Able to enhance and define with a quick slick, mascara is often the one thing we reach for even on the days when we aren’t really wearing make-up. But since face coverings have become a daily reality, mascara has acquired even more importance. Our eyes are now often the only part of our face able to convey expression to the outside world.
Applying false lashes for every supermarket trip isn’t practical, but lengthening mascaras are a quick way to give natural lashes a long, feathery upgrade.
Pablo Rodriguez, global director of artistry for Illamasqua, attests that “definition is the key” to helping lashes appear longer. “It’s better to keep the mascara application quite sheer,” he says, “[as] this gives the effect of multiplying lashes naturally, so they give the illusion of being longer.” Not going too heavy on eyeliner can also help, “so the lashes are the main focus of the eye look”.
When it comes to application, the trick is to coat each lash from every angle. “Wiggle the wand from left to right and vice versa, from the roots of the lashes towards the ends. Then comb them through with the same wand to separate each lash,” says Rodriguez.
When buying a lengthening mascara, it’s a good idea to look for conditioning ingredients such as shea butter, keratin and vitamin E, which help to keep lashes healthy and supple. Polymers wrap lashes in a film to give definition and hold. Rodriguez also recommends looking for, “a thin to medium brush with separated bristles which will coat each lash while separating them”.
Does he believe a mascara can really lengthen lashes? “Our natural lashes can only look longer to a certain extent; but we can create that illusion with clean, groomed, separated lashes. That’s what make-up is all about.”
Over a period of three weeks we road-tested the mascaras in situations including Zoom meetings, exercise classes and trips to the coffee shop for a takeaway. We were looking for mascaras across a variety of price points, from high street to high end, that would make our lashes look noticeably longer. In addition to lengthening, we also looked for mascaras that gave lashes separation, definition and stayed put without smudging for at least five hours.
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 to fund journalism across The Independent.
Maybelline lash sensational sky high mascara
Maybelline already had a reputation as the go-to brand for high-performance and affordable mascaras – then sky high launched. It blew up on TikTok causing stock to sell out around the world and sparking a social media frenzy. Eager to try it for ourselves, we found it had a good consistency and coated lashes evenly. The super bendy “flex tower” brush enabled us to get right in and around each lash and, as we drew the brush upwards, lashes seemed to simply extend. The effect is incredible, working its magic on even the sparsest of lashes. Believe the hype.
Glossier lash slick
We were seriously impressed by lash slick’s ability to magic up length where none previously existed. It’s almost as though there are extra lashes in the tube that then appear, quite literally, before our eyes, fanned out and standing to attention. We found it gives a very natural look with no overloading. The fact it’s water-resistant as opposed to waterproof means it washes off easily: good news for our sensitive eyes that find eye-make-up remover quite harsh.
Lash slick has also been given the seal of approval by Michelle Obama, who reportedly wore it at the Biden inauguration.
Boutique curl and lift mascara
Sainsbury's Boutique range offers some genuinely good make-up at budget prices. With chunky, gold-topped packaging, the tube firmly grips the wand as you pull it out, ensuring that you don’t get too much product on the brush, thereby avoiding clumping. The brush itself has long bristles on one side and short ones on the other, giving you more to play with in terms of reaching every lash. Enriched with pro-vitamin B5, we really feel this mascara punches above its weight.
Victoria Beckham future lash
This luxuriously heavy tube in chic, sleek black and gold feels as dense and shiny as marble, elevating the mascara ritual from everyday to something special. The skinny wand and slightly curved brush make application a breeze, with fine bristles that allow you to easily comb out and separate individual lashes. The formulation feels light and nourishing while the result is natural-looking – almost as if you’re not wearing anything. You but better, basically. It stayed put through a walk in the elements and an impromptu nap. Surely not what its glamorous creator envisioned, but proof that this mascara brings sophistication to any scenario.
Catrice clean ID volume + lengthening mascara
This impressed us both by what it contains – 92 per cent natural ingredients including flower waxes, bayberry fruit, rose and camomile – and what it doesn’t – no microplastic particles, added fragrance, silicone or oil. The cone-shaped brush seemed to take up too much product and we worried our lashes would clump, but our fear was unfounded: we acquired longer, fuller lashes in an easy swipe. There was a bit of transference under the eyes over the course of the day, but this lent a smudged rock-chick look that we rather loved.
La Roche-Posay toleriane mascara
This mascara has been specially formulated by the French dermatologist-recommended brand to minimise irritation for contact lens wearers and those with sensitive eyes. Containing ceramides and carnauba wax to strengthen and thicken, it has a featherweight formula that’s designed to sit lightly on the lashes. Fragrance-free, it also boasts hermetic packaging which stops the brush from becoming contaminated. Without doubt, it lengthened our lashes without weighing them down.
Eyeko black magic mascara
This one is all about the tube: not only is the packaging an unusual squeezy toothpaste-style design, but it contains a “tubing” mascara. That is, it’s a product that coats the lashes in a polymer tube as opposed to brushing pigment onto them. The Korean-inspired formulation contains conditioning keratin and shea butter. We found it very easy to wear – there’s no drama in its straightforward delivery, giving lashes a natural lengthened look in just one coat, with good separation and no clogging. However, if drama is required then it’s easy to build the layers to your desired effect. We found it more smudge-proof than most, yet it washed off easily with warm water.
KVD vegan beauty go big or go home volumizing mascara
Eschewing beeswax for sunflower and olive oils, this plant-based vegan mascara impressed us by delivering on length and intense pigment. Its “fluff brush”, made up of wavy fibres, gives great definition. We felt it made our eyes really stand out (especially when used with eyelash curlers) without that heavy, weighed-down look that some dramatic mascaras can be guilty of. This one also won us over with its ability to stay put – it didn’t smudge, even during a workout.
Charlotte Tilbury pillow talk push up lashes! mascara
Pink and gold boudoir-style packaging liberally scattered with exclamation marks heralds a mascara in keeping with Charlotte Tilbury’s trademark glamour-puss style. The formula includes keratin to condition, carnauba wax to add volume and a polymer derived from the larch tree to keep lashes lifted. The dual-sided brush has a flat side to coat and lift while the other side combs through to create separate long, thin lashes. We found the brush took on a lot of product, which made for messy application until we got the hang of it. It’s not for the faint hearted, but it certainly visibly lengthens lashes.
Illamasqua masquara raven
We loved this mascara for its combination of drama and gentleness: the castor seed oil and vitamin E in the formula conditions while you get on with life. At first glance, we were put off by the unwieldy-looking and large, bristly brush as we thought it would be messy, but the mascara applies beautifully even on corner lashes, lengthening and defining with each stroke. There was a notable difference in the lash length after just one coat. Tested on our hooded eyes – which lengthening mascaras normally turn into panda eyes – it was faultless.
Essence lash princess false lash effect mascara
The playful packaging and affordable price of this mascara belies the product’s serious oomph. The brush comes out quite cakey and, once applied, lashes did tend to clump together – we had to go back in two or three times to tease them apart. However, that extra work was more than worth it for the amazing effect on length. Unlike some of the other products on this list, it doesn’t look especially natural, but that’s the point. The “false-lash effect” claim on the tube is justified and has earned this mascara a permanent home in our make-up bag.
The verdict: Lengthening mascaras
For the noticeable difference it makes even to sparse lashes, and for doing it at an affordable price, we chose Maybelline’s lash sensational sky high as our top pick. If you have a bigger budget, the Victoria Beckham beauty future lash creates beautiful natural lashes, while essence’s lash princess is a steal for a more false-lash-style effect.
For more beauty products check out our round-up of the 10 best lightweight foundations for all skin types
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