Ever since ancient Egyptians began protecting their eyes from the sun by darkening their lashes with ointments blended with coal dust, humans have become aware of just how much the eyes are enhanced by darkened lashes. Before long, the Egyptians were adding crushed semi-precious stones to the coal dust applied to their eyelashes and the first known cosmetics intended to enhance beauty were born.
By the 1800s women were blackening their lashes at home with mixtures of soot, berries, and oils, with many home recipes for the first mascaras secretly circulating amongst women in all walks of life. Then, shortly after the first petroleum jellies were released commercially, a French chemist named Eugene Rimmel blended Vaseline with coal dust to create a mascara product for Queen Victoria, and soon commercially packaged mascara cakes with application brushes were skyrocketing to the top of beauty must-have lists for women everywhere.
By the 1960s, mascara in a tube with a wand applicator replaced the cake and brush form of mascara with the release of Helena Rubenstein’s “automatic mascara,” and mascara, as we know it today, was introduced and widely applauded.
How Modern Mascara Lengthens Lashes
Today’s mascara has fortunately come a long way from smearing Vaseline and coal dust, but the effects are similar—darkened, lengthened eyelashes that make our normal blinking look fun and flirty. It also draws attention to our most important feature—the windows to our souls; our eyes.
Mascara is arguably the one product the majority of women would choose to take with them if they were going to be stranded with Mister Right on a desert island. Mascara can enhance any and every look, from the “no makeup” makeup look, to full-on, red carpet glam.
But how does mascara actually work to darken and extend eyelashes, now that it’s not composed of coal dust? According to beauty chemists, modern mascaras not only come in a convenient tube with an applicator, but their formulas are also much improved since the early days. Today’s best mascara products are composed primarily of pigments, usually very rich pigments of black, brown, and sometimes blue, blended with oils, waxes, and water. These ingredients are mixed with chemicals that allow the pigments and waxes to seal to the eyelashes without smearing and smudging off when we blink. Preservatives are added to protect the mascara from bacteria, and finally, some water-soluble ingredients are added to make mascara washable so it can be removed.
Waterproof mascara contains many of the same ingredients as typical mascara, but dimethicone is added. Dimethicone is a type of silicone that is water-repellent, allowing your waterproof mascara to remain in place through rain, tears, and even a dip in the pool. Waterproof mascara has to be more carefully washed off, generally requiring an eye makeup remover or petroleum jelly or natural oils to be thoroughly removed.
While waterproof mascara is ideal for going to a sad movie, or a wedding or funeral, or for a trip to the beach, it’s not recommended that waterproof mascara be used daily. Waterproof mascara can cause eyelashes to become dry and brittle, and the more vigorous scrubbing that it takes to remove waterproof mascara can lead to lash loss, which is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve with our mascara.
Both types of mascara, regular and waterproof, are brushed onto the eyelashes from the roots to the tips with a wand-style applicator and a brush tip that separates, thickens, darkens, and extends the length of each individual eyelash, giving our lashes the lush look that completes every makeup regimen.
What Makes Lengthening Mascara Different?
Lengthening mascara contains the typical mascara ingredients of waxes, oils, and pigments, but short synthetic fibers are added to the mix. These tiny nylon or rayon fibers attach to the eyelashes and become sealed in place by the waxes in the mascara to extend the appearance of eyelashes. The best lengthening mascara choices also typically contain volumizing and curling ingredients as well, giving eyelashes an unbeatable long, lush, full look that compares to false eyelashes.
If a mascara is labeled as volumizing, it generally contains the usual mascara ingredients but in a thicker formula with the neck of the mascara tube left a little wider to allow more product onto the brush tip. The brush tip on the mascara wand in volumizing mascara is designed to allow a lot of product to coat the eyelashes to plump them up and add volume.
For a look that’s even closer to false eyelashes, without the bother of falsies, there is a type of mascara available today that has a different formulation than typical mascara, lengthening mascara, or waterproof mascara. While most mascara products work by simply coating the lashes, tubing mascara is formulated to actually wrap polymers around each individual lash, creating tiny tubes around the eyelashes to lengthen and thicken them. Tubing mascara has to be more carefully removed than even waterproof mascara with the tiny tubes being eased off with warm water and a washcloth.
Although it isn’t typically indicated on the packaging, mascara does expire. The FDA recommends tossing out your old mascara and purchasing a new one every three months. Otherwise, you risk infecting your eyes with bacteria and Demodex—eyelash mites.
Never sleep in your mascara! Sleeping with your mascara on can damage your eyelashes and even cause eyelash loss. It also doesn’t allow your eyelash follicles to breathe and can lead to infections such as styes, and irritation from eyelash mites.
Have you ever noticed that you find yourself opening your mouth while applying mascara? This is very common and it turns out that we instinctively do this for a reason. When the mouth is dropped open, you are less likely to blink!
No matter which mascara formula and brand you choose, it’s true that no makeup bag is complete without a mascara. If you wear no other makeup at all, a few swipes of a mascara wand makes all the difference between your eyes appearing dull—or dynamic.