Foolproof Alternatives To False Lashes For Proven Fools Like Me

My glamorous grandmother made false eyelashes look easy, but I'm a klutz who didn't inherit her mad skillz. Luckily, these mascara (and mascara-based) options help me fake faking it.
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My glamorous grandmother made false eyelashes look easy, but I'm a klutz who didn't inherit her mad skillz. Luckily, these mascara (and mascara-based) options help me fake faking it.

My Grandma Bea would be really proud to know that I became the beauty director of a website called xoVain (after explaining to her what a website is). No one took vanity more seriously than she did. She approached it with the commitment one might give to a full-time job, except she didn’t get paid, so I think we should all take a moment to silently thank my late grandmother for her steadfast devotion to beauty volunteerism.

Even as dementia clouded over her life, beauty was a top priority. The first time I really noticed that her mind was starting to go was when we were in my mother’s car on the way to lunch on a Saturday in the mid-1990s. My mother looked in the rearview mirror at my grandmother in the backseat.

“Mom, what are you doing?” my mother asked her.

“My nails,” Grandma Bea replied.

I turned around in the passenger seat to face her and saw that she was “painting” her nails with lipstick.

Lipstick and always-painted nails were only two of Grandma Bea’s beauty staples. I'll always picture her with colored-in beauty marks, a tan (both before and after skin cancer--hardcore), and one of her many Elizabeth-Taylor-inspired wigs. I thought everyone’s grandmas wore wigs, and I actually outed her to the waiter at Friendly’s when I was in kindergarten. (The night before, I had seen her without one for the first time, her long, gray hair pinned up in a bun as she got ready for bed.)

But if there’s one element of her beauty routine I truly cannot remember her without during our overlapping lifetimes, it’s false eyelashes. In fact, my mother can’t remember her not wearing them as far back as her earliest memories, so I think it’s pretty safe to estimate that my grandmother wore false eyelashes almost every day for about 50 years.

My first time getting a closeup of Grandma Bea's expertly applied false lashes, 1979.

My first time getting a closeup of Grandma Bea's expertly applied false lashes, 1979.

Despite how closely I associate false lashes with my grandmother and how she applied them with the same ease that the rest of us apply mascara, I somehow didn’t inherit the false-lash application gene. I feel completely inept when faced with an unopened package of them. Just thinking about the possibility of cutting off too much extra length, placing them nowhere near the lash line or gluing my eyelids shut pretty much paralyzes me, and I don’t even try.

Some of the vintage false eyelashes Grandma Bea never got around to wearing.

Some of the vintage false eyelashes Grandma Bea never got around to wearing.

I love how they look when done correctly or creatively (I fantasize about wearing crazypants Shu Uemura lashes on a first date), but I’ve worn them only a handful times because I insist on asking someone else to put them on me. When I lived in Florida, I relied on my mother for the few occasions I wore them. Now I'm living alone and nowhere near family in New York, though, so I turn to coworkers—most recently Annie, who happens to be really good at applying false lashes. I’m not sure why, though, because the girl has those crazy-long lashes inexplicably reserved for male toddlers.

Annie isn’t always going to be available to be my lash valet, though, so I’ve rounded up the best and easiest alternatives to false lashes for those of us who want the look without the failure.

I’ve photographed each one without any eyeliner and without having curled my lashes to give you the most accurate idea of how each option performs all by itself. (Though, I should mention, Emily thinks they all look kinda clumpy, which is probably due to makeup remover wipe residue from doing these one right after the other. Oops.)

Too Faced Better Than False Lashes, along with my healthy-dose-of-skepticism eyebrow.

Too Faced Better Than False Lashes, along with my healthy-dose-of-skepticism eyebrow.

When I first heard about Too Faced’s Better Than False Lashes Nylon Lash Extension System, I thought it was just one of those primer-and-mascara combos coming late to the game with a huge ego. However, the white tube doesn’t contain a cream or liquid--instead, it’s full of fluffy, white, nylon fibers that look sort of like a the remnants of a cotton ball.

You apply the mascara in the gold tube as both a base coat and top coat. What makes the results more like false lashes than mascara alone is the way you’re able to control the length and thickness with the white fluff in-between.

Essence Volumizing Lash Powder between two coast of wet n wild Mega Volume Mascara. The word "volume" is starting to look really weird to me.

Essence Volumizing Lash Powder between two coast of wet n wild Mega Volume Mascara. The word "volume" is starting to look really weird to me.

Essence Volumizing Lash Powder functions under a similar premise, but it has its pros and cons. Since it’s sold on its own, you use your favorite mascara as the base and top coats, which is pretty great. Unlike the Too Faced set, however, the package warns against using it with contact lenses. Sorry about that, tens of millions of women.

Some ambitious mascaras claim to do an uncanny false-lash impression without the lint sandwich, and while you shouldn’t get your hopes up that you’ll achieve a look that truly rivals super-dramatic false lashes, a few definitely go beyond basic mascara results.

Benefit They're Real! My personal favorite of the four.

Benefit They're Real! My personal favorite of the four.

One of those mascaras is Benefit They’re Real! (The exclamation point is part of the name--I’m not yelling at you.) The name reminds me of the time I was on the down escalator at the Bridgewater Commons mall in Jersey about 10 years ago when I had the same size boobs as I do now but was 30 pounds lighter, and some girl passing me on the up escalator leaned over to her boyfriend while eyeing me and conspicuously yell-whispered, “Well, those aren’t real.” They are real! But I digress.

Lots of mascaras are all like “Our wand is the different-est wand ever,” and there may be subtle variations from the standard brush, but this wand is unique in that it looks like a tiny morning star club. That helps lift up the outer lashes in a way that really enhances a cat-eye look. Plus, Benefit gives the very smart directions of wiggling the wand horizontally to get maximum volume, followed by vertical strokes. This is a great tip to apply to all mascaras, but it really brings out the best in They’re Real! (That time the exclamation point was for my enthusiasm.)

L'Oreal Telescopic Shocking Extensions Mascara. "Shocking extensions" actually sound like a really bad idea.

L'Oreal Telescopic Shocking Extensions Mascara. "Shocking extensions" actually sound like a really bad idea.

A less expensive option is L’Oreal Telescopic Shocking Extensions mascara. See what they did there? L’Oreal lets you know how modern they are by comparing this mascara not to false lashes, but to lash extensions. (Have you seen Emily’s? Can I get a hubba-hubba?) They claim an exclusive brush design, too. It doesn’t look all that different from other wands, but it apparently has 200 bristles so as to catch and coat every last lash. Or as L’Oreal printed on the package, “No lash left behind,” which makes sense, because when I think intense eyelashes, I naturally think of controversial educational acts signed into law by George W. Bush.

Welp, I hit my quota of political and medieval references for the week, so while I think of a way to work Joan of Arc and Senator Marco Rubio into an article about lip plumpers for next week, tell me what you use to best imitate false lashes.