Mascara brush types: every type of mascara wand, explained

We break down mascara brush types and their benefits, with makeup artist tips to help you find your magic wand

flatlay of mascaras and brushes showing several mascara brush types
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Mascara is a lash definer, enhancer, and drama-giver in one that’s available with a huge variety of mascara brush types. We’d argue no makeup look is complete without it.

And in 2023, your options for the best mascara are more plentiful than ever as Carly Utting, national artist for MAC, tells us. "Over the last few years, the makeup industry has really excelled in the offering of varied mascara brushes," she says. "No longer do you have a one-size-fits-all lash wand." 

"From the shape of the wand itself to the material they are made from, all of these slight differences mean that mascaras are now much more tailored to each makeup wearer’s eye, perfect to customize your mascara for your individual needs,” Utting continues.

But the fact that there are so many types of mascara wands in all different shapes and sizes can be a little overwhelming. How do you know which brush shape is going to suit you best? Which one will get the most out of your natural lashes? Our beauty editor and makeup artist-powered guide will help you work out which type of mascara wand is the perfect fit. 

Every single mascara brush type, explained

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Broadly, most mascara wands fall into one of six categories: fluffy, plastic, tapered, small, curved, and hourglass. There are a couple of general starting points that’ll help you to pick from the different mascara brush types on the market. "Think of your mascara brush shape in the way you do a blow dry brush for your hair," says Rose Gallagher, makeup artist and podcast host. “The bigger the brush, the bigger the volume is going to be."

"The main types of mascara wands on the market currently are either firm plastic brushes or softer, bristle-type wands," Utting adds. "In terms of the size of the brush itself, I tend to use a larger wand for either super long lashes or bigger eye shapes. The larger brushes can overwhelm an average-to-smaller eye and make the application tricky." 

For volumizing: Fluffy

Fluffy mascara brushes can be of any size and, per Gallagher’s blow dry analogy, the bigger and fluffier a brush, the more volume it’ll be able to build. “If you want fresh, bright, soft, fluttery, long, lashes, you’re going to go for a big, traditional mascara brush to help you to achieve that,” she explains. 

Our beauty editor recommends...


Charlotte Tilbury Full Fat Lashes | RRP: $29/£26

As its name suggests, this brainchild of Charlotte Tilbury creates standout, voluminous, fluttery lashes with a formula that's nice and buildable. 


Milk Makeup Kush Mascara | RRP: $26/£23

Another pick with a huge fluffy brush. This is brilliant for building and adding lots of volume to your lashes with the help of little fibers.

For definition: Plastic

They come in many different shapes and sizes but, generally speaking, plastic brushes can really help to separate out your eyelashes, which is particularly beneficial if you don't have lots and lots of them to work with. 

As Gallagher explains, plastic brushes are also useful for creating striking lashes: "If you want more of a jet-black finish with lots of pigment in the lashes and you want them to be really coated and a bit more dramatic-looking, you maybe want to use a plastic comb. These tend to be smaller, plastic brushes with little bristles that will really paint the lash in pigment."

Our beauty editor recommends...


MAC MACStack Mascara | RRP: $28/£26

Available with both a mega and micro brush, and loved by Utting, this mascara is infinitely buildable for unlimited drama. While the mega brush will add volume and suit larger eye shapes, the smaller micro brush gives a bit more precision. 


ILIA Limitless Lash Lengthening Mascara | RRP: $28/£27

More of a comb style than your traditional brush shape, ILIA's doubly beneficial brush has a longer comb on one side that really separates and lengthens your lashes, while the smaller side layers pigment for added volume. 

For speed: Tapered

Tapered brushes get their name because their shape tapers off so that they're narrower at one end, usually the top. This shape allows you to get the smaller end into the inner corner of the lashes, while the wider end catches and lifts the outer lashes more easily, making for speedy yet thorough application.

Our beauty editor recommends...


Maybelline Sky High Mascara | RRP: $12.99/£12

A viral hit on social media, this affordable option is one of the <a href="" data-link-merchant=""">best Maybelline mascaras of all time and creates impressive lift and length. 


Hourglass Unlocked Instant Extensions Mascara | RRP: $32/£30

An excellent option for length and one of the <a href="" data-link-merchant=""">best tubing mascaras, this is a brilliant option if you find mascara often smudges and is a bit like false lashes in a tube. 

For lift: curved

Curved mascara brushes' key benefit is that they're brilliant for lifting and curling lashes, so they're a good option if you want to encourage those factors. Because of this shape, they're also that little bit easier to get into your lashes to really coat them from root to tip.

Our beauty editor recommends...


Benefit Roller Lash Mascara | RRP: $28/£24.50

With a design that mimics classic hair rollers, Benefit Roller Lash Mascara employs a 'hook 'n' roll' brush to catch and lift every lash and lock them in place for up to 12 hours. 


Lancôme Lash Idôle Mascara | RRP: $30/£24

The <a href="" data-link-merchant=""">best Lancôme mascaras are icons in their own right. This particular buy features a curved brush that helps lift lashes to open up the eyes with a pretty, fluttery effect. 

For precision: small or narrow

“Small, thin mascara brush types are particularly good if you’ve got shorter lashes, if you’ve got fair lashes, and you have little ones in the inner and outer corners that you struggle to coat,” says Gallagher. "They’re very good if you struggle to define the eyes and will make the most of even the slightest lashes." A smaller brush is also easier to use if you have smaller eyes and lends itself well to applying mascara on bottom lashes

Our beauty editor recommends...


Pixi Lower Lash Mascara | RRP: $11/£11

Designed specifically for those more delicate bottom lashes, this ultra-fine skinny mascara brush offers super-precise application.


IT Cosmetics Tightline 3-in-1 Mascara | RRP: $26/£23

One of our picks of the best <a href="" data-link-merchant=""">natural-looking mascaras, IT Cosmetics' skinny brush is designed to build length and definition for a pretty end result, all with a lash-conditioning formula. 

For catching every lash: hourglass

A big fluffy brush in this shape is great for fluttery volume, but if your lashes are sparser in the inner and outer corners of your eye, an hourglass-shaped brush will also catch onto those harder-to-reach lashes to balance out the overall look. 

Our beauty editor recommends...


Too Faced Better Than Sex Mascara | RRP: $28/£25

The one, the only, and perhaps the best-recognized hourglass-shaped brush on the beauty market is Too Faced's iconic Better Than Sex Mascara, which has a fluffy brush that builds volume and drama. 

Lucy Abbersteen

Lucy is a UK-based beauty journalist who has written for the likes of Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, OK!, Women's Health and more, as well as contributing to woman&home. Her work covers everything from expert skin and haircare tips to the latest product launches and the show-stopping beauty looks spotted backstage at London Fashion Week. During her career she's interviewed some seriously famous faces, from Little Mix to Drag Race royalty The Vivienne, as well as chatting to the industry's leading hairdressers, dermatologists and make-up artists.