History of Makeup Part 2: Mascara

Like lipstick, mascara has been around in one form or another since ancient times. It’s uses were almost as varied as the people who used it. Here is a brief history of how mascara went from ancient decoration to a modern cornerstone of makeup.

Ancient Times

Macara’s beginning was glamorous and at the same time very not glamorous. We’ll explain: As far back as 3400-30 B.C., mascara was used by well-to-do men and women as a way to outline and beautify the eyes, as well as to help protect the eyes from the sun. The applicators were made of bone and ivory, but the less glamorous part? The ingredients that composed macara consisted of kohl, honey, water and--wait for it--crocodile dung. Women also applied malachite to their eyelashes, believing it to be an aphrodisiac. Lining of the eyes in Egypt went farther than cosmetic as well. Eyes were believed to be the windows to the soul, and the kohl hid the eyes from evil spirits.

A few thousand years later, the Romans loved a good lash--thick, long and curled. Women used kohl and burned cork to darken and emphasize their lashes.

Medieval Times & Elizabethan Era

Mascara went into relative obscurity during medieval times, as the forehead was believed to be the most attractive feature of a woman, and thus women of fashion often removed their eyebrows and eyelashes in order to emphasize it. 

When Queen Elizabeth took the throne, her bright red hair immediately became the most popular color and women tried to emulate it by dyeing their hair and eyelashes red to match. This proved to be problematic, as the toxins sometimes used for dying eyelashes would result in them falling out, but it didn’t stop them from trying. And while most women were going for this look, it wasn’t actually considered tasteful to dye one’s eyelashes, so this practice was often done in private.

Victorian Era

The 1830’s was when deepening and enriching eyelashes really came back into vogue. Women if this time spent many hours beautifying and enriching themselves and so endless homemade recipes for mascara were created using waxes, oils, minerals and powders. They were all homemade products though, never sold. 

This all changed when in 1872 petroleum jelly--Vaseline--was was patented. In 1917, Queen Victoria’s perfumer, Eugène Rimmel, created a mascara for the queen herself, composed largely of coal dust and vaseline. This product took off and the first mascara product, called cake mascara, was sold in tins. Cake mascara can still be found today, though the product has gone through a number of transformations and formula changes.

That same year, Mabel Williams patented "Lash-Brow-Ine," also made with petroleum jelly and various other oils to give eyelashes a sheen. Her company later became the still-popular cosmetics brand Maybelline. 

1940’s & ‘50’s: Waterproof Mascara

Where would we be without this product at weddings and other emotional moments in our lives when tears are copious and regular mascara just won’t cut it? Or when we want to go to the pool for a dip but still look bombshell? The first formula of waterproof mascara was created in 1938 and was composed of 50% turpentine. Naturally, it caused a lot of poor skin reactions and the smell was horrible. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that this formula was perfected, and once it was it exploded in popularity.

The first mascara tube complete with a wand applicator was sold in 1958 by Revlon and that too was an instant success. Mascara became extremely portable, easily applicable, and a must-have in every look.


Mascara has come a long way since its humble beginnings, and is now offered in a huge variety of formulas--from smudge-proof, to waterproof, to shiny, matte, sparkly, etc. It also comes in every color under the sun, creating unlimited options for a subtle but significant lash highlight when appropriate. With the influx of options, it can be difficult to select the perfect product, but there is guaranteed to be a product out there that will make you and your clients happy.

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