From Bones to Brushes – History of the Mascara

Today mascara can be used for all occasions. Most makeup looks nowadays involve this eyelash enhancing cosmetic product, majority of people that regularly use makeup cannot imagine leaving the house without at least one layer applied. The way makeup companies keep selling new and different mascaras one might think it was a recent invention. This could not be further from the truth as mascara has roots in history as far as ancient Egypt.

The first known use of mascara was by the ancient Egyptians as far as 3400 B.C, where it was used by both men and women. They lined their eyes with kohl (likely made of galena or lead sulfite, malachite, and charcoal or soot) and blended it with water, honey, and crocodile stool and used the mixture as mascara. They then used bones and ivory for the application. These kohl cosmetics were also used by the Babylonians, ancient Greeks and later by the Romans.

(kohl pot used by Egyptian aristocrats)

After the fall of Rome, cosmetics were not used in Europe until the Renaissance, and it wasn’t until the Victorian era that darkening eyelashes became popular again. Victorian ladies were very experimental with cosmetics and made all kinds of mixtures of mascaras and eyeliners in their dressing rooms. An example of a product was mixing ashes with elderberry over fire to make a mascara, those products were never marketed.

In 1913 a man by the name of Eugene Rimmel created the first packaged cosmetic mascara from a blend of petroleum jelly and black coal dust. These mascaras, although messy, became very popular across Europe. At a roughly the same time as Rimmel created his mascaras, T. L. Williams made a mascara for his sister Maybel that was very similar to Rimmels mascara, both in formula and packaging. When he started to sell his product in 1917 he marketed it better than Rimmel had done, and managed to spread his product worldwide. He then eventually formed his company Maybelline.

The cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein played a big part in making the mascara become a fashion hit. She was one of the richest women of the 20th century and promoted and marketed mascara. It was her influence along with the promotions of many movie actresses that made mascara socially acceptable in all situations and a must have for every fashion-forward individual.

The first mascaras of the modern era were a pressed cake that was applied with a wet brush to the eyelashes. It was also possible to get a cream mascara in a tube. That kind of formula was applied by squeezing a small amount onto a brush. In the 1960s the mascara applicator was invented, with a grooved application rod that was soon replaced with a brush, as these applicators picked up a consistent amount of mascara and were easy to use, they quickly became popular.

Currently mascara is sold with many different formulas, brushes, and colours and on the Maybelline page alone there are more than 40 different mascaras. Therefore, everyone should be able to find a mascara that suits their needs.

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