It was a going to be a smokey-eye kind of night. I had that feeling. So I broke out the liner and the lash curler, the shimmering charcoal shadow and the Blackest Black/Noir/Jet/Ebony/Onyx mascara. I applied the kohl liner and set it with powder shadow like the pros say, wiped the wand to avoid clumps and applied three, count ‘em, three coats. At the party later, the martinis were dry, and so were my eyes. By midnight, it was my right eye that turned into a round, puffy pumpkin, but both were so itchy, red and allergic I might as well have been wearing cat fur earmuffs.
I don’t know if I have a technical, legitimate mascara allergy, but it sure seems like it. After a trip to the doctor for some antibiotic drops, I dumped all of my eye makeup (apparently contaminated with bacteria) and started from scratch. That’s when my mascara quest began in earnest.
Mascara appears to be the simplest of all cosmetics to get right, but the apparent sameness among brands is deceptive. The only real variables are the shape and design of the brush, whether the package promises thicker or longer lashes, the black or brown/black shade, and its ability to hold its own in a water balloon fight. What the package won’t tell you is whether the black gunk will break off into tiny, razor-sharp fibers that irritate sensitive eyes, which has happened to me whether I spent $7.99 or $27.99 on the product.
Read any magazine, and the pros are split down the middle on the price issue. Half of them praise the drugstore brands, saying that you buy it so frequently (they should be thrown away after six weeks of using them, for contamination issues) that it’s not worth the splurge, and cheaper brands are as effective are pricier ones. Others say that the advanced formulas and high-tech applicator brushes of higher end brands ensure that lashes are lush, flexible, fiber-free, and miles longer.
Here’s what I’ve discovered: The products that say “soft” or “flexible” (regardless of price) are generally fiber-free, designed so that lashes can be touched or rubbed without shattering into tiny flakes. The skinnier brushes are easier to handle for hard-to-reach lashes, even though the chubbier brush (what the beauty industry has called a “teddy bear” brush) looks more appealing. Although I’m a big fan of organic skin care and cosmetics, when it comes to eye makeup, I want the super-sterile chemical-crazy kind. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but when it comes to my eyes, I don’t want to risk it with a natural product that hasn’t been through the rigors of big beauty brand testing. As far as I’m concerned, waterproof mascara is the devil’s work. Not only does it make lashes dry hard, spiky and linger, despite repeatedly attempts to remove it, for days after the fact, you can rarely find a formula that looks natural after applying more than one coat.
Even now that I’ve found a mascara that works for me—Maybelline Lash Discovery in Very Black, though this is an entirely subjective choice—I’m still keeping my options and my eyelids open, searching for a consistently irritant-free formula that my eyes can take. My eyes are so sensitive, even the non-waterproof variety has become a special-night only beauty staple, which I promptly erase with a gentle makeup remover as soon as I get home.
And in the meantime, of course, I’m wearing plenty of blush.