Mascara: Designer versus Drug Store – Which Is Best?

I love experimenting with inexpensive, drugstore makeup. My experience has taught me that what’s in the tube or on the palette can be as good or better than the expensive designer brands.

A few years back, I developed a line of concealers. We owned the formula and began searching for a company to make and pour it. I remember touring various plants that had stacked boxes filled with not so perfect items whose labels, covered in dust, I recognized. Seeing this took the mystique out of cosmetics and taught me not to fall in love with a company’s fancy bottle, label, or marketing because the supposed differences between many products were often indistinguishable. When I entered the world of makeup manufacturing, it was like being told there was no Santa Claus. 

Designer cosmetics often manufacture the same products under different labels. Our drug stores are full of them. Not only is it fun to uncover what seems to be a product’s true identity, but the savings may be tremendous.  

Eyelash Textures

Let’s start with mascara.There are designer brands and drug store brands. How do you decide which mascara is best for you? It will take some trial and error to find a formula that compliments the texture of your eyelashes. Our lashes behave much like our hair. If our lashes are fine, which is the case for most women, a thick formula will sit heavily on the lashes, sticking them together and weighing them down. A less viscous or dryer formula is best and will separate, lengthen and add volume to finer eyelashes. If your lashes are course, a thick, creamy mascara will work very well. 

Cosmetics companies all seem to promise that their mascaras will deliver length and thickness to the lashes. Who doesn’t want that? But we may have to purchase several tubes until we find one that works best with our lash texture. Even more reason to stick with the drug store brands. 

I listen to women talk about their favorite mascaras and interestingly, the first thing they mention is not the thickening and lengthening, but the brush applicator. That applicator really is the critical component. Mascara manufacturers know how important the applicators are to their customers. When they extend their line of mascaras, they will not only offer different packaging, but always include different applicators in the hope of luring new customers. But women will stay with a specific mascara, regardless of the price, because they love the applicator brush. That’s why Lancome, despite being more expensive, remains a very popular designer mascara. When a mascara gets it right, with a great brush applicator and a formula that works, it’s bound to be a hit, no matter the price. 

I happen to agree with the TikTok favorite: L’Oréal Paris Telescopic Mascara.(Great for thick or thin lashes.) The applicator puzzled me when I opened Telescopic for the first time because it’s narrow and flat, with a brush on one side and a comb on the other. While unusual, this applicator manages to apply the mascara, beautifully and evenly, with no clumping. You can layer this mascara a few times and it will continue to thicken and lengthen even the finest lashes. The mascara doesn’t flake off and doesn’t smudge under the eyes, even after a long day of wear. Best yet – the mascara removes easily with soap and water. 

Another great mascara to try: Maybelline New York Falsies Volum’ Express, also formulated for thick or thin lashes.The patented applicator is a flexible brush that not only separates lashes, but also lifts and curls lashes at the same time. If you are looking for instant volume, this is a must try!

I Caved!

Even as the “Drug Store Queen,” I become curious and, on occasion, will try a designer product. Lancome’s, ‘Big’ mascara, was the new kid on the block, the chatter of the Ulta makeup artists. I admit, I felt a bit like a traitor, as though I had gone to the dark side by being pulled into the designer abyss. ‘Big’, was incredibly expensive but awesome, and I loved the brush. Yet, it was no better than L’Oreal Telescopic that was less than half the price. I got over ‘Big’ quickly, when it dried out and clumped in just a few weeks. 

It seems as though L’Oreal has maintained the lead in drug store mascara and is still  the number one preferred brand for professional makeup artists. This profile manages to create the urgency that makes us run to the nearest drugstore to purchase the new tube of promises to thicken and extend your lashes even further! I can hardly keep up. Although, the applicators change, and some are formulated a bit thicker or thinner, they all seem to have the magical L’Oreal, affordable results. 

Pet Peeve

Mascara companies need to stop using models wearing false eyelashes in their ads. With, fake lashes aflutter, the cosmetic company is boasting about their fabulous, lash-lengthening mascara. The public, especially anyone with any makeup experience, can see this from across a room. It is insulting to a women’s intelligence. Please stop!!!

The Hidden Truths About Mascara

I knew about the trace amount of mercury that is put into most mascaras, to keep the bacteria count down. We can see why we need an antimicrobial ingredient, but where are these listed? How about other ingredients that are not considered safe, such as coal tar, parabens, or formaldehyde that is substituted for mercury?  

The hidden truth is the FDA has allowed mascara manufacturers to sell us mascara that is placed around the eyes, (which are a portal of entry), without having to tell us what is in these products. 

The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, except for color additives, to be approved by FDA before they go on the market. That places the burden on the consumer to make sure cosmetics are safe and properly labeled, in compliance with all the laws and regulationsthat apply to them.

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, whose mission is to protect human health and the environment, found several mascara brands contain Thimerisol, a mercury-based element used as a preservative and antiseptic. It has been banned from use in vaccines, but can be found in cosmetics. It is known to damage brain function. 

According to FDA, “Mercury compounds are readily absorbed through the skin on topical application and tend to accumulate in the body. They may cause allergic reactions, skin irritation, or neurotoxic manifestations. Mercury is considered particularly toxic to the developing brain during pregnancy, infancy and childhood. FDA has banned the use of mercury compounds in all cosmetics except those used around the eyes, where levels are limited to 65 parts per million (ppm).”

I’m not sure there is anything else in this country that is allowed to be sold without an ingredient label. Even if there are trace amounts of toxins in mascara, they should be listed so we can make an informed decision on whether we want to apply this makeup daily to our eyes. 

Several mascaras have been developed without these chemicals and toxins. One company, The Good Trade, has several mascaras that are safe and affordable.

Be sure to discard your mascara after three months! 

Various microorganisms live on your facial skin, including your eyelids. When you use mascara, these microscopic beings can cling to the wand and wind up in the tube. There they can build up and eventually spread to your eyelids and eyeballs as you apply makeup. The longer a mascara is used, the higher the likelihood of this bacteria forming. Eye irritations and infections are never pretty so by replacing your mascara every three months, you limit this risk.

I find it less painful to toss a $10 mascara away after three months, as opposed to a $30 mascara. Mascara is a staple in nearly every woman’s cosmetic repertoire. Fuller and longer eyelashes make women feel feminine and more attractive. Take yourself to your nearest drug store and experiment. Have fun!

Rose Marie Beauchemin-Verzella is CEO, Director of Education, Beau Institute of Permanent and Corrective Makeup. For more information, go to the website.