to brush through lashes with a clean spoolie to ensure a tangle- and clump-free finished look. The extra step made the difference in a flash, but was just that—an extra step for someone who doesn’t have spare time to waste.
Maybelline Lash Sensational Sky High Washable Mascara
The Maybelline Sky High Mascara gained many fans, thanks to viral TikTok videos showing amazing lengthening results. Both influencers and the packaging promise the same thing: full volume and intense length, delivered with a flexible wand that bends to help extend individual lashes from root to tip. But does it live up to the hype? For the most part, yes.
The wand is the most flexible I've used—if you hold it against the side of the mascara tube, it can bend to a 90° angle. Though the wand doesn’t appear to hold much product because of its short silicone bristles, it deposits just the right amount of a very smooth formula that glides right onto the lashes. After a single coat, my lashes were noticeably longer, but it was a very natural look best suited for that everyday “no-makeup makeup” look.
The second coat is where I began to see the brand’s promise of “limitless length,” but the trouble is that the formula clumps at this stage, causing lashes to stick together. A third coat amps up the length even more, but causes even more sticking.
In the end, the look is very attractive—full and long lashes—and the product stayed put for a solid 12 hours before I removed it. But the clumping you have to contend with is enough to steer me back to some of the products higher up on the list.
Because the container is double-sided, this mascara technically requires two swipes at minimum (one of the primer and one of the tinted color), but you won’t need more than that. The bristled wands hold enough formula to get the job done the first time without clumping. Plus, the wands are long and skinny, which makes them easy to wield.
The first-step formula is a primer that’s infused with Ceramide R and D-Panthenol—ingredients that claim to protect and strengthen lashes—while the second-step formula (the actual mascara) promises to lengthen. Indeed, it added considerable length to my lashes—I could see how the white formula actually sticks to the tips of each hair, but applying the two formulas makes lashes feel a bit crunchy when they dry—something that bothered me a bit.
And though the mascara held up throughout the day with little-to-no flaking, you'll have to consider if it’s worth the extra time. For a special event? Probably. For everyday wear? I’m usually in too much of a rush.
This mascara is tricky to apply but has impressive staying power. The plastic wand isn't very intuitive to use—it’s a crescent moon shape, with longer bristles on the outside of the curve and shorter ones on the inside. Because of this, there’s definitely a, er, learning curve, and it takes some precision and patience at first. (I’m still not 100 percent sure I’m doing it right!)
Despite that, there’s enough formula on the wand to leave your lashes looking polished at one swipe. The trouble is that I think most, myself included, will desire that second swipe for a more defined look. And because this product was one of the slowest to dry at more than a few minutes, that’ll cost you time.
Perhaps it’s worth the extra effort though: This mascara held up remarkably well during an extremely long day—from 6:45 a.m. to 11 p.m.—with no touch-ups.
This mascara piqued my interest from the start because the packaging is unlike anything I had seen before. The tube is capped and the wand was packaged separately. At first, this seems like a nice bonus—you get to see the shape and texture of the actual wand, not just a picture of it. The problem: It’s difficult to open the package, which resulted in me bending the wand while trying to get to the goods. Luckily, it bent back into place without much effort, but I was a bit concerned I damaged it in some way.
Application was a mixed bag. While it looks like the wand holds the perfect amount of formula, it doesn’t quite glide onto lashes. Instead, the formula feels a bit dry. Interestingly though, a single coat looks quite nice and holds up very well throughout the day—the mascara looks almost as good more than 12 hours later.
This mascara immediately threw me for a loop because the tube is a chocolate-brown color. I wondered: Did I order the wrong shade? Closer inspection revealed that I did, in fact, order the “classic black.”
Of course, that’s not a deal-breaker. Where this mascara really lost points was wand shape. Though its applicator has a tapered shape that looked like it would hug lashes well, the bristles are too firm, making application difficult and rather unpleasant—it felt like I was scratching my eyelid with each stroke of the wand. Additionally, it held some excess formula that was difficult to keep off of my eyelids without intense concentration. If you can get past that, you’ll be pleased by the formula itself. It’s smooth and doesn’t clump or tangle in the lashes, even with a second coat.
Like so many people, this cult-favorite mascara was the first one I was ever introduced to. All these years later, it’s still a strong contender and one of the most inexpensive products we tested.
It has a small brush that makes application really easy, even for beginners—it goes on smooth, separating and lifting lashes in just one swipe. Unfortunately, this isn’t a great choice for anyone who prefers volume or a bold look, as you will begin to see clumping with more than one swipe. Overall, though, it’s a very reliable choice, especially at the price.
I wasn’t sure whether to love or hate the shape of this mascara’s plastic wand: The “wing-tip brush” claims to elongate lashes and prevent clumping, but because each side of the wand is dramatically different (one side is an inverted arch and another is an arch with all different bristle sizes), it’s not clear where to begin to get the best results—or even how to hold the wand in the first place!
The long and well-separated results suggest the wand shape does help give lashes that winged-out look the product promises, but it’s not easy to maneuver—especially if you’re a beginner. The formula also looks a bit clumpy on the eyes, though that could be a result of improper application.
Besides the initial challenges, this mascara didn’t stand out in a good or a bad way—it delivered satisfactory results, lasted fine throughout the day, and was relatively easy to remove.
Maybelline Volum' Express The Colossal Washable Mascara
This mascara promises “nine times the volume” with its collagen-infused formula. The wand doesn’t hold much product, which can be both a good and bad thing: On the negative side, there’s not much coverage until the second or third swipe. On the positive side, the formula doesn’t clump—even with multiple coats—making it fool-proof.
The brush has very long bristles and is also tapered at the end, making it easier than most to get into the tight corners of your eyelid without smudging. Despite being lightweight, the formula boasts serious staying power—so much so that I was able to take a midday power nap without any smudging or flaking.
Unfortunately, I paid the price for this when it was time to remove the mascara—there was still some residue on my lashes even after washing my face and using makeup remover.
This product has all the makings of the best mascara—it goes on very smooth and doesn’t clump, it fans lashes nicely, and it has great coverage on the first swipe. The only noticeable drawback during application is the fact that a noticeable amount of formula sticks to the tip of the wand, making it easy to smudge the corners of your lids with makeup.
But with a little precision, I was very happy with the results. I wondered if this could be a strong contender, but this mascara plummeted in rankings because it just didn’t last on the lashes the way other formulas did—it was the only mascara I tested that flaked noticeably throughout the day.
As the cheapest on our list, the Wet n Wild Mega Volume has a low price tag anyone would love. Unfortunately, it misses the mark on ease of application. The tapered wand doesn’t narrow enough at the tip, making it difficult to get into the corners of your eye in your initial swipe. The formula itself is also gloppy, which causes enough excess product to clump at the end of the wand that even an initial wipe on the side of the tube isn’t sufficient to ensure mascara doesn’t smear onto your eyelids. Strangely, the wand felt a bit dry in other areas, making it hard to get even coverage, particularly with just one coat.
Although we weren’t specifically testing waterproof mascaras, this one promises to be “waterproof, sweat-proof, humidity-resistant, and smudge-resistant.” The problem: In my tests, the mascara ran with water and a bit of rubbing, so while you might get a bit more protection, the product isn’t reliable if you’re looking for something truly waterproof.
L'Oréal Paris Voluminous Lash Paradise Washable Mascara
This rose-colored tube is widely known as a dupe for the cult favorite Too Faced Better Than Sex Mascara, but it's not much more than a pretty tube, if you ask me. The hourglass brush is rather fat and is attached to a short wand, so swiping with the slimmer part of the wand means hitting your lid with the thicker part. It doesn't feel effortless and natural. Because the formula is very thick, lashes clump and tangle during application. That makes it tempting to apply more coats to even things out—but this exacerbates the problem, increases drying time, and creates a caked-on feel that bothered me throughout the day. This was also one of the only formulas to flake periodically throughout the day, likely because I applied so much formula to my lashes. On top of that, this mascara was incredibly difficult to remove. After washing my face, using makeup remover, and washing my face again in the morning, I still noticed some residue.
Honest Beauty Extreme Length Mascara + Lash Primer
I didn’t like the Honest Beauty Extreme Length from the start. Typically, when you untwist the wand from a tube of mascara, you end up with a short handle attached to a lengthy wand. When you unscrew this product, you end up with a very long handle with a short wand attached to it. Initially, it might seem like this would give you more precision, as there’s more to grip, but I found the opposite to be true. The long handle is clunky and hard to get a good grip on, making it harder to control for a precise, mess-free application. The mascara also goes on very thick, which leads to a lot of clumping and a web of tangled lashes.
If you can get past the cumbersome wand and have the patience to take very slow, intentional strokes and brush through your lashes with a clean spoolie after each coat, you may like the longevity this product offers—the final look held up throughout the day.
This mascara exploded in popularity on Reddit, but I found the combination of the wand’s short bristles and the thick formula makes application challenging. The formula gets stuck on the end of the brush, which easily transferred to my eyelid during application, requiring touch-ups as I went. The formula also tends to clump a bit, making it extra important to be slow and precise—not a good thing for anyone who wants to streamline their beauty routine. The upside is that all that the formula delivers impressive results that last all day. Plain and simple: There are better options.
Brigitt Earley is a freelance writer and editor based in NJ. Her work has appeared in a number of lifestyle publications, including Real Simple and Apartment Therapy. She’s a new mom, runs an Instagram account full of the most delicious food she can find, and loves to hate a good barre class.
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