The search for a drugstore dupe of one writer's holy-grail mascara

I recently had the distinct pleasure of helping a friend dive into the world of makeup for the first time. She had never worn much more than a BB cream and mascara, so she sought out me—with my penchant for winged eyeliner and bold lipstick shades—to guide her through the aisles of Ulta in search of products to do a full face.

Some products, like foundation, took a bit of swatching and discussion of makeup goals. But when she asked me which mascara she should buy, I beelined to the only product I’ve been consistently obsessed with over the last several years: the Better than Sex mascara from Too Faced.

“Meet the your new best friend,” I proclaimed, dropping it into her shopping bag. “This stuff really is better than sex.”

It comes with a price tag to match, at least for my budget. At $20 a tube—and guidelines that suggest throwing out mascara every three months to prevent eye infections—BTS is a bit of a luxury. Which got me thinking … is there a drugstore dupe out there?

I immediately went to my favorite backup of the last few months, Voluminous Lash Paradise from L’Oreal. The packaging and wand are very similar, and the drugstore brand’s claim—silky, feathery volume—mimics my favorite effects of Too Faced version.

In short, I’ll say this: No $10 mascara will outperform a $23 one. Better than Sex delivers a lightweight, buildable, flexible formula that drugstore brands simply can’t touch. But Voluminous Lash Paradise comes about as close as it gets.

For my wear test, I applied BTS to my right eye and VLP to my left. Each eye got three coats, and from a distance, there was virtually no distinction. Up close, the BTS appeared simultaneously more pigmented and less heavy, resulting in dark, feathery lashes that didn’t clump; a feat that VLP only fell slightly short of.

As the day progressed, I noticed the VLP eye flaking ever so slightly, though not enough to warrant a major complaint. Both held up well in terms of at-a-glance wear, giving me excellent volume and color from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. The BTS seemed to be easier to remove, which I attribute to its lighter-weight formula.

The verdict? I’ll never stop loving my Better than Sex, and it’ll probably remain my special-treat splurge until the end of time. But for the sake of my budget, it looks like Voluminous Lash Paradise performs well enough to get the job done … much to my wallet’s relief.