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THE EYES HAVE IT: THESE MASCARAS RULE

Big, bad lashes have been the hallmark of sex appeal since women in the early 1900s began amping up their lashes with homemade concoctions crafted from hot beads of wax.

If that sounds dangerous, consider that some women today are opting for eyelash transplants. The procedure, which can run upwards of $3,000, is done by harvesting hair from the scalp and implanting it into the lash line. And then there's eyelash extensions, a semi-permanent treatment that costs $150 to $300 in Tampa Bay and serves up fake, fluttery lashes that can last up to three months ... sans the use of mascara.

But for the vast majority of women, mascara is still the quickest and cheapest way to achieve ooh-la-la lashes for day-to-day beauty. Unfortunately, all mascaras were not created equal.

So I put mascaras to the test, trying over 30 varieties in my search for the best of the best. Along the way, I found a few for which no woman should shell out her hard-earned cash, and a few that stood out as stunningly effective, regardless of price.

Any woman who has ever opened a tube of the lash-enhancing stuff knows, when it comes to mascara, first impressions are not always accurate. I tested each mascara for no less than three solid days of wear and tear.

And just as I suspected, some grew better with age while others proved not to have what it takes in the long run.

Love it: Boots No7 Mascara

Available in a variety of formulas from maximum volume to sensitive to waterproof, I was impressed with the entire Boots No7 Mascara Collection. Affordably priced at about $7 to $9 and available at Target stores, Boots No7 Mascaras serves up wearability, staying power and ease of use in black, brown or navy hues.

Leave it: Volume Couture by Max Factor

At about seven bucks, the price is right for Max Factor's Volume Couture Mascara. Touted as the official mascara of Milan Fashion Week, the product is said to serve up "extreme volume without clumping." At first application, this promise seemed true; my lashes were instantly long, dark and defined. Unfortunately, Max Factor's Volume Couture Mascara ultimately failed me by flaking off throughout the day, leaving my lower eyelids dusted with black bits of mascara. Unless your style icon is a raccoon, leave this one at the counter.

Love it: Lights, Camera, Lashes! by Tarte Cosmetics

Hands down, this mascara beats the competition. Promising movie-star-worthy lashes, Tarte's Lights, Camera, Lashes! came through, delivering long and lush lashes that did not flake. In fact, at my monthly facial, the esthetician even commented on how fabulous my lashes were. "It's not my lashes, it's the mascara," I replied. She laughed and then proceeded to take off my eye makeup before commenting, "Wow! You're right. What mascara do you use?" ($18 at www.tartecosmetics.com.)

Leave it: Intense I-Color Lengthening Mascara from Almay

I've tested my fair share of beauty products, and while I'm not a professional makeup artist, I've been applying mascara since I was 10 years old. So I consider myself to be at least a semi-professional at applying makeup, especially my own! However, I just couldn't seem to get Almay's Intense I-Color Lengthening Mascara on without applying color to both my lashes and upper eyelids. The formula is fine, but the thick, bulky applicator is awkward, making precision application impossible, leaving me $7.99 poorer and in need of a good eye makeup remover.

- Carolyn Brundage is the founder of TampaBayBeauty.com, a guide to all that is hip and happening in local beauty. Need beauty advice? E-mail Carolyn at cbrundage@prettycity.com.

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