This is a topic makeup artists will fight you on: how much should you spend on mascara? Most of my friends who do makeup for a living say the $20 makeup guru faves at Sephora are fully not worth it, but part of me thinks that's because they have to buy SO MUCH mascara to service their clients. Cheaper is just a better business move. My opinion on the matter changes from day to day since I have a certain nostalgia for Diorshow. My mom got it for me for Christmas one year in high school and I've never known luxury like the first time I used it. I still buy it occasionally to take me back to that feeling, but it's THIR-TY (expletive) DOLL-ARS. Not sustainable, miss.
Recently, one of these MUA friends actually recommended a $4 mascara that really does the job for me right now. “Right now” is the operative there because I haven’t been wearing concealer (the #1 culprit of Raccoon Eye since it can break down a mascara that wasn't formulated to hang out with it), and I haven’t been crying (knock on wood for that one). Essence has some of the lowest price points in Ulta, and this brand carries a TON of mascaras. I’ve tried two, and so far they have been good to me for daily wear.
I should caveat this with my preferred mascara look. When you go to the end cap at Sephora (you know, the ones where they put the best sellers) the mascaras all have little categories under them: length, drama, volume, waterproof. I always go for "drama & volume". This translates to "extra clumpy". I want to look like Andy Warhol found me in a dumpster behind a SoHo House. Those worthy of this trash heap of glamour include Benefit Bad Gal Bang (A+ and the mini one is technically less than $20), Diorshow Pump'N'Volume (A the first time you open it, but this baby gets clumpy over time and that turns it into my very specific A+), and Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir Major Volume Mascara (honestly B+, because it’s not as dramatic as the other two). There's also some bonus points to be given for the packaging of the Marc Jacobs one and classic Diorshow because I think it's sometimes a psychosomatic relationship with makeup: beautiful packaging, beautiful self.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Essence I Love Extreme Volume Waterproof Mascara (it’s in a very loud, teen blue and pink tube) is a waxier dupe for all of the above which is not a bad thing. It’s just an extra makeup remover thing since it's waterproof. I think that's what makes it so clumpy though, so I'm willing to buy more micellar water for it. I would say it's like the dried up stage of the aforementioned Pump'N'Volume. However, the jury is out on its waterproofness until I find something to cry about. For science.
The second one that I really like is literally called The False Lashes Mascara Dramatic Volume Unlimited. This makes a good case for the age old argument that you are paying for the name with the more expensive ones, which all seem to adhere to the sex sells model (glaring at you guys, NARS Climax and Too Faced Better Than Sex). As long as you don't have to type it out in full too often, Essence False Lashes is a great dupe for the Marc Jacobs one, and (if you please) it's not waxy like the waterproof option above. The tube is a sensible white with a black cap, so you won't have flashbacks to Juicy Couture makeup bags in the girl's locker rom. If you just glazed over and smiled in fondness at that image, maybe go get this one.