Here’s Exactly How to Apply Your Mascara for a Pro Look Every. Time.
Main Image – Jacoblund/Adobe
My earliest memory of wearing mascara is from my early teens. I had an unrelated argument with my oldest sister the day I first tried it, and she made me ugly cry. The black of my Collection 2000 mascara ran down my face and onto my pillow and I remember being appalled and vowing never to wear it again.
But clearly, I was just being dramatic (and probably looked it too). Because fast forward *bleep* years and it’s the staple makeup item in my stash. The main event. The non-negotiable. And not many days have passed since my teens that I haven’t worn it.
Between weddings, funerals, career changes, babies and everything in between, you could say mascara has been with me through thick and thin. #MascaraNostalgia.
But isn’t it funny how, if you’ve been using something for that long (steady….), you just carry on using it in the same way you always have, unless advised otherwise?
Well, apparently, there is an *actual* expert-approved system for applying mascara, and it might not be what you think. Who knew?!
Here, makeup artists Laura Kay and Azesha Ramcharan talk us through the correct steps to apply mascara. Whether it’s better volume you’re after, a curlier curl or more length, this article will teach you how to maximise your results, from start to finish.
New to mascara? You can re-train along with the rest of us. All in the name of bigger, better, beautiful lashes.
1. Pick the right mascara for you
“A good quality volumising mascara is crucial as the thicker bristles help accentuate the lash length, giving your eyes definition,” explains Kay.
So which one do you choose? Well, overall, the formulas are all pretty similar, bar waterproof and non-waterproof. “Basic mascara is a blend of oil, wax and pigment,” says Ramcharan.
Other than that, it’s a case of looking at the label to see what it specialises in. “Choose a formula that addresses your specific concerns such as volumising, curling or lengthening for example,” says Ramcharan.
Then look at the wand. They come in all shapes and sizes these days but the one you choose depends on personal preference.
A thick, chunky wand is best for thickening whilst a smaller, skinny wand makes it easier to apply on bottom lashes and/or to apply a more natural finish.
You can also get brushes with a comb on one side – these are best for lengthening. Whilst paddle brushes help you to get more product onto the lashes, for a thicker, more lacquered look.
A curved brush is best for imitating the shape of the eye and creating a curl. And a cone-shaped brush is ideal for precision and accentuating the outer lashes. And then there’s the strange-looking bumpy brush known as the ‘bubble brush’ which helps to create a better curl.
As for colours, the standard shades are black and brown, but plums, dark greens and navies are also popular. Not to mention cobalt blues, hot pinks and yellows for the more adventurous.
2. Prep your eye area
This proves I pretty much fell at the first hurdle back in the 90s. Prep the eye area? What?! Surely applying mascara involves just lashes, not the skin!
But remember, there is skin at the root of your lashes and if the lashes aren’t clean, this could lead to clumps.
“Cleaning, toning and moisturising the eye area will mean you will help retain the mascara for longer by not applying directly onto dry, oily or dirty skin,” explains Kay.
‘And the process will also be quicker, meaning you can secure the lid quicker too [which can benefit the quality and longevity of the mascara.]”
3. Use an eyelash curler (the right way)
If you’re terrified of these because they look like a pair of scissors (just 15-year-old me?), then this is a public service announcement. They will not cut your lashes.
“Curling the lashes before applying mascara is always helpful,” reassures Ramcharan. Particularly for those with lashes that point downwards and need a little nudge in the ‘curl’ department.
So how do you use it?
Carefully insert your top lashes in between the ‘mouth’ of the curler, making sure the roots of your lashes are furthest towards the clamps.
PRO TIP: Ensure all your lashes have made it through the mouth then gently press the clamps together. You only need to press for a couple of seconds, and not too hard. Release the clamps and your lashes should be curled upwards, ready for mascara.
4. Check your mascara wand first
Before you go for it, “wipe off any excess mascara from the wand before you apply it,” says Kay.
PRO TIP: It’s also common for small stray hairs to stick to mascara wands. Ensuring there is nothing on it first, other than mascara, will save you from getting these hairs in your eye which can be painful and/or irritating. And it can also smudge your mascara if you try to remove it.
5. Pull your brow up
Using your finger, pull your outer brow upwards so that it opens up your eye wider. This helps the mascara wand to be placed deeper at the very root.
PRO TIP: “Starting as close to the root of the lashes as possible helps the mascara lift and add volume,” says Kay.
6. Use the ‘wiggle’ method
Next, “use the wand to wiggle mascara into the roots then pull through to coat the length of the lashes,” adds Ramcharan.
7. Layer and twist
Once you’ve done one ‘wiggly’ coat, do another layer straight away only this time, twist the wand as you go to get as much product off the mascara wand as possible and to encourage some curl. Do this a few times while the mascara is still wet.
8. How to clean up mistakes
Made a mess? Don’t panic.
“If you find the product is getting on the eyelids as it’s being applied, try using a mascara with a smaller brush,” advises Ramcharan.
“Also, a cotton bud soaked with micellar water can help clean up any smudges.”
3 mascara mistakes to avoid
1. ‘Pumping’ the wand in the tube
Why does pumping a mascara wand in and out of the tube two or three times before actually using it feel like the natural thing to do? We don’t do it with lipstick, so why do we do it with mascara?
It wouldn’t matter so much if this pumping motion didn’t add air into the tube every time. But unfortunately, pumping air into a mascara can dry it out resulting in it not lasting as long as it should.
2. Using old products
And speaking of air, even without pumping the wand, “a mascara will naturally be exposed to air which inevitably causes the mascara to dry up, especially as it reduces in quantity while it gets used up,” says Kay.
“Therefore, it is good to replace your mascara every 2-3 months to keep it as liquified and less clumpy as possible.”
3. Letting the product dry in between coats
Whatever you do, don’t apply one coat of mascara, go and make a cup of tea, then come back and apply a second coat.
Once mascara has dried on your lashes, adding more on top will make it clumpy, your lashes will stick together and you’ll lose your curl.
Our favourite mascaras
Estee Lauder Sumptuous Extreme Waterproof Mascara
£26.10 on Look Fantastic/$32 on the Estee Lauder website
This is my go-to for longer, curvier lashes, plus when it says waterproof, it actually means it. I once showered in it and, whilst my lashes weren’t exactly perfect, I had zero mascara running down my face when I got out. (If only I’d known about it in my teens…)
Charlotte Tilbury Pillow Talk Push-Up Lashes
£26 on Cult Beauty/$29 on the Charlotte Tilbury website
I also absolutely love this mascara. It has a paddle brush wand meaning that I can use the flat bit to get lots of product onto my lashes. Then I twist it round to the comb side to comb the product through. Hello, instant volume!
Wander Beauty Mile High Club Length and Define Mascara
£26 on Cult Beauty/$26 on the Wander Beauty website
Sally Underwood, LTG Editor-In-Chief is a big fan of Wander Beauty Mile High Club Length and Define Mascara “for never smudging and for giving a really natural, separated look.”
Kiko Milano Charming Escape All Day Lasting Click Mascara
£12.99 on the Kiko website/$10.40 on the Feel 22 website
Laura Kemp, our Senior Beauty Editor loves Kiko Milano Charming Escape All Day Lasting Click Mascara (£12.99). “It has a double-sided applicator, one for lengthening and one for separating the lashes, and it doesn’t need many coats,” she says.
“The curved side is like a comb which adds definition and helps to get rid of any clumps. I also love the packaging and the ‘click’ lid which makes it easier to open and close. Lots of people have commented on my lashes when I’ve been wearing this!”
How to remove your mascara
Of course, applying your mascara perfectly isn’t the only challenge; sometimes taking it off can actually prove more difficult.
The only eye makeup remover that hasn’t messed with my skin is La Roche Posay Respectissime Eye Makeup Remover (£12.50/$21 on the La Roche website). It’s even brilliant at removing waterproof mascara.
As it turns out, I was only doing half of my mascara routine right – how about you?
Getting deep into the root of the lashes with your mascara wand seems to be the key thing to remember here, pulling your eyebrow up and outwards to help make this happen.
There is clearly an abundance of wands to choose from. But once you’ve figured out what you want to get out of your mascara, it’s really a case of reading the label and learning which wand will help you achieve it.
If there is more than one wand for your needs, make your decision based on which one you enjoy using the most.
Don’t forget to cleanse and hydrate your eye area first – yes really – and keep a micellar water on hand in the event of any mistakes!
Meet the experts
Laura Kay is a leading permanent makeup expert and the founder of Laura Kay London. With over 20 years of experience in the cosmetic industry, Laura opened her academy training programme in 2015, teaching her world-class skills to the next generation of permanent makeup artists.
Azesha Ramcharan is a makeup artist based in NY’s Hudson Valley region. Clients have included NBC, The Juilliard School, Hessel Museum of Art, Craftsy, and VOZ.