You start with your top lashes.
You know those annoying dots you get on your eyelids and under your eyes? To prevent those, start with your bottom lashes when putting on your mascara. Otherwise your top lashes will smudge when you look down. When doing your top lashes, look straight ahead and place your wand at the base of your lashes. Then, use a zig-zagging motion while moving the wand up your lashes, recommends Marlena, founder and CEO of the blog Makeup Geek. "This will help give your lashes a curled effect. Keep repeating this until you get your lashes as thick as you want, usually two to three coats. When it comes to the bottom lashes, tilt your head forward slightly to keep from getting mascara onto your cheek." You can also use a credit card, business card, or small piece of paper to keep your mascara from traveling.
2. You pump the wand too much.
Are you spending more time separating your lashes than actually putting on mascara? Here's a quick fix: "Don't pump the wand in and out of the bottle," says Marlena. "This pushes air into the tube, which will make the mascara dry out faster, causing clumping and flaking. Instead, gently twist the wand back and forth or in circular motions to pick up the desired amount of product." When you remove the wand from the bottle, make sure to scrape off any excess mascara. If all else fails, make sure you have a lash separator on hand (you can use an old wand for this—just wash it first).
3. You use old mascara.
To avoid infection, you should regularly replace anything that comes in contact with your eyes, Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York City dermatologist, told Good Housekeeping. In case of mascara, six months is a good rule of thumb—though you should toss it earlier if it gets clumpy. This will also help you avoid the clumping problem.
4. You think one size fits all.
Applying mascara is not a one-size-fits-all thing. If your eyes are further apart, for example, it's better to put more coats on the inner part of your eyes, says makeup artist Sonia Kashuk. But if your eyes are close together, you want to make them look less so by focusing on the outer edges. You can also use different techniques depending on whether you want your lashes to look longer, fuller, curlier, or just classic and clump-free. Check out our lash look how-tos here.
5. You're afraid of your eyelash curler (or don't own one).
Curling your eyelashes can help make your eyes look bigger. "The main thing when applying mascara is definitely beginning with opening up the eyes," says Kashuk. "An eyelash curler goes hand in hand with mascara." Start at the root of your lashes, being careful not to get any skin into the curler. Press it together and hold it for about 10 seconds, then move it out to the end of your lashes and repeat.
6. You don't know how to take it off well.
You probably already know that you should take your makeup off before you go to sleep so your pores don't get clogged. But, especially if you wear the waterproof kind, your mascara is often the hardest makeup to remove. To get rid of every last trace, use a product specially made for eye makeup removal, like Almay Moisturizing Eye Makeup Remover Pads ($6, ulta.com), which got top marks in our lab tests for removing waterproof mascara.