Mascara Brush Types: What To Pick For Length, Curl & More
A walk down the beauty aisle at any retailer or drugstore and you'll see there's certainly no one way to formulate makeup. Eyeliners come in liquid brushes, charcoal pens, and pots of pressed shadows. Lip products range from dewy sheer balms to matte liquid lipsticks that dry down like car paint. Foundations come in loose mineral powders, tinted moisturizers, and whipped mousses.
This, of course, makes sense: Every makeup look requires a different application method, texture, and formula. You're simply not going to get a slick cat eye with a rounded liner brush and pot of charcoal; nor are you going to get high-coverage and sculpt if you opt for a foundation formula that prides itself on being lightweight.
The same goes for mascara: Not all brushes are created equal, nor are they interchangeable. Depending on your needs—be it adding volume or making sure your hairs don't stick together—you'll need the right brush to match.
What mascara brush do you need for your lash goals? Our full guide.
The very simple explanation here is that there are so many types of mascara brushes because we all have different lash needs and goals. Someone may have long stems, but those hairs tend to clump together and thus need to be kept them separate. Others are craving length, and still others thickness. So before you go out mascara shopping, you're going to want to think about what exactly you want.
So often people will make a mascara purchase only to complain about it later—and sure, sometimes it's a poorly formulated product, but most often, the purchaser in question simply bought a brush that wasn't going to give her what she wanted all along. Say it with me: You can't make informed choices if you don't know what your needs are!
Now that we've got that lesson out of the way, here are some of the most common brush types and what they're good for:
A rarer option to find to be sure, but the smaller size allows you to go in and coat each strand with a level of exactness that larger surface areas don't. And thanks to the sphere shape, you can really target the lashes at all angles. The downside is that you can't get all of the lash in one, or even two, swoops, so if ease of use is important to you, this option isn't it.
When you want curled, doll-like lashes, you're going to need a curler for starters. That will give you the bend you're looking for ("Unless you have naturally curly and lifted lashes, I always recommend curling lashes before mascara for a lifted look," says makeup artist Jude Andam.) However, you'll also need an assist from your mascara: The formula should allow for some hold (much like you might use a hairstyling product to keep your strands in place). The brush should be curved as well, which helps provide lift to the base and evenly coats your newly curled strands. Not only this, but the bend of the brush means that the bristles are fairly dense on the inner end. The density, here, matters: "If you're looking for curl, you want a mascara wand that is dense with a lot of bristles," says Andam. "Similar to a round brush for your hair, this mascara brush will grab lashes and gently pull them up as you apply to create a lifted look." Graylane Beauty Curling Mascara offers a curved and straight end for multitasking.
Volume mascaras are about the formula as much as they are about the brush—that said: An hourglass shape does a ton of heavy lifting. The curves of the brush mirror the shape of your eye, so it distributes formula to all hairs. W3LL People's Expressionist Volumizing Mascara has a nice, full hourglass shape that coats hairs effortlessly.
Tapered / cone (length)
A cone shape can help you achieve that doe-eyed flutter—with tons of length, especially on the outer end lashes. Then the smaller tip is better able to reach the tiny inner eye hairs, giving them some length love as well. "A short bristled brush can get close to the eyelid, which helps you to apply to hard-to-reach short lashes," says Andam.
Rectangle (all needs)
Rectangle (which might have a slight tapered end) is the standard, classic brush shape for a reason: It gets the job done. So if you're not particular in your needs or goals, and want something that gets the job done, this is ideal for you. Why mess with success?
Small, thin brushes are able to catch and coat even the faintest of hairs, like those on the inner eye or on the bottom of your lid. Essentially, thanks to their thin width, they can wiggle into harder-to-reach areas.
If you want full, lush lashes, you want to focus on getting as much product on the hairs as they'll take. (Read: a nice supple coating, without clumping together or the formula bleeding off.) What can help you achieve that? A brush with tons of bristles, as it picks up a healthy dose of the formula in the tube and then is able to impart it to the hair.
A problem many run into is their lashes clump together once coated: While the so-called spider lashes are certainly an aesthetic that some are looking for, others want to keep their lashes as fanned out as possible. For this, reach for a comb-like brush. These are able to wiggle between hairs, and combs can have some variance—some pack in spikes, while others keep the bristles farther apart—so just find one that works for you. "For defined and separated lashes, you want to look for a brush with stiff bristles," says Andam. "This will allow you to really brush through your lashes to smooth out any excess formula and comb through and separate lashes so they stay defined and don't stick together." Ilia's Limitless Lash Mascara is a personal favorite of this beauty editor (who needs help keeping her lashes lifted and separated!).
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Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director at mindbodygreen. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She has worked at many top publications and brands including Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends and updates in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as travel, financial wellness, and parenting. She has reported on the intricacies of product formulations, the diversification of the beauty industry, and and in-depth look on how to treat acne from the inside, out (after a decade-long struggle with the skin condition herself). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.