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. 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.Through Egypts 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.
Makeup was considered unsightly and uncouth in Western culture until the Victorian era. 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.Attempting this, Victorian women made a type of mascara in their own homes.They would heat a mixture of ash or lampblack and elderberry juice on a plate and apply the heated mixture to their eyelashes.
The product that people would recognize as mascara today did not develop until the 19th century. A chemist named Eugene 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.
Across the Atlantic Ocean and at roughly the same time, in 1915, Thomas Lyle Williams created a remarkably similar substance for his sister Maybel.In 1917 he started a mail-order business from the product that grew to become the company Maybelline.
The mascara developed by these two men consisted of petroleum jelly and coal in a set ratio. 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.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. 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. 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.
The invention of the photograph and motion picture launched mascaras popularity and usage further forward in America. Motion pictures especially advertised a new standard of beauty and sex appeal. 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.
In 1933, a woman known on court records as Mrs. Brown consented to have her eyelashes permanently dyed.Unfortunately, the product, Lash Lure, used para-phenylenediamine, a chemical extremely toxic to the body, as the dyeing agent. At the time, cosmetics were unregulated by the Federal Drug Administration, and the dangers of paraphenylenediamine were unknown. 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. Use of Lash Lure resulted in blindness in Mrs. Brown and fifteen other women and also caused the death of another. 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 FDA the right to regulate cosmetics in 1938.
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.Although still messy, it was a step towards the modern mascara product.
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.