Mascara is a cosmetic applied to the eyelashes to make the lashes thicker, longer, and darker. It is one of the most ancient cosmetics known, having been used in Egypt possibly as early as 4000 B.C. Egyptians used a substance called kohl to darken their lashes, eyebrows, and eyelids. Egyptian kohl was probably made of galena or lead sulfite, malachite, and charcoal or soot. The Babylonians and ancient Greeks also used black eye cosmetics, as did the later Romans. Cosmetics of all sorts fell out of use in Europe after the fall of Rome, though eye cosmetics continued to be important in the Arab world. The use of cosmetics was revived in Europe during the Renaissance.
Early mascara from the modern era usually took the form of a pressed cake. It was applied to the lashes with a wetted brush. The ingredients typically were 50% soap and 50% black pigment. The pigment was sifted and combined with soap chips, run through a mill several times, and then pressed into cakes. A variation on this was cream mascara, a lotion-like substance that was packaged in a tube. To apply it, the user would squeeze a small amount of mascara out of the tube onto a small brush. This was a messy process that was much improved with the invention in the 1960s of the mascara applicator. This patented device was a grooved application rod that picked up a consistent amount of mascara when pulled from the bottle. The grooved rod was soon replaced with a brush. This new ease of application may have contributed to the increased popularity of mascara in the late 1960s.
There are many different formulas for mascara. All contain pigments. In the United States, federal regulations prohibit the use of any pigments derived from coal or tar in eye cosmetics, so mascaras use natural colors and inorganic pigments. Carbon black is the black pigment in most mascara recipes, and iron oxides provide brown colors. Other colors such as ultramarine blue are used in some formulas. One common type of mascara consists of an emulsion of oils, waxes, and water. In formulas for this type of mascara, beeswax is often used, as is carnauba wax and paraffin. Oils may be mineral oil, lanolin, linseed oil, castor oil, oil of turpentine, eucalyptus oil, and even sesame oil. Some formulas contain alcohol. Stearic acid is a common ingredient of lotion-based formulas, as are stiffeners such as ceresin and gums such as gum tragacanth and methyl cellulose. Some mascaras include fine rayon fibers, which make the product more viscous.
There are two main types of mascara currently manufactured. One type is called anhydrous, meaning it contains no water. The second type is made with a lotion base, and it is manufactured by the emulsion method.
1 In this method, ingredients are mixed in tanks or kettles, which make
a small batch of 10-30 gal (38-114 1). The ingredients are first
carefully measured and weighed. Then a worker empties them into
2 In this method, water and thickeners are combined to make a lotion or cream base. Waxes and emulsifiers are heated and melted separately, and pigments are added. Then the waxes and lotion base are combined in a very high speed mixer or homogenizer. Unlike the tank or kettle above, the homogenizer is enclosed and mixes the ingredients at very high speed without incorporating any air or causing evaporation. The oils and waxes are broken down into very small beads by the rapid action of the homogenizer and held in suspension in the water. The homogenizer may hold as little as 5 gal (19 1), or as much as 100 gal (380 1). The high-speed mixing action continues until the mixture reaches room temperature.
The following steps are common to both types of mascara.
- 3 After the mascara solution has cooled or reached the proper state, workers transfer it to a tote bin. Next, they roll the tote bin to the filling area and empty the solution into a hopper on a filling machine. The filling machine pumps a measured amount (typically about 0.175 oz [5 g]) of the solution into glass or plastic mascara bottles. The bottles are usually capped by hand. Samples are removed for inspection, and the rest are readied for distribution.
Checks for quality and purity are taken at various stages in the manufacture of mascara. The chemicals are checked in the tank before the mixing begins to make sure the correct ingredients and proper amounts are in place. After the batch is mixed, it is rechecked. After the batch is bottled, representative samples from the beginning, middle, and end of the batch are taken out. These are examined for chemical composition. At this point they are also tested for microbiological impurities.
Some mascaras on the market today boast all-natural ingredients, and their recipes vary little from products that might have been made at home 100 years ago. One development that may affect mascara manufacturing in the future, however, is the development of new pigments. Researchers in the plastics industry have developed bold, vivid pigments that have recently been introduced to lipsticks. Plastic-derived pigments may be of interest to mascara manufacturers as well.
Where to Learn More
Angeloglou, Maggie. A History of Make-up. The Macmillan Company, 1970.
Aucoin, Kevyn. The Art of Make Up. Harper Collins, 1994.
Schemann, Andrew. Cosmetics Buying Guide. Consumer Reports Books, 1993.
Wetterhahn, Julius. "Eye Makeup," in Cosmetics: Science and Technology. M. S. Balsam and Edward Sagarin, ed. John Wiley & Sons, 1972.
Iverson, Annemarie. "Pigment of the Imagination." Harper's Bazaar, May 1995, pp. 160-164.
— Angela Woodward