Writer and lifetime lash junkie Dolly Alderton is a connoisseur of budget mascaras. Here she reveals her favourite five on the high street.

Over the years, I’ve learnt that there are times when you must spend cash on products to ensure you get the best money can buy. These include: coats, boots, bras, face moisturiser, foundation, bedding, bikini waxes, bin bags, eggs and dairy, meat and fish, white wine and vodka. And speakers. Oh, and phone chargers, the cheap ones are no good. Also, a big(ish) telly.

However, I’ve also discovered there are certain things you can buy cheap that do the job just as well as their expensive alternatives. Things like shower gel, nail polish and knickers. Cushion covers, rugs, shower curtains, short haul flights, socks, body lotion, lip balm, books (buy second hand), bikinis (don’t buy second hand), t shirts, tents, chips, crisps, chocolate bars and – really, if we’re being honest – gym memberships (the machines are all the same, if you never go to the cheap gym, it doesn’t mean you need to spend more money on the fancy gym, it means you just don’t want to go to the gym at all).

But the resplendent reigning queen of effective cheap products has to be mascara. Which is a brilliant coincidence as I am addicted to the stuff and seem to get through it with double the speed of any other woman (on average, I buy a mascara a month). I have dipped my toe in the high-end waters, but always return to my favourite one by L’Oreal that costs just over a tenner.

I genuinely believe the mascaras on the stands in Boots to be better than the ones in drawers behind department store counters. In fact, it is something I feel rather passionately about. So here, after a month of rigorous testing, is my pick of the best budget mascaras.

Bourjois Volume Glamour Push-up mascara, £8.99

Bourgeois push upApplication

It’s got the brush shape I’ve come to know and trust the most over the years – thick, bristly and luscious, loading up with generous lashings of mascara as you pull it out.


When it comes to mascara, I’m a woman of excess, but a mere two coats delivered long, thickly coated lashes.


A glorious smudge free fiesta, I reapplied at the end of the working day before I went out for the evening and there wasn’t so much as a particle shed on my skin.


Bourjois has long been one of my favourite budget beauty brands and this mascara hasn’t changed my mind. The rather cack-handed bra metaphor actually describes its effect incredibly accurately – it instantly lifts and boosts sad, droopy lashes with all the gusto of a Wonder Bra.

Bourjois Volume 1 Seconde, £7.99

Bourjois VolumeApplication

I am generally more dubious about this brush shape – the kind with lots of very small, hard spikes that make the mascara yield look worryingly measly when you pull it from the tube. I normally find these brushes only build the lashes up in length, rather than also fattening them in width, but this built on the width too. Granted, the effect is different to their Push-up (above), which makes the lashes more full-bodied and unctuous. The look here is more separated and long, but still effective in adding some bulk. There’s a nice limited edition floral tube for summer, which is handy for locating it quickly in your makeup bag.


Needs three coats for the impact I like, but I suppose if you’re a normal person who understands the meaning of moderation, one or two would do fine. Long lashes are what you’ll get here, lengthy and doll-like. So much so, that they rubbed up against the lenses of my specs every time I blinked, leaving little mascara snail trails on the glass throughout the day.


Again, other than a few marks on my glasses, gloriously smudge-proof.


Elegant, separated lashes. Gives you the sweet flutter of Tweety Pie without being too full-on. Good for day-time.

Topshop False Lash Intense, £10

Top Shop False LashApplication

My favourite kind of brush again. Triangular with thick and thirsty bristles that carry tons of mascara. Two coats is plenty for a dramatic finish.


I have to hand over to Sali for the proper technical terms here, but I’ll give it a vague bash: the pigmentation of this mascara seems particularly intense and it colours your lashes in a really deep black. The result is long, dark, fat, juicy lashes.


Another winner on the smudge front. It even lasted through my trip to the cinema to watch Love is Strange, which made me sob and howl like a baby.


My favourite of the lot. Added bonus: elegant, slim matte black packaging.

Marks and Spencers Limited Collection Volumising, £6


A good mascara for layering as it goes on so smoothly without caking. I piled on three to four coats for long, understated yet fluttery lashes.


Another mascara that isn’t big on drama, but the effect is soft, sexy and feathery.


Smudge-free again. Not a flake in sight.


Modest, unexciting packaging and from an unlikely brand, but – with the right amount of layering – the perfect day time, lengthening mascara.

Models Own HyperEyes, £7.99

Models OwnApplication

When you pull out the “mohican” wand, there’s a limited load of mascara as it’s another one of those brushes with lots of hard, short little plasticky spikes. A light delivery of product, so takes two attempts to really extend the lashes and one for a natural look.


Its brush means that it’s the one for separated lashes, leaving long, dark lashes with no gunk or clumping.


The most durable of all the mascaras I tried. Stayed on really well, even after a long and arduous gym session. I was also wearing it when I had PMT and cried on the train after a stressful day and yet STILL it didn’t run and make me look like the missing member of Kiss. On reflection, I might cry too much.


All in all, a reliable, hardy mascara that has served me very well. Perhaps one for the sporty broad, as I even wore it in the pool and it didn’t come off. Or maybe it’s good if you’re just someone who’s very sweaty or who weeps like an Italian widow all the time, as evidently I do.

Max Factor Glamour Masterpiece Glamour Extensions, £10.99

max factorApplication

Now, on first glance, this one had me, I won’t say worried, but definitely slightly panicked. It has one of those hard, plasticky, flat comby brushes that I normally HATE. I find they make your lashes really dry and thin and spindly and don’t build in volume even with ten coats. But, how wrong I was.


Cataclysmic impact. Built thick and long lashes, separated like a sixties It-girl. Dark and luscious without being spider leggy. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous.


A little smudgier than the rest, but quite literally nothing to cry about. Just had to give myself a wipe under the eyes half way through the day to remove any slight black smudges, but this is simply because they made my bottom lashes so long and Twiggy like, they batted against my skin a little (note from Sali: for the best of both worlds, try giving this a top coat of the unmovable Models Own).


Truth be told, I’ve been a fool, ignoring these kinds of mascaras for all these years. This was the dark horse of the investigation, and it is an investigation. I got compliments every time I wore it. My second favourite of the lot.


Overall verdict:

Budget mascaras may have some of the most laughably grandiose titles for something that essentially just makes your eyelashes a bit longer, but I still remain boundlessly loyal to them. Cheap mascaras are just as good, if not better, than the posh ones. Conduct your own austerity cuts, save your hard-earned cash for where it counts (a nice big telly) and scrimp on your lashes. You won’t notice the difference.

Dolly Alderton

Dolly Alderton is a writer and journalist.

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