The best drugstore mascaras to save money and add impact

Who knew that the best drugstore mascaras could rival the top end of the spectrum?

three of w&h's best drugstore mascaras picks on a stripy black background
(Image credit: Future)

The best drugstore mascaras are something that we all either flock to or avoid altogether.

Because let's be honest, most of us can admit to being guilty of limiting our search for the best mascara to the high-end launches that come with all the bells and whistles, not to mention the snazzy, dressing-table-worthy packaging. But when we end up with a drawer of abandoned mascaras rolling around because we can’t seem to find “the one”, then we know it’s time to widen the search parameters – and a delve into the best drugstore mascaras may just give us what we’ve been looking for.

There’s no denying that Maybelline is up there with the best when it comes to the best drugstore mascaras on the market, so unsurprisingly it appears twice on our list, most importantly with The Falsies Lash Lift, which will make anyone look like they’ve walked out of a lash appointment. We also love the makeup artist favorite, Max Factor, for bringing a touch of luxe to budget options and their 2000 Calorie makes for a stellar premium offering in the drama department. And, of course, no best drugstore mascaras round-up would be complete without the bestselling Essence Lash Princess False Lash Effect, which is so effective with such a small price tag (less than a fiver) it has even become a celebrity favorite.

How to choose the best drugstore mascaras

When it comes to choosing the best drugstore mascaras, it can take a bit more detective work than sifting your way through the more in-your-face luxury buys at the top of the spectrum. The good news is, unlike the best foundations, cheap mascaras are often easily as good as expensive buys. You just have to know what to look for. 

“The first thing to do would be to have a look at more luxe brands and see if they have smaller or more budget brands in their same company,” advises celebrity makeup artist Tahira. “For example, L’Oréal has many brands in their house. They have some that are more expensive – like Yves Saint Laurent, Lancôme, Armani and IT Cosmetics – and some that are cheaper. They also own Maybelline and NYX.” It's no coincidence that the best Maybelline mascaras have such a good rep. 

The next important thing to be aware of when choosing the best drugstore mascaras is what kind of wand the mascara offers.“Good mascaras should have a really good brush,” says Tahira, “but that all depends on the type of lashes you want. The more spidery comb-type brushes are better for lengthening, while fatter, fluffier brushes are what you need to be using if you want volume.”

How we tested the best drugstore mascaras

Cheap or not, a mascara isn’t worthy if it doesn’t pass the all-day test. So, when looking for the best drugstore mascaras, we wore each one for 12-14 hours a day and if there were no panda eyes present by the time we got into bed, it made a worthy inclusion here, in our eyes.

Of course, there were a couple of gym sessions along the way to really test the resilience of these mascaras and, not to admit to any emotional instability over here, but we do get teary-eyed at the first sign of any moving TV, so when these mascaras made it through some of our favorites being voted off MasterChef Australia, we were won over.

The best drugstore mascaras as reviewed by our experts

Maybelline lash lift mascara, one of w&h's best drugstore mascaras

(Image credit: Maybelline)

1. Maybelline The Falsies Lash Lift

Best cheap mascara for most people

RRP: $11.50/£9.99
Waterproof version available?: Yes
Mini version available?: No
Extra features: Suitable for sensitive eyes, Hourglass-shaped brush
Reasons to buy
+Soft brush+Adds length, definition and volume+Fluttery finish+Lasts all day with no flaking or smudging+Eye-catching packaging
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly thick brush

If you only invest in one cheap mascara, make it this one. Not only does it boast striking packaging that gives it a more expensive look, but it uses an uncomplicated hourglass brush that grabs lashes from the root without scratching or irritating the lash line. The fibre-infused formula coats lashes smoothly and gives them the kind of lift and curl you would expect from a high-end product, with a dramatic flutter that lasts all day without flaking or smudging.

The brush is slightly thick, meaning those with super-short lashes may have trouble reaching the root without creating a bit of mess on the lid, so it might be a good idea to have a cotton bud at hand.

Max Factor 2000 calorie mascara, one of w&h's best drugstore mascaras

(Image credit: Max Factor)

2. Max Factor 2000 Calorie

Best cheap mascara for a premium option

RRP: $9.26/£6.99
Waterproof version available?: Yes
Mini version available?: No
Extra features: Suitable for sensitive eyes
Reasons to buy
+Easy-to-use brush+Lovely length and volume+No flaking or smudging
Reasons to avoid
-Hold doesn’t last all day

Max Factor has always been the one premium brand we can rely on to not break the bank. The high-street favourite has been bringing the “makeup of makeup artists” for decades, which is why it had to have a special place on our list. And their 2000 Calorie offering is one of our favourites for its delicate brush that separates lashes and catches pesky corners effortlessly, while depositing length and volume.

Its rich black formula coats lashes without catching and can be layered smoothly for a more dramatic look, while the sturdy liquid holds curl in place with flaking. It can be prone to light drooping after a few hours of wear, but another whirl on the eyelash curler should remedy that.

Essence lash princess, one of w&h's best drugstore mascaras

(Image credit: Essence)

3. Essence Lash Princess False Lash Effect Mascara

Best cheap mascara for a bargain

RRP: $6.80/£3.30
Waterproof version available?: Yes
Mini version available?: No
Extra features: Conical fibre brush
Reasons to buy
+Soft fibre brush+Gives length and definition+Removes easily
Reasons to avoid
-Not as much lift as we’d like-Needs more volume-Some flaking

There’s budget and then there’s BUDGET – and this deceptive beauty definitely comes into the second category. Not only does it boast a price previously unheard of for a mascara, but it gives you a performance and finish you wouldn’t expect for this price.

The soft tapered brush lets you catch lashes easily right from the root and the bristles don’t collect too much product, so it’s no problem avoiding those telltale mascara marks on the base of your eyelids. Just a couple of swipes gives an impressive hit of length and definition, but if it’s volumising you’re after, dramatic this ain’t. It also didn’t lift lashes as much as we would usually prefer, so would benefit from using an eyelash curler. Also, you could notice some flaking throughout the day, so be wary of that.

Maybelline Lash Sensational Waterproof, one of w&h's best drugstore mascaras

(Image credit: Maybelline)

4. Maybelline Lash Sensational Waterproof

Best cheap mascara for a waterproof option

RRP: $11.50/£8.99
Waterproof version available?: Waterproof product
Mini version available?: No
Extra features: Layer-Reveal brush
Reasons to buy
+Wide, curved and flexible comb wand+Lash-multiplying look+Feathery finish+Strong hold and flake-free
Reasons to avoid
-Cheap packaging-Not much volume

We were already fans of the original Maybelline Lash Sensational and this waterproof version has taken everything we love about it and made it even better.

This original made its name as one of Amazon’s bestselling beauty products and it’s all because of the innovative lash-multiplying effect that hinges on the product’s signature Layer-Reveal brush, which has small bristles that grasp at even the tiniest of lashes to lengthen and dramatise them.

With this product, you’ll get all the flutter, length and definition from the original, but with extra staying power and a more resilient hold. 

Of course, like its predecessor, it doesn’t have the poshest packaging and it won’t give you the most volume you’ve ever seen. But for anyone looking for an extra hit of drama, it’ll do a great job layering with one of our best mascaras for adding length and volume.

L'Oreal Paris voluminous mascara, one of w&h's best drugstore mascaras

(Image credit: L'Oreal Paris)

5. L’Oréal Paris Voluminous mascara

Best cheap mascara for sensitive eyes

RRP: $14.99/£9.99
Waterproof version available?: No
Mini version available?: No
Extra features: Suitable for sensitive eyes
Reasons to buy
+Soft bristles suitable for all lashlines+Delicate fluttery look+Length and volume
Reasons to avoid
-Some smudging-Clumps slightly

As part of a company that houses some of the biggest and most premium makeup brands on the scene, L’Oréal is one of the most reliable for bringing us these luxe formulas for less – and their Voluminous offering is one of the best. Its soft brush deposits just the right amount of product on to lashes in just one swipe to add length and volume, while subtly separating them for a nice little flutter.

It can be layered for more volume, but you’ll have to ensure you do this while the formula is still wet, otherwise you could see some clumping. And it’s not one that’s guaranteed to last all day, as it can smudge a little under the eye, especially if you’re prone to oily skin.

NYX worth the hype mascara, one of w&h's best drugstore mascaras

(Image credit: NYX)

6. NYX Worth The Hype

Best smudge-proof cheap mascara

RRP: $10.50/£11.99
Waterproof version available?: Yes
Mini version available?: Yes
Colours available: Black, brownish black, blue, purple
Reasons to buy
+Thin brush tip for catching small lashes+Lengthens well+Pretty, feathered finish+Flake- and smudge-free
Reasons to avoid
-Not very volumising-Lift doesn’t hold

We have to admit, mascaras boasting bold names always reel us in from the off (Too Faced Better Than Sex, we’re looking at you), so this one caught our attention straight away – and, we have to say, we agree with the name. Not only did we fall hard for the fluffy brush that you could barely feel on the lash line, but the brush tip also gave us the kind of control we often find lacking in even the most high-end of mascaras.

We were expecting slightly more formula to sit on the brush, but the minimal amount is probably what gave us the enviable feathery flutter we couldn’t stop staring at. It’s not one that’ll win best drama at the Oscars, but we kind of don’t mind given the lightweight curl you get. And while it doesn’t lift lashes for more than a few hours, it will stay put until you crack out the pre-bedtime cleanser.

Rimmel London scandaleyes volume on demand mascara, one of w&h's best drugstore mascaras

(Image credit: Rimmel London)

7. Rimmel London Scandaleyes Volume On Demand

Best cheap mascara for volume

RRP: $7.49/£9.99
Waterproof version available?: Yes
Mini version available?: No
Colours available: Black, black-brown
Reasons to buy
+Layers easily when wet+Very volumising+Soft brush that catches lashes well
Reasons to avoid
-Some flaking-Doesn’t layer well when dry

Rimmel is known for delivering quality mascaras at low prices and this modest offering is no different. It all starts with the fluffy hourglass brush that catches lashes from the root and stretches them all the way up to the very lengthened tip. This, coupled with the lift that it gave lashes, made it a pretty impressive contender.

While it does claim that you can layer it throughout the day without any clumping, we did find that it was a bit sticky trying to do that and we did get ourselves into a little bit of a clump situation. Having said that, it did layer better than a lot of other budget options when it was still wet and packed on the volume with each coat. And if you want an extra touch of impact you could even wear this with your best eyeliner for a striking look.

Aleesha Badkar
Aleesha Badkar

Aleesha is digital shopping writer at woman&home—so whether you're looking for beauty, fashion, health or home buys, she knows what to spend your money on. She earned an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London in 2017 and has since worked with a number of brands including, Women's Health, Stylist and Goodto. A year on the w&h news team gained her invaluable insight into where to get the best lifestyle releases first—as well as an AOP awards nomination.

She's in the know about the latest fashions, clever gadgets and reliable lifestyle buys—and being a product specialist on a brand for bold women means that Aleesha also knows a thing or two about the must-buy sex toys. When she’s not playing around with new products and testing anything she can get her hands on, Aleesha spends most of her time with her head in a current bestseller, trying out new recipes, exploring different wines and (in non-COVID times) has been known to be a bit of a jetsetter after spending a year living in Madrid.

Follow her latest shopping & lifestyle advice, beauty insights and social antics on Instagram at @aleeshabadkar.

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