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.

Raw Materials

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.

The Manufacturing

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.

Anhydrous method

Emulsion method


Quality Control

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.

The Future

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

Also read article about Mascara from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Sharon Wiggin
I went to a Mary Kay party yesterday and the consultant told us that mascara is made out of the excrement of bats. She said all brands other than Mary Kay use bat excrement in the making of their mascaras. I find this hard to believe. Everything that I have since read about mascara and its ingredients and origin, make no mention of this.
I went to an Arbonne party last night and the consultant said the same thing about their mascara - that all other brands use bat feces in their formulas - but that they don\'t.

I am skeptical whenever I hear claims like that.
My daughter and I just visited Blanchard Springs Caverns in Mountain View AR. At the end of the tour the guide did mention that a major cosmetic company in Switzerland buys their bat guano just for the purpose of making mascara. This is not the first time that I had heard this.
Mascara can be made in two different ways. In the anhydrous method, all the ingredients are mixed, heated, and agitated. With the emulsion method, water and thickeners are combined, while the waxes and emulsifiers are mixed and heated separately. Pigments are added before both mixtures are combined in a high-speed agitator called a homogenizer. The result of either method is a semi-solid substance that is ready to be packaged.
Glenn Allen
I am a mascara chemist and can tell you that "no one" uses bat excrement. Look at any patent from L'Oreal or Coty or Revlon or Estee Lauder or any of their raw materials (they must be listed on the product label by law) and "bat excrement" isn't listed.

Any mascara chemist will make mascara then test it on themselves to see how the formula needs to be altered so that it performs better. All cosmetics must be tested with consumers before being released to the marketplace, and all of the used raw ingredients must be approved by a toxicologist. I'd always heard nice things about Mary Kay cosmetics, and am disappointed to hear this kind of thing. If anyone has ever worked in a manufacturing environment, I can tell you that this kind of thing can never happen: Too many people would know about it, would have to work with it, etc. It just isn't true.

Glenn Allen
Morris Plains, NJ
I am using this for a science experiment,too, and it really helped. Thanks sooooo much!!!!!!
Well Glenn while youre partially correct I would expect being a chemist that you would know the sources of your chemicals...

However, a derivative of guano does exist in mascara. It’s called guanine. It helps provide a certain pearly shine to nail polish, shampoo, eye shadow, and mascara. So while they don’t actually use guano, they do derive guanine from it. They also, produce it synthetically.

* It should also be noted that guanine can be found in seabird guano as well as bat guano.

Long story short, there is some truth to the urban legend that mascara, eye shadow, shampoo and other everyday items contain guano.
more info on guanine for you glenn...

Guanine etymologically comes via the Quichua word "huanu" for dung from the Spanish loan word "guano". As the Oxford English Dictionary notes, guanine is "A white amorphous substance obtained abundantly from guano, forming a constituent of the excrement of birds".

In 1656 in Paris, François Jaquin (a rosary maker) extracted from scales of some fishes the so-called pearl essence, crystalline guanine forming G-quadruplexes. In the cosmetics industry, crystalline guanine is used as an additive to various products (e.g., shampoos), where it provides a pearly iridescent effect. It is also used in metallic paints and simulated pearls and plastics. It provides shimmering luster to eye shadow and nail polish. Facial treatments using the droppings, or guano, from Japanese nightingales is currently in favor in New York, reportedly because the guanine in the droppings produces a clear, "bright" skin tone that some people find desirable to attain. Guanine crystals are rhombic platelets composed of multiple transparent layers, but they have a high index of refraction that partially reflects and transmits light from layer to layer, thus producing a pearly luster. It can be applied by spray, painting, or dipping. It may irritate the eyes. Its alternatives are mica, faux pearl (from ground shells), and aluminium and bronze particles.

Spiders and scorpions convert ammonia, as a product of protein metabolism in the cells, to guanine as it can be excreted with minimal water loss.

Guanine is found in integumentary system of many fish such as sturgeon. It is also present in the reflective deposits of the eyes of deep-sea fish and some reptiles such as crocodiles.

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