We all have one thing in common. And no, it’s not love—it’s mascara. It’s the one thing most of us can’t leave the house without applying, no matter how quickly we have to be out the door, or how little makeup we’re wearing elsewhere. That’s probably why mascara is the most challenging of beauty topics to discuss—we’re so opinionated about which we like, which we hate, and how we use it. Naturally, that’s why three of our go-to makeup artists were so eager to take it on once and for all.

Thanks to the help of red carpet experts Mai Quynh and Beau Nelson, and editorial pro Benjamin Puckey, this slideshow is giving you all the secrets, tricks, and absolute must-knows about mascara. Click through to start educating yourself!

The Wand Matters

Unlike other makeup products, mascara is not all about the formula. “What’s interesting about mascara is that brands like L’Oréal and Lancôme actually patent certain wands!” says Puckey. You can tell a lot about how a mascara will perform based on the shape and material of its wand.

1. “If it’s a fat wand, it’s going to have a dramatic, volumizing effect,” says Quynh. Shown here, the Queen of the category, Diorshow Mascara and our award-winning pick, Rimmel RetroGlam ScandalEyes.

2. The opposite applies for one that’s thin or spindly: “The smaller it is, the better it will be for a more natural look,” says Puckey. (See: Lancôme Definicils and M.A.C.’s new Studio Sculpt Lash.)

3. Then, you get into more eccentric territory: “Spiky wands, like the one on Givenchy Noir Couture (#3) will deliver a spidery effect,” Quynh says. “And s-shaped wands, like on Buxom Lash (#4), are great because they catch the outer ends of the lash, creating a cat eye effect.”

Material also matters, too. “Plastic wands create defined lashes, while traditional wire wands can give a variety of effects, depending on the cut of the bristle,” Nelson points out. “There’s a new generation of rubber wands,” Puckey adds, “these are ideal for a clump-free look”

Prepare Accordingly

As with all things in the beauty world, preparation is essential for a flawless application. And every single artist we interviewed agrees: Curling is key. Surratt’s Relevée Lash Curler is an absolute game-changer for this process. “A lot of women simply pump their curler once at the base,” Quynh says. “That actually gives a dent to the lashes instead of a proper curl. Instead, pump once at the base, once in the middle, and once at the ends for a more voluptuous