How to Apply Mascara


As a beauty expert, one question I get a lot is what mascara I use. I rarely leave the house without mascara because I feel it’s the one beauty product that can actually transform my face. A few swipes of the stuff and it makes my rather small eyes pop.

The key is in finding the perfect mascara for you and applying it correctly. Here are 15 of my favorite mascara tips and tricks.

How to Properly Apply Mascara

Ace your mascara application with this 3-step process:

Step 1: Place the wand deep into the base of the lashes, wiggling it in left to right. It’s the mascara placed near the roots — not the tips — that gives the illusion of length.
Step 2: Pull the wand up and through lashes, wiggling as you go. The wiggling part is key because it separates lashes.
Step 3: In this final step (which I always skip), close the eye and place the mascara wand on top of lashes at the base and pull through to remove any clumps.
Pick the Best Mascara for You

When picking a mascara, you should consider the formula you want (lengthening, thickening, waterproof or non-clumping).
Learn more about your options in How to Pick the Right Mascara Formula.

You should also consider price. You can get a good basic drugstore mascara or spend more money on a luxurious mascara. I find the fancier mascaras go on with less clumping and last longer, but it’s likely no one would be able to tell if you were wearing a drugstore brand or a department store brand. See 10 Best Drugstore Mascaras Under $10.

I prefer Lancome mascaras and I always use waterproof mascara in summer time or when skiing. Check out my list of the best mascaras on the market for your perfect fit.

Most drugstores and department stores have excellent return policies so if you try a mascara and hate it you can return it. Never try mascara on at a department store, there’s too much risk for infection. Instead, check out the store’s return policy and take a few home to try. Also, don’t get suckered into a full-makeover at the cosmetics counter (see How They Trick You at the Cosmetics Counter).

How to Keep Lashes From Clumping

For some, lash combs are simply too fussy. But for some makeup artists, they’re a great invention and keep lashes glob-free and perfectly separated. To use a lash comb, first apply mascara at the lash base, then wiggle the lash comb through to the tips of your lashes.

Not into the lash comb? Get rid of clumbs without them by removing excess mascara from the wand. Wipe wand on tissue, this eliminates blobs BEFORE you start.

Another great way to get rid of clumps is to sweep a clean, fresh mascara wand through lashes when they’re wet. Either buy new ones or recycle old ones. Buy clean mascara wands online (they’re called “spoolies” or at Sephora.

Recycle an old mascara wand if you don’t want to bother with spoolies. When you finish a mascara, clean the wand in a cap-full of eye makeup remover, then wash with soap and dry. Keep it clean by washing it whenever you wash your makeup tools.

Don’t Be Afraid to Mix Mascaras

A trick makeup artists use to make lashes pop is apply one coat of lengthening mascara, followed by one coat of thickening mascara. Remove excess product with a clean spoolie wand (see above).

Try a Colored Mascara

Basic mascara rules are simple: Black works for everyone but can be harsh on light-skinned blondes. Blondes should opt for brown/black by day and reserve black for night. Burgundy or plum colors make blue eyes pop, as do blue mascaras. Purple mascara looks great on brown eyes.

Use an Eyelash Curler

Curling lashes gives eyes the appearance of being wider and brighter. Shoot warm air from your blowdryer on the mascara curler for 3-5 seconds to warm it up before curling lashes. Touch it first to make sure it’s not too hot. It’s a myth that you have to curl lashes before you apply mascara. You can curl lashes after mascara application, just make sure the mascara is dry first. Shu Uemura eyelash curlers are super popular and affordable. Buy them at

Zig-zag the Mascara Wand

Zig-zagging the wand back and forth during application helps cut down clumps.

Apply to Top Lashes Only

Many makeup artists recommend applying mascara only to the top lashes (I abide by this rule). If you want to make eyes appear wider, apply mascara to the bottom lashes but make sure you give lashes a light touch. Not great at getting those bottom lashes? Try putting a tissue under them before application.

Use a Mascara Primer

Primers coat lashes and separate them before you apply mascara. Makeup artists swear by mascara primer. I tried it and like it, but because it’s an added step, I usually use primer only on special occasion when I spend more time on my makeup. My hands-down favorite is Lancome’s Cils Booster XL (buy from

What it Means to “Apply a Second Coat” of Mascara

I was always confused by magazine’s directives to coat eyelashes with “no more than 3 coats of mascara.” It seems magazines have been giving these directions since I was a pre-teen and likely before. What they mean is to apply the coats of mascara all at once before the first coat dries. Once the first coat dries, you’ll get clumps if you attempt another swipe at the lashes.

Thou Shalt Not Pump Wand In & Out of Tube

This only introduces air into the tube, which will cause your mascara to dry out sooner than it should.

Bend the Wand

A top makeup artist once gave his secret to his steady hand: he always bends his wand at a right angle.

Wait to Blink & Doublecheck Once Dry

Since I have long lashes, I try to wait 5 seconds before blinking after I apply mascara or I end up with mascara dots all along my lid. I also doublecheck my lids before I step out because chances are good, I’ve got those dots going on and it’s embarrassing to find out hours later that you’ve done a poor makeup job on yourself when you’re a beauty editor by trade.

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