Your Complete Guide to Mascara Brushes
Knowing which mascara wand to reach for shouldn't require a Ph.D., but as you wander a makeup aisle or peruse lists of products online, determining the best formula—and corresponding brush—can feel overwhelming. After all, these wands com in all shapes and sizes, from hourglass tubes to spike balls. This is why we typically end up reaching for the same formula every time, even if it comes with a brush we don't necessarily like. So, to ensure you're pleased with your formula and its applicator, we chatted with a few beauty experts and asked them to help curate a comprehensive guide to mascara wands. They even recommended the best formulas for each brush shape.
"If you have dense, curly eyelashes, you want a large mascara brush. The large bristles will help apply a larger quantity of mascara to your thicker lash line," notes Paige Johnson, the director of marketing at Babe Lash. Scoop up Stila's "Magnum XXX" Mascara ($23, ulta.com) if this wand type is right for you.
Hourglass wands—brushes that are tapered in the middle, but fatter at the ends—typically have dense bristles to "help lift the lash and make them look fuller, almost like falsies," explains Steve Kassajikian, an Urban Decay global makeup artist. This wand is ideal for lashes that need help with both volume and length, which is where Too Faced's "Better Than Sex" Volumizing Mascara ($26, ulta.com) comes in.
The triangle brush, which is thicker at the base, but thin at the tip, gives a flared look to shorter lashes; its shape works "to elongate and lengthen lashes in a fanned-out effect—especially at the end of the lash, because that's where most of the product goes," says Charlie Riddle, the global director of artistry at Stila. Lancôme's "Hypnôse Doll Lashes" Mascara ($28, sephora.com) is a great example.
A key part of Max Factor's "Glamour Extensions" 3-in-1 Mascara ($21.76, amazon.com) is an inverted cone brush (the opposite of triangles, these are thinner at the base, but thicker at the tip), which is universally flattering and especially helpful for sparse lashes. "The slimmer shape allows you to start the application right at the lash-line and build voluminous lashes from the ground up, while the shorter bristles and slimmer shape deposit color at the base of the lashes," says Terri Bryant, a celebrity makeup artist and the founder of GUIDE BEAUTY.
If you want precision and drama—and to seamlessly reach the lashes near the inner corner of your eyes—use a brush with a spike ball at the end. Products with this wand type, like It Cosmetics' Hello Lashes 5-in-1 Volumizing Mascara ($25, nordstrom.com), "evenly cover all of those hard-to-reach lashes, give you more control over your application, and leave lashes lifted and voluminous," shares Johnson.
This brush has short and squared-off bristles and a uniform shape throughout, which makes it ideal for "adding volume and length to shorter, sparse lashes," Kassajikian notes; Kevyn Aucoin's "The Volume" Mascara ($28, nordstrom.com) has major impact thanks to this brush type.
If length is your main mascara requirement, make sure you always select a formula with a malleable plastic curved brush (it looks a bit like a crescent moon!); Dior's Diorshow Iconic Overcurl Mascara ($29.50, macys.com) has one. "This wand type allows for precise coverage from root to tip. The curve aids in curling and lifting, giving an overall lengthened effect," says Johnson.
Those with short, fine lashes often struggle with adding length, which is why your go-to brush should always be a skinny wand—consider trying Innisfree's Skinny Waterproof Zerocara ($12, us.innisfree.com) on for size. "A skinny wand has a fine-toothed brush that gets closer to your lash line and offers precise strokes," Johnson points out, which is key for making the most of every lash. Skinny wands also allow for buildable coverage, so reapplying coats—and increasing volume—is never an issue.
Also know as triple-sphere brushes, bubble wands—like the ones tucked into Givenchy's Noir Couture 4-in-1 Mascara ($33, bloomingdales.com)—are great for lengthening lashes and adding "major volume, because in between each sphere, there's a reservoir of product which deposits more formula to really thicken up lashes," Bryant explains.
Mini wands, which appear in Clinique's Bottom Lash Mascara ($13, sephora.com), are suitable for every bottom lash type, since the small brush allows "them to reach the inner and outer corners while separating and coating the lash from the root," says Kassajikian.