From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A mascara tube and a wand applicator

Mascara is a cosmetic commonly used to enhance the upper and lower eyelashes. It is used to darken, thicken, lengthen, and/or define the eyelashes. Normally in one of three forms—liquid, powder, or cream—the modern mascara product has various formulas; however, most contain the same basic components of pigments, oils, waxes, and preservatives. The most common form of mascara is a liquid in a tube with an application brush.


The Collins English Dictionary defines mascara as "a cosmetic substance for darkening, lengthening, curling, coloring, and thickening the eyelashes, applied with a brush or rod." The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) adds that mascara is occasionally used on the eyebrows as well.

The OED also references mascaro from works published in the late 19th century. In 1886, the Peck & Snyder Catalogue advertises, "Mascaro or Water Cosmetique... For darkening the eyebrow and moustaches without greasing them and making them prominent." In 1890, the Century Dictionary defined mascara as "a kind of paint used for the eyebrows and eyelashes by actors." And in 1894, N. Lynn advises in Lynn's Practical Hints for Making-up, "to darken eyelashes, paint with mascara, or black paint, with a small brush."


The source of the word mascara is unclear. It was possibly derived from the Spanish word máscara meaning 'mask' or 'stain', and the Italian word maschera meaning 'mask' are possible origins.[1] A related Catalan word describes soot or a black smear, and the Portuguese word máscara means 'mask' and mascarra means dark stain or smut.[2] There is even strong support for a possible source from the Arabic word maskharah or 'buffoon'.[3][4] The Hebrew word משקרות (in the phrase mesaqqeroth `eynayim) relating to women's eyes is found in Isaiah 3:16.[5] It may mean flirting or ogling with the eyes, or painting them with red pigment.[6]

Latin treatises sometimes used the word mascara when referring to witches.[7]


Mascara being applied

The name Mascara was likely given in reference to the city of that bears the same name since in the mid-19th century, the French discovered antimony powder during their conquest in the old city of Mascara in Algeria.[8] The nomadic tribes used it as a beauty product but also to protect themselves from various trachomas and eye diseases.[citation needed]

Aesthetic adornment is a cultural universal and mascara can be documented in ancient Egypt. Records from around 4000 BC refer to a substance called kohl that was used to darken eyelashes, eyelids, and eyebrows.[9] Kohl was used to mask the eyes, believed to ward off evil spirits and protect the soul, by both men and women. Often composed of galena; malachite; and charcoal or soot, crocodile stool; honey; and water was added to keep the kohl from running.[10] Through Egypt's influence, kohl usage persisted in the subsequent Babylonian, Greek and Roman empires. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, kohl fell into disuse on the European continent, where it had been considered solely a cosmetic; conversely, it continued to be widely used in the Middle East for religious purposes.[9]

During the Victorian era, social opinion shifted radically towards the promotion of cosmetics, and women were known to spend a majority of their day occupied with beauty regimens. Great efforts were made to create the illusion of long, dark eyelashes.[citation needed] Attempting this, Victorian women made a type of mascara in their own homes.[10] They would heat a mixture of ash or lampblack and elderberry juice on a plate and apply the heated mixture to their eyelashes.[11]

The product that people would recognize as mascara today did not develop until the 19th century. A chemist named Eugène Rimmel developed a cosmetic using the newly invented petroleum jelly. The name Rimmel became synonymous with the substance and still translates to "mascara" in the Portuguese, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Romanian, and Persian languages today.[12]

Across the Atlantic Ocean and at roughly the same time, in 1915, Thomas Lyle Williams created a remarkably similar substance for his sister Mabel.[12] In 1917 he started a mail-order business from the product that grew to become the company Maybelline.[10]

Max Factor cake mascara with brush, 1960

The mascara developed by these two men consisted of petroleum jelly and coal in a set ratio.[12] It was undeniably messy, and a better alternative was soon developed. A dampened brush was rubbed against a cake containing soap and black dye in equal proportions and applied to the lashes.[9] Still it was extremely messy. No significant improvement occurred until 1957 with an innovation by Helena Rubinstein.

The events leading to Rubinstein's improvement began in Paris in the early 20th century. There, at the fashion capital of the world, mascara was quickly gaining popularity and common usage.[13] Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, two giants in the American beauty industry, watched and kept abreast of its development. After the First World War, American consumers became eager for new products.[14] Sensing an opportunity, both Rubinstein and Arden launched their own brands of cosmetics that included mascara. Through the efforts of these two rivals and public temperament, mascara finally gained respectability and favor in American society.[15]

The invention of the photograph and motion picture launched mascara's popularity and usage further forward in America. Motion pictures especially advertised a new standard of beauty and sex appeal.[16] Famous actresses of the classic cinema era, such as Theda Bara, Pola Negri, Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, and Jean Harlow, depended heavily upon mascara for their glamorized appearances, which the average woman sought to mimic.[17]: 8–9, 11–12 

In 1933, a woman known on court records as Mrs. Brown consented to have her eyelashes permanently dyed.[17]: 20  Unfortunately, the product, Lash Lure, used para-phenylenediamine, a chemical extremely toxic to the body, as the dyeing agent.[17]: 23  At the time, cosmetics were unregulated by the Federal Drug Administration, and the dangers of paraphenylenediamine were unknown.[18] Within hours of the treatment, Mrs. Brown began experiencing severe symptoms of stinging and burning eyes. By the next morning, Mrs. Brown's eyes had developed ulcers which oozed and had swollen shut.[17]: 22  Use of Lash Lure resulted in blindness in Mrs. Brown and fifteen other women and also caused the death of another through a bacterial infection.[19] It was only after the Lash Lure incident and several others like it, documented in Ruth deForest Lamb's book entitled American Chamber of Horrors, that Congress granted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the right to regulate cosmetics in 1938.[17]: 24 

Max Factor waterproof mascara creme in a tube with a brush, 1960

Years later in 1957, Rubinstein created a formula that evolved mascara from a hard cake into a lotion-based cream. She packaged the new mascara in a tube to be sold with a brush. For use, the cream was squeezed onto the brush and applied to lashes.[14] Although still messy, it was a step towards the modern mascara product.

Refill tube with Max Factor Mascara Wand cream, 1961, for containers with a grooved rod.

Soon, a grooved rod was patented. This device picked up the same amount of mascara for each use. Then the grooved rod was altered to the brush similar to the ones used today. The change in applicator led mascara to be even easier to use, and its popularity increased.[9]

Mascara is now[when?] trending towards multi-functional usage, with many mascaras including lash-boosting serums, botanicals, and pro-vitamin-enriched formulæ. Korean technology is at the forefront of the development,[citation needed] and a number of brands use tubing formulæ to coat the lash.

Ingredients and manufacture[edit]

All formulations contain pigments, oils, and waxes.

Cosmetic pigments[edit]

The pigmentation for black mascara is similar to that used by the Egyptians and Victorian women. Black and brown mascaras typically are colored by use of iron oxides.[20] Some mascaras contain ultramarine blue.[9]

Mascara is composed of a base mixture of pigments, waxes, and oils with varying supporting components. Mascara pigments most commonly include iron oxides and titanium dioxide which provide mascara with its desired color.[21] Titanium dioxide (TiO2) accounts for over 65% of inorganic pigments sales volume.[22] TiO2 gives the pigment a white color while different iron oxides provide a variety of colors such as red, yellow, brown, and black.[21] The particle size of opaque pigments ranges from 0.2 to 0.3 µm.[21]

Oils, waxes, etc.[edit]

Among the many oils used, linseed oil, castor oil, eucalyptus oil, lanolin, and oil of turpentine are found frequently. Sesame oil is also commonly used.[9] Waxes usually found in mascara are paraffin wax, carnauba wax, and beeswax.[9]

The desired effects of the mascara account for most variations of ingredients. Water-resistant mascaras require hydrophobic ingredients, like dodecane. Non water-resistant mascaras have base ingredients that are water-soluble.[23] Mascaras designed to lengthen or curl the eyelashes often contain nylon or rayon microfibers.[24] Additionally, ceresin, gum tragacanth, and methyl cellulose are regular ingredients and serve as stiffeners.[9]


Mascara is often used on a daily basis around the world. In 2016 alone, U.S. consumers spent US$335.6 million on the top 10 leading mascara brands.[25]

In one method of production, referred to as anhydrous, all waxes, oils, and pigments are mixed, heated, and agitated simultaneously. The alternative method, termed emulsion, starts by combining water and thickeners. Separately, waxes and emulsifiers are combined. Pigment is then added individually to both mixtures. Finally all is combined in a homogenizer, which acts as a high-speed agitator in order to thoroughly mix the oils, water, waxes, and emulsifiers—ingredients that naturally repulse each other.[9]

Mascara has a shelf life of two to four months.[26]

Artistic usage[edit]

Smudged mascara has also become a symbolic way to show depression in photographs, such as the famous "Bleeding Mascara"[clarification needed] or "crying mascara" trend on social media. These references can carry deep emotional resonance and significance.


Eye cosmetics containing kohl, kajal, al-kahal, surma, tiro, tozali, or kwalli often pose a lead poisoning risk.[27] Products containing kohl, kajal, surma, and similar materials are illegal color additives in the United States as defined by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, section 201(t).

Mercury, as thiomersal, is widely used in the manufacture of mascara. In 2008, Minnesota became the first state in the United States to ban intentionally added mercury in cosmetics, giving it a tougher standard than the federal government.[28]

Mascara-coated eyelashes

It is more common to develop a stye, or commoner still, swollen eyelids.[23] Styes and swollen eyelids are better classified as allergic reactions. The allergic reactions can be stimulated by any of the components of mascara but is usually attributed to methylparaben, aluminum powder, ceteareth-20, butylparaben, or benzyl alcohol.[23]

If not cleaned properly, mascara can deposit itself under the conjunctiva in form of black lumps.[29]

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)[edit]

A 2021 study tested 231 makeup and personal care products and found organic fluorine, an indicator of PFAS, in more than half of the samples. High levels of fluorine were most commonly identified in waterproof mascara (82% of brands tested), foundations (63%), and liquid lipstick (62%).[30][31] As many as 13 types of individual PFAS compounds were found in each product.[30] Since PFAS compounds are highly mobile, they are readily absorbed through human skin and through tear ducts, and such products on lips are often unwittingly ingested. Manufacturers often fail to label their products as containing PFAS, which makes it difficult for cosmetics consumers to avoid products containing PFAS.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mascara. Harper, Douglas. 2010. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary. Probably < Spanish máscara or Italian maschera, Italian regional mascara, all in sense 'mask'; or perhaps alternatively < Catalan mascara 'soot, black smear', or Portuguese mascarra 'stain, smut'.
  3. ^ The Macquarie Dictionary. South Yarra: The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd. 2005.
  4. ^ New Oxford American Dictionary (2 ed.). late 19th cent.: from Italian, literally 'mask', from Arabic masḵara 'buffoon'.
  5. ^ Adam Clarke, Commentary, 1831, volume III page 688
  6. ^ Even-Shoshan Dictionary.
  7. ^ Barbra G. Walker (1996). The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. p. 1077.
  8. ^ Boutammina, Nas E. (May 9, 2017). Les Fondateurs de la Botanique (in French). Books on Demand. ISBN 9782322116911 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Mascara", How Products Are Made, Advameg, Inc., 28 Nov 2007
  10. ^ a b c Michalak, Jodie (7 Jul 2010), "History of Mascara", Love To Know
  11. ^ Flemming, Katherine (August 2006), "Technology: The History of Mascara", FASHION Magazine, St. Joseph Media
  12. ^ a b c Parwani, Kritika (2010), "Mascara Ingredients", Buzzle
  13. ^ "Arden, Elizabeth, Dec. 31, 1878?-Oct. 18, 1966". Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1980.
  14. ^ a b "Rubinstein, Helena, Dec. 25, 1870-April 1, 1965". Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1980.
  15. ^ "Arden, Elizabeth, née Florence Nightingale Graham", Chambers Biographical Dictionary, London: Chambers Harrap, 2007
  16. ^ Purifoy, Jennifer, "Understanding the History of Cosmetics", History of 20th Century Fashion
  17. ^ a b c d e Riordan, Teresa. Inventing Beauty: A History of Innovations that Have Made Us Beautiful.
  18. ^ National Research Council. "Safety Testing." p. 21.
  19. ^ Eschner, Kat (June 26, 2017). "Three Horrifying Pre-FDA Cosmetics". Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on July 15, 2019. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  20. ^ Günther Schneider, Sven Gohla, Jörg Schreiber, Waltraud Kaden, Uwe Schönrock, Hartmut Schmidt-Lewerkühne, Annegret Kuschel, Xenia Petsitis, Wolfgang Pape, water "Skin Cosmetics" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry 2005, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. doi:10.1002/14356007.a24_219
  21. ^ a b c Swiler, Daniel R. (2005). "Pigments, Inorganic". Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. doi:10.1002/0471238961.0914151814152215.a01.pub2. ISBN 9780471238966.
  22. ^ Jones, Tony; Egerton, Terry A. (2000). "Titanium Compounds, Inorganic". Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. doi:10.1002/0471238961.0914151805070518.a01.pub3. ISBN 9780471238966.
  23. ^ a b c Does Your Mascara Contain Toxic Ingredients?, Health Central, 4 Mar 2010
  24. ^ Who Wins the Mascara War?, Carefair, 2009
  25. ^ Drug Store News (August 9, 2016). "Leading mascara brands in the U.S. dollar sales, 2016 | Statistic". Statista. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  26. ^ "Shelf Life/Expiration Dating". US Food and Drug Administration. November 5, 2017. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  27. ^ "Kohl, Kajal, Al-Kahal, Surma, Tiro, Tozali, or Kwalli: By Any Name, Beware of Lead Poisoning - FDA". Food and Drug Administration. 2018-03-06. Archived from the original on 2020-03-20. Retrieved 2020-05-26. Kohl, kajal, al-Kahal, surma, tiro, tozali, and kwalli often contain high levels of lead. For example, lead, usually in the form of lead sulfide, sometimes accounts for more than half the weight of kohl products. Kohl products may also contain a variety of other materials, such as aluminum, antimony, carbon, iron, and zinc compounds, as well as camphor and menthol.
  28. ^ "Mercury in your eye?". CIDPUSA. 2008-02-16. Archived from the original on 2010-01-05. Retrieved 2009-12-20.
  29. ^ Robaei, Dana (2018-05-03). "Subconjunctival Mascara Deposition". Ophthalmology. 125 (5): 641. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2017.12.035. ISSN 0161-6420. PMID 29681291.
  30. ^ a b "Toxic 'forever chemicals' widespread in top makeup brands, study finds". The Guardian. 2021-06-15. Archived from the original on July 7, 2021. Retrieved 2021-07-07.
  31. ^ Whitehead, Heather D.; Venier, Marta; Wu, Yan; Eastman, Emi; Urbanik, Shannon; Diamond, Miriam L.; Shalin, Anna; Schwartz-Narbonne, Heather; Bruton, Thomas A.; Blum, Arlene; Wang, Zhanyun; Green, Megan; Tighe, Meghanne; Wilkinson, John T.; McGuinness, Sean; Peaslee, Graham F. (15 June 2021). "Fluorinated Compounds in North American Cosmetics". Environmental Science & Technology Letters. 8 (7): 538–544. doi:10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00240. hdl:20.500.11850/495857. S2CID 236284279. Archived from the original on July 22, 2021. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
  32. ^ The Guardian (UK), 15 June 2021, "Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Widespread in Top Makeup Brands, Study Finds; Researchers Find Signs of PFAS in over Half of 231 Samples of Products Including Lipstick, Mascara and Foundation" Archived June 26, 2021, at the Wayback Machine


External links[edit]