10 Facts About Mascara (to Help You Lash Out)
Women—and men—have been adorning their eyelashes since 4000 BCE when ancient Egyptians used everything from kohl to burnt almonds to darken their fringe. To make sure it stayed put, they used substances such as honey and (ick!) crocodile dung. So, yeah, your favorite lengthening, volumizing, and curling formula has come a long way. Coat on a few layers of knowledge with these fun facts.
1. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, IT MAY HAVE HELPED STAVE OFF INFECTION.
For ancient Egyptians, kohl eye makeup (makeshift mascaras included) served several purposes. In addition to looking cool, it supposedly invited protection from the gods Horus and Ra, kept the sun out of one's eyes, and, according to French researchers, may have helped improve opthalmological health. It turns out the powders wearers piled on contained trace amounts of lead salts, which, instead of being harmful, actually helped boost immunological response to bacteria.
2. MODERN MASCARA HAS BEEN AROUND FOR NEARLY TWO CENTURIES.
French perfumer and cosmetics inventor Eugéne Rimmel (yes, that Rimmel) created the first modern formula in the 1830s. His invention became so synonymous with the lash-boosting product that “rimmel” is the word for “mascara” in many languages, including Portuguese, Romanian, and Turkish.
3. A TEENAGE BOY CREATED THE FIRST MASS-MARKET VARIETY.
In 1915, 19-year-old Chicagoan Tom Lyle Williams noticed his sister Mabel applying a mix of Vaseline and coal dust to her lashes to make them darker and fuller after a kitchen accident singed them off. Using a chemistry set, he co-opted her formula to produce Lash-Brow-Ine. After a competitor, Lash Brow, sued him for copyright infringement, he later changed it to Maybelline Cake Mascara (like all early formulas, it came in a tin and was applied with a brush), combining the name of the product’s base and his sister’s moniker. It was the first product from the cosmetics giant.
4. PERFECT LASHES WERE WORTH DYING FOR.
A so-called permanent mascara dubbed Lash Lure was created in 1933. But the dye was banned after it killed one woman and blinded more than a dozen others. Five years later, Congress granted the Food and Drug Administration the right to regulate cosmetics.
5. THE FIRST WATERPROOF FORMULA CAUSED A FEW TEARS.
Created in 1938, it was comprised of about 50 percent turpentine. In addition to smelling awful, it caused red, itchy, injured eyes.
6. INNOVATIONS BEGAN TO, ER, ROLL IN DURING THE 1950s.
In 1957, Helena Rubinstein introduced the Mascara-Matic, which was a pen-like device that opened up, revealing a slim metal applicator with grooves on it. As you pulled out the rod, mascara was wiped off—except for the mascara caught in the wand's grooves. (The price tag: $2 plus tax.) Three years later, Maybelline launched their Ultra Lash Mascara, the first mass-market version using the brush-in-tube system we still use today.
7. THERE'S STILL SOME WEIRD STUFF IN MASCARA.
Most contain a substance called guanine, which is made from ground-up fish scales. It gives mascara its shine. There are also trace amounts of mercury, which acts as a germ-killer and preservative. In 2013, the United Nations excluded mascara and other eye makeup from the ban on mercury in cosmetics and soaps. The reason: there are “no effective safe substitute alternatives” available for the chemical. Don’t worry; it’s not enough mercury to harm you or your lashes.
8. YOU SHOULD OPEN WIDE FOR THE BEST APPLICATION.
"Mascara face"—yeah, you know the one—seems like a universal phenomenon, yet no one seems to understand why people make it. It could be a reflex, or a more conscious effort to stretch one's face for better application. Either way, people seem to agree that it makes it easier to apply makeup. (Even though it looks pretty silly.)
9. AND MAINTAIN A STEADY HAND.
According to The New York Times, the Food and Drug Administration says scratched eyes from an errant mascara wand are the most common makeup-related injury.
10. LONG LASHES DON'T COME CHEAP.
Financial website Mint.com reports the average woman will spend $3,770 on mascara in her lifetime.