Introducing Hard Lacquer: How About a Mascara-thon?


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Welcome to Hard Lacquer, your new source for beauty news and reviews at Autostraddle. The world of cosmetics is a vast and shimmering sea filled with mermaids and wonders and ships in the night; but in its fetching waters as on land, we suffer a certain invisibility compounded by the narrow social canon of femininity.

Hard Lacquer turns the tide, providing a lush cosmetic isle for beauty-seeking queers who want a bay to call their own. Each post in the series will kick off with a short roundup of the latest in beauty, followed by a deeper dive into a few special products.


+ Looks like SEPHORA is launching a subscription beauty box service in September, with a limited run in three US cities. Since a glitch left not one but two rather lackluster GLOSSYBOX packages on my doorstep yesterday, I’m quite intrigued.

naked smoky+ Where there’s smoke, there’s URBAN DECAY. SMOKY is the fourth iteration of the oft-imitated eyeshadow palettes, and while I’ve yet to make a dent in my own (the classic palette circa 2010), this version was made to smolder with nine all-new shades. (You can also get a cooler version of the original, or a lovely bouquet of rose gold shadows.)

+ I’m always looking for a good cure-all and despite all the snake oil out there, WELEDA SKIN FOOD has been a lifesaver. Great for nipping dryness in the bud, as a heavier nighttime moisturizer or a super emollient base under foundation, I can’t believe I left it out of my TSR like a jerk — it’s been touted as “the natural La Mer” and happens to be la cheap as well. I get it at Whole Foods and I use it for, well, everything.

+ The 1960s cut-crease liner tutorial you didn’t know you needed.

+ Did you know that thing where you want only the tiniest ends of your hair snipped off to keep it at its healthiest is called a “dusting?” Neither did I. Spoiler alert: Neither did my hotshot stylist. This list is otherwise excellent for ensuring you and your stylist are speaking the same language (or at least trying to). Disconnection, anyone?


+ Fine, this isn’t exactly hot off the presses, but in case you missed it and/or are the biggest Selena fan ever, the MAC + SELENA QUINTANILLA COLLECTION is officially a go. It’s all happening! Maybe you’ll get an exclusive Speakeasy Roundtable Review of the collection right here at Hard Lacquer next year!

Way back in the comments of Fit for a Femme’s edition of This Sh*t Rules, some of you asked for help with mascara. We’re kicking off Hard Lacquer with summer heat in mind — Aja’s tested and reviewed nine mascaras so you sirens don’t have to! Read on to find out which ones were smudge-proof vs. waterproof, smelled of cucumber and roses, and then let us know your favorite in the comments. 


As far as I’m concerned, mascara is the LBD of makeup. Having a wardrobe of mascaras is like having a fistful of LBDs in your closet; nothing ostentatious, just enough versatility to meet the needs of a few different occasions. Let’s start with application because everyone does it a bit differently!

While I may skip the first or last step below, or “pump” the curler softly a few times vs. clamping down for extra curl, the rest is more or less my everyday mascara routine, and it’s a pretty simple one:

+ curl gently with an eyelash curler (mine is by Shiseido)
+ brush mascara on top of the lashes (once, gently)
+ wiggle brush from up under lashes, root to tip
+ repeat coats, combing through until satisfied
+ set concealer with powder to stop smudging


Budget-Friendly Drugstore Mascara

I’d done research beforehand and everything, but then I got decision fatigue at Walgreen’s (that never happens to me at Sephora!) and my wife gleefully chose a few based on whim and whim alone. Thanks, wife! The only truly shitty one was the one I picked out, so maybe there is something to the offensively oversized tubes after all. The packaging leaves a great deal to be desired.

Here’s a little swatch of the drugstore formulas:


Rimmel Wonder’Lash Lift Me Up Mascara ($7.99, not pictured)

When I saw this I thought to myself, “What if I’m wearing this nifty cucumber mascara while drinking Pimm’s on a summer’s day and everything is perfect?” But it smelled like a saccharine bubble gum version of cucumber and was more like a wanly tinted lash conditioner than a true mascara. Way harsh, Rimmel.

Do you need this? You do not. 


Cover Girl Flamed Up Mega Curl in Very Black Blaze, ($4.49-$7.29, above)

This felt pretty on, but didn’t entirely deliver on “max volume and max curl,” nor did I find it very black. The brush is old school, like a rotund comma, and deposits a formula that stays put nicely. Don’t expect this to stop traffic, but it’s a solid choice for an understated work or everyday mascara.

Do you need this? You might if you need the “office cardigan” of mascara, sure! 


Revlon Bold Lacquer By Grow Luscious Length & Volume Waterproof Mascara in Blackest Black ($5-$7, above)

A moment of silence for lashes lost in battle with this beast of a mascara. Not a creamy cleansing oil nor double doses of my trusty black soap removed this, so yes, it’s hella waterproof. It also defines and lengthens very nicely, and adds a bit of light, feathery fullness with its sneaky little clump-free fibers. Potential as a waterproof topcoat!

Do you need this? Yes, if you are going to cry or surf or do a triathlon and don’t mind kissing some of your eyelashes goodbye. 

L’Oreal Paris Cosmetics Voluminous Miss Manga Black Angel in Extra Black ($6.99, above)

The favorite and most versatile of the drugstore bunch, and inkiest of all the swatches (including the priciest mascaras). The 360⁰ flexor brush didn’t do a whole lot for me, but a few coats really lifted and lengthened my eyelashes while keeping them soft and pliable, and kept them that way for hours without smudging or flaking.

Still, this fell just a tad shy of sex kitten vibes. Side note: If you don’t get rid of the excess product first, you’re going to get more of that clumpy, spiky manga doll effect they’re marketing. (I am NOT responsible for the nightmares you might have if you google “manga eye makeup.”)

Do you need this? You might, actually! 

Luxe Mascara

Today’s “prestige brand” mascaras are 3x-6x the cost of your average drugstore mascara, ranging from $19-$21 for Sephora or Clinique mascaras and as much as $40+ for designer brands like Givenchy or Guerlain. That seems more than a little absurd to me. Is a prestige mascara really all that superior to a drugstore brand, especially considering how many of them are owned by the same cosmetics moguls? It might behoove them to reign it in a little.


Especially since it’s only a matter of time before someone launches the Everlane of cosmetics. NY-based startup Stowaway positions itself as the Goldilocks of top-quality, paraben-, phthalate- and cruelty-free beauty products in all-new midsize packaging. This month I’ve had a blast getting to know the rad folks at Volition Beauty, who are more invested in consumer co-creation and innovation than mindlessly following trends based on bottom lines, beholden to the slow shuffle of available retail shelf space. While I do find prestige mascaras to be nicer overall, young new companies with the kind of transparency that will make it harder and harder to justify a $40 mascara are disrupting the beauty industry, so keep that in mind as we move on! 


Too Faced Better Than Sex ($23, not pictured)

This mascara is lovely on, sexy and flirty and easy to apply, but it smudges like you’ve already had a good romp, and then some. The only reason I want my mascara looking as if I’d had sex is if I have had actual sex! But if you wanna fake it, then this is your mascara.

Do you need this? You do not. 


Chantecaille ‘Faux Cils’ ($42, above)

In my defense, it was a gift. In its defense, it smells of a sprawling rose garden, real and unfurling roses, half-wild and damp, laughing earth. The tube is clearly well-loved and has lasted me a whopping 11 months, so there’s that. It’s got a traditional brush and never clumps, never smudges, is demure and a little lush with one coat but builds to a serious Whoa, Mama fringe with a few more. Wonderful!

Do you need this? Surely no one does. But if you use nothing else all year, it’s one indulgence that’s almost a sound investment. 


Chanel Le Volume De Chanel Waterproof Mascara ($32, above)

The formula is tar pit glossy, slick and pitch black, and the resulting look is bold, classic and clean as a whistle. It doesn’t transfer or smudge, but comes off with little effort at the end of the night. I don’t even mind the “snowflakes” brush, which has rubber bristles. A gorgeous, can’t-fail mascara. Of course the packaging is perfect.

Do you need this? Yes. Highly recommend. 


Guerlain Maxi Lash ($30, above)

Over the years, whenever I got a deluxe sample of this I’ve adored it. When I sprang for a full-sized tube, I had a serious WTF? moment — it’s like a totally different product, albeit in a stunning package. It’s either the brush:product or product:air ratio or both, but the samples go on ultra dark, really curl and thicken the lashes, and the effect is gorgeous. Full-size, this smudges like crazy and truly lacks oomph.

Do you need this? So much potential — perhaps try before you buy (or at least hang on to that receipt), it might be lovely for you! 


Blinc Mascara in Black ($26, above)

TUBES! Glorious, creepy, magical tubes. Blinc’s high-tech, waterproof tubes envelop each lash in impenetrable glamour, making them appear fuller, thicker, longer, just more all around, and super black. As good as a set of subtle falsies, and available in a fairly wide range of colors. They’re brittle, though, so if you were snuggle against someone’s neck they’d feel pokey instead of soft and lovely, which is a point off for me. Washing them off is super fun and weird; the tubes slide off and look like wiggly broken spider legs in your sink. I should have taken a photo!

Do you need this? 100% to the max, yes. 


Both Chanel and Blinc’s waterproof formulas are rock solid choices for summer and since both wash off easily, I’d recommend them even if you weren’t hunting for a waterproof mascara, or if you have sensitive eyes that tend to tear or run. Deciding which one really just comes down to cost and which look you prefer. Chanel will give you day or night looks easily, if you’re the kind of person who can only be bothered with having one tube around.

While the Revlon formula grew on me — it’s so soft yet impactful — there’s no way around the fact that sacrificing eyelashes to the mascara gods is unacceptable. If you can deal with that and you need something inexpensive, I wouldn’t hesitate! A few others I’ve had drugstore luck with in the past have been Cover Girl Lash Blast (which comes in myriad waterproof versions), Maybelline Waterproof Full ‘N Soft or L’Oreal Waterproof Voluminous Million Lashes.


For non-waterproof prestige mascaras, Kevyn Aucoin’s ‘The Essential’ Mascara is on par with Chantecaille and a whole $10 cheaper. I’ve had pleasant results with MAC Zoom Lash ($17), Clinique High Impact Mascara ($16.50), Lancome Hypnose Drama Mascara ($27.50), or Estee Lauder’s Sumptuous Extreme Lash Multiplying Volume Mascara ($26). Clinique and MAC seem to have cornered the market on fancy mascara under $20.

One of my favorite things about talking beauty online is how resourceful and lively and helpful the commenters tend to be, and I’ve learned a ton in queer groups and boards over the years. I’m so excited to have a queer space for this here at Autostraddle, so let me know your #1 mascara feels in the comments! Gabby wants me to get into fickle, fickle eyeliner next, but I’d love to hear what you’d like to see next time, too.

Aja Aguirre is a perpetual late bloomer from SF who writes about style, fashion and beauty for Autostraddle. Her award-nominated style blog, Fit for a Femme, takes on both coasts' signature styles and draws on her experience as a personal stylist. Check out Instagram for her latest looks, and Twitter or Tumblr for QPOC Speakeasy x Femme Power vibes.

Aja has written 45 articles for us.


    • If you’re just getting into makeup, you should check to see if there’s an Ulta near you. Right now they’re doing their twice-yearly “spend $20 an get a bag full of makeup deal” and it’s great if you don’t have a lot of stuff yet. Basically you buy two-ish of their store brand products and you get a starter kit including mascara, several eyeshadows, brushes, and lipstick. They do it in December too if you miss this one.

  1. Excited about this column! Maybelline Full ‘N Soft (waterproof formula) is my holy grail drugstore mascara.

    I should have pamphlets to hand out on doorsteps — that’s how deep my devotion is to this product. 😉

  2. I am already in love with this column! I love that you show a variety of different price points, and also recognize that $40 for a product is maybe out of some people’s price range, I love makeup, but get discouraged when the conversation is only around high end makeup that is just not in my budget! I am going to ditto the maybelline mascara, I love it enough that I never feel I need to love for something new!

    I would love to see articles around lipsticks, glosses etc…. and foundation, mainly because I am ready for a better foundation but afraid to spend a lot on something and hate it!

    • Thank you! Also it’s true! $40+ is just bananas for a product that should technically be tossed after 3-6 mos after opening. I will always try to provide recs at every price point!

      Anyway, you’re in luck because there are a ton of lip-related posts around the corner, yay!

  3. Love the new column!

    I just recently picked up L’Oreal’s Miss Manga (the “Rock” version) and I love it. As you say, it’s not for everyone. But for those who’re looking for the manga-style, miss the ostentatiousness of the ’80s, or are secretly trying to revive early-’90s goth— it’s perfect.

    If you’re looking for something that singles out your lashes more, and is more length-oriented rather than volume-oriented, L’Oreal’s Butterfly mascara is similar and also fabulous. The Butterfly formula is less inky, and IME is a bit harder to clean off.

  4. Okay I’ve recently started wearing makeup but I just can’t get my head around why I need mascara. I have long, dark lashes already, and I wear glasses… do the math.

    So… do I actually *need* mascara? How the fuck do I wear it without smudging my glasses (and preferably without having to curl them because eyelash curlers are terrifying)?

    Also I laughed bitterly when you were talking about “expensive” $20 mascaras hahahahahaahahaha Australia

    • If you don’t feel like you need it, then you don’t need it. But if you want to wear it and don’t want to smudge your glasses, then wait for it to dry before you put your glasses on. The amount of time it takes to brush your teeth probably should be fine.

    • @dina Right? $32 for Chanel mascara that didn’t fall off the back of a truck in Chinatown is really a thing!?

      Personally, the only time I ever feel like I NEED to wear mascara is when I also have eye liner on. My eyelashes are dark but not as black as liner, it looks weird without.

    • I agree with everyone else, you only need the products you want to wear! Also ditto on the eyelash curler, I have tonwear mascara because I have blonde lashes but I have never even tried the curler!

    • i use a curler because my eyelashes don’t have a curl otherwise — and i think i only know about curlers because i would see my mom using hers when i was little and i wold be like WHAT IS THAT STRANGE TORTURE CONTRAPTION and now i’m like WHERE IS MY STRANGE TORTURE CONTRAPTION. they’re pretty cheap though, if a little scary looking.

    • You don’t need mascara, especially if your lashes are already long and dark, and also if you don’t feel like wearing it, you know, don’t. Contrary to what magazines would have you believe, there are no actual rules for makeup. I, personally, am of the camp that eyeliner can go kick rocks, which is heresy in this cat-eyed world.

      In my experience, mascara can be convenient for getting rid of eyeshadow fallout on your lashes. But, this could probably also be achieved with a clean mascara wand, so….

      An old acquaintance of mine had a similar problem–when she put on mascara it made her lashes too long to wear her glasses without her lashes hitting the lens. Her technique was to apply the mascara (to give her lashes body and darken them) and then pinch the tips with her fingers to remove the length.

      I never use an eyelash curler. I haven’t found one that doesn’t pinch the corner of my eye. I don’t know “regular people” (read: people who are not celebrities or professional makeup artists) who actually use eyelash curlers on the regular. I say screw ’em.

  5. Are there any decent and cheap tubing mascaras? I have oil-slick lids, and the raccoon look is only cute on, well, small arboreal mammals. Given that I’ve always been told mascara is only safe to use for 3 months or so, I’m loathe to spend $26…

  6. i love this new column so much!!

    i used to wear covergirl’s lash blast volume mascara because it was the only one that didn’t clump on the ends of my lashes, but then idk what happened — my eyes became super sensitive somehow and it’s like i was allergic to it. so now i’m kind of lazily in search of something for sensitive eyeballs that also works for really long lashes. i think i’ll try the chanel you’re recommending! hooray!

    does anyone have application/product recommendations for super long lashes?

    • You can curl twice to try and keep ’em from hitting your brow bone, once at the base and oh-so-gently halfway through. You could also just try working it in at the base of the lashes and just barely skimming through the ends.

      I’ve got contacts and a fairly sensitive eye area and Chanel hasn’t given me any grief, but you could cross-check at Paula’s Choice to eliminate any red flags!

      Good luck and let me know how it all works out!

  7. This column is amazing!!!

    I don’t wear mascara because my natural eyelashes are not great to work with and I’m lazy about it. Eyeliner is my mascara (my most essential thing). BUT I’d love to learn more about working with falsies for those special nights when I’d love ridiculously lush lashes.

    And please teach me everything about baked powders. I have some and I’m pretty sure I’m not using them to their fullest potential.

    • NO, YOU’RE AMAZING! Have you heard of MUA Tina Yong? I just watched her do a gorgeous smoky eye for hooded or Asian eyes using a super lush set of falsies from Lash Bunny, and fell down the, uh, rabbit hole watching 84,000 of her other vids. Here’s the URL:

      I’m also fond of the Benefit falsies though I’m not even sure they still make them. Falsies and baked powders going into the queue now! (Oh, god, I could go on forever about the Hourglass palettes.)

      Also also also, have you tried just giving your lashes a little curl, no mascara? Sometimes I do that when I’m feeling cheeky and #IWokeUpLikeThisLite.

  8. This new series is so exciting!

    Mascara is fun to experiment with – there are so many kinds! Cover Girl Lash Blast (in the orange tube) and Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes are my forever favorites but I switch it up every couple of months because why not?

    I’d love to see an article on concealer…there are so many formulas for so many different applications and I have yet to find one that I love or that multitasks well. Also, brow products. I’ve tried several but they still mystify me…

  9. Yes! Thank you for making this a thing. This was so informative. I always feel overwhelmed when I walk into Sephora or CVS and usually end up buying from the same brands over and over. I think I’m going to go pick up some new mascara now. 🙂 Please do eyeliner soon. Also BB creams? Or really anything. I will read it all, I need make up assistance!

  10. My fave thus far is Benefit’s They’re Real BUT it’s on the expensive side ($40 ish aus dollars) so I haven’t bought a new tube since my last one ran out a few months ago. Mascara has to be discarded so soon, and I never ever use the whole thing, I’m always wishing they sold like tiny tubes which would make so much more sense but I guess would bring in less money for them.

    Anyway super excited about this column!

    • Thank you! I do love getting the minis, esp. deluxe-size minis, with Sephora orders or once in awhile in the little bins on my way out of Ulta. I’ve given away the last few baby-sized They’re Reals, if another lands on my doorstep, I’ll try and find you to send it to you!

  11. L’oreal Double Extend Beauty Tubes is my go to. It forms little tubes around your lashes to make them longer and thicker. It’s not clumpy and super black. The best part is that it comes off in shower, or with a warm wash cloth, without smudging every which-way and giving you black eyes. It comes off in clean little stringy clumps. Perfect mascara for people who detest washing off makeup. Plus it’s pretty cheap ($8-$10), and can be found at a drugstore.

    • Yes! So important! I do intend to include (at least) cruelty-free options in the Hard Lacquer posts.

      I try and make the effort to avoid brands that aren’t cruelty-free in my own personal keep; Chantecaille is cruelty-free, for instance. Physician’s Formula is a nice drugstore brand — I really do think there’s something to their products w/ Lash Booster, that could be something to try! Their 2-in-1 Lash Boosting Eyeliner and Serum is fantastic!

      • I will check both of those out! Physician’s Formula is owned by Markwins International, which according to PETA doesn’t test on animals, so it’s good to know there are some drugstore brands I can actually buy! So many drugstore brands are owned by L’Oreal, Procter and Gamble, etc and those companies all animal test. Even if the specific brand is “cruelty free” they still support testing companies, so I’m not comfortable buying them. =(

        I recently learned NYX (my favorite brand ever) was bought by L’Oreal a couple years ago so I’ve been looking for new, affordable alternatives. Designer makeup is nice, but I’m a poor college student lol!

  12. This fills such a big gap in autostraddle’s femme content. Stoked that this is a thing! Also, with regards to mascara, you’re supposed to throw them out after 3-4 months so I don’t see the point in buying an expensive one.

  13. Yay I’m so excited for this! It’s awesome! I’m strongly hoping this column will cover all those cool makeup trends that I would otherwise be too uncool to know (a thing that autostraddle helps me with in so many areas of my life).

  14. I love this! I recently started my own makeup blog on tumblr to be a more inclusive beautyblog. Don’t get me wrong, I love all my hetero sister and gay men beauty gurus, but I don’t always completely connect with them. I would love to see more queer makeup wearing fans and interact with them. Also at 36 yrs old I find I’m looking for less trend more lasting looks. Strong can be great, but not something I’d do on a daily basis. Anyways… let’s cut the chatter lol. I am so glad to see Autostraddle come out with this new column and to see Aja is the writer! So excited to read more from you all!

    Ideas for products to test? More awesome cruelty-free products maybe? Eyeshadow that compliment deeper skin tones? Either way I’m reading it all! ♡

    • Thank you and I totally get it, hence the new column. Congrats on your new blog (you should share the link here if you’re comfortable, I’d love to check it out), and I totally cosign the eyeshadow request!

      • The world of makeup and beauty goodies for so long was my secret world. So few of my friends shared this love with me, so I always enjoyed it alone, (My sister and I shared it long distance), until I married my wubby then I finally had someone to share it with. They don’t wear makeup at all, but they’re so totally interested that we watch beauty tutorials in bed lol. It because of them that I started my blog. They encouraged me and I’m glad they did.

        I would love to share. It’s still new and I’m using my phone for pictures, but so far I’m happy to be sharing the love.

        My IG acct name is: femmes.vanity

  15. Very excited for this column. I made the mistake of buying high end mascara when I worked in a makeup store and had a huge discount and now drugstore mascara always lets me down :(((( I am very dedicated to my smashbox full exposure mascara. BUT for those of you who want higher end makeup for cheaper I really really really recommend going online and seeing if there is a Cosmetics Company Store in your area!!! They are owned by Estée so they carry Mac, Bobbi brown, Estée, Clinique and smashbox and its all over stock and discontinued items so they are hellllllllla discounted!!!!

    • I used to work in one of the fancy Embarcadero buildings in SF — there was a CCS downstairs and not only would they sometimes be in the lobby just handing things out willy-nilly for no bloody reason, it became a terrible habit to pop down and retail therapy my way through a shitty work day. LIVING THE DREAM. (Or something.)

  16. I’m so excited for this column! I am always looking for queer women talking about makeup and the field is pretty small, so I’m stoked that we all get to share our love of makeup right here! My favorite mascaras are Covergirl’s Clump Crusher Water Resistant in Black Brown (the black brown looks more natural) and Tarte’s Gifted. I wear the Covergirl one on a day-to-day basis and put Gifted on top of that when I want to step it up.
    Tarte products are cruelty free, but other products made by their parent company, KOSE, are not, if that makes a difference to you.

  17. I feel like I have found my people on this site now.

    And big thanks for helping me track down blinc mascara! I had a sample a while back and I loved up, but I somehow couldn’t remember the name of it! I figured I could find something else I love, but after trying 3 different dissappointing brands from cheap to “3D”, I can’t wait to get some blinc! Overly excited about this.

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