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Image / Beauty

Lashings of history; how mascara as we know it came to be


By Molly Fitzpatrick
19th Apr 2018
Lashings of history; how mascara as we know it came to be

Whether it’s making those baby blues pop, your lashes undeniably flutterable or simply helping you appear a little less dead the morning after the night before, mascara is a staple in the make-up bag of both the beauty enthusiast and minimalist.

You probably remember your first ever mascara. Mine left me with few clumped together lashes rather than the desired, many voluminous ones (it was Maybelline Colossal Volum’ Express, although the product probably wasn’t the issue.) But what about the first ever mascara?

Just like that sleazy guy attempting to chat you up at the bar, the Egyptians believed the eyes are the window to the soul. For the Egyptians, having long thick lashes wasn’t just for aesthetic purposes; dark kohl liner and thick lashes worn by men and women were a way to ward off evil spirits and dark energies protecting the soul whilst also shielding the eyes from the harsh Egyptian sun. It being circa 4000BC and all, they didn’t have the compact little tube and wand applicator we have today. Instead they applied the kohl (made by grinding up stibnite a soft grey mineral) using ivory, wood and metal sticks – a questionable technique if you didn’t have a steady hand.

In medieval times, large foreheads and egg-shaped faces were the features women desired. Mascara was unnecessary as it was commonplace to remove all eyelashes and eyebrows in order to enhance the gorgeous forehead.

READ MORE: Ditch the five mascaras in your handbag, we’ve found the one

In the western world, make-up was considered uncouth and was reserved for prostitutes, up until Victorian times. During the reign of Queen Victoria, along with intricate fashions came elaborate beauty regimes. Victorian women were known to spend entire days on their beauty rituals. One of their tricks; they would concoct a mixture of ash and elderberry juice, heat the mixture and apply to the lashes which would often end up running down the face. Sounds sticky.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that mascara as we know it today started to come about, and when it did, it caused quite the sensation. Chemist Eugene Rimmel invented the first packaged mascara – a petroleum jelly and black coal-based product that came in a compacted soap-like bar, in a tin with a brush. The product was so popular that the name Rimmel became synonymous with it and still translates as ‘mascara’ in Spanish, Portuguese, Greek and Turkish.

Praise be, finally, in 1957, beauty legend Helena Rubinstein had the ingenious idea to make it a cream and put it in a tube and in the blink of an eye, hundreds popped up on the market. So, it’s been a process, but we finally have a mascara that’s compact, effective and perhaps most importantly, isn’t going to severely compromise our eyesight – I’m looking at you, Egyptians!


Backstage photography by Jason Lloyd Evans.