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 The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the first and foundational historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a com ...
'' (''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. The Spanish word ''máscara'' meaning 'mask' or 'stain', and the Italian word ''maschera'' meaning 'mask' are possible origins. A related Catalan word describes soot or a black smear, and the Portuguese word ''máscara'' means 'mask' and ''mascarra'' means dark stain or smut. There is even strong support for a possible source from the
Arabic Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet C. E.Watson; Walte ...
word ''maskharah'' or 'buffoon'. The
Hebrew Hebrew (; ; ) is a Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-surviving descendants, the Jews and Samaritans. It was largely preserv ...
word משקרות (MaSQROTh) as relating to women's eyes is found in Isaiah 3:16.
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
treatises sometimes used the word mascara when referring to witches.


The name Mascara was given in reference to the city of that bears the same name. In the middle of the 19th century, the French discovered antimony powder during their conquest in the old town of Mascara in
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. The nomadic tribes used it as a beauty product but also to protect themselves from various trachomas and eye diseases. 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 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. 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 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. Across the Atlantic Ocean and at roughly the same time, in 1915, Thomas Lyle Williams created a remarkably similar substance for his sister Mabel. 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 World War I (28 July 1914 11 November 1918), often abbreviated as WWI, was one of the deadliest global conflicts in history. Belligerents included much of Europe Europe is a large peninsula conventionally considered a continent in ...
, 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 A photograph (also known as a photo, image, or picture) is an image created by light falling on a photosensitive surface, usually photographic film or an electronic image sensor, such as a CCD or a CMOS chip. Most photographs are now cre ...
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. 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 through a
bacterial infection Pathogenic bacteria are bacteria Bacteria (; singular: bacterium) are ubiquitous, mostly free-living organisms often consisting of one biological cell. They constitute a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few mi ...
. 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 The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA or US FDA) is a federal agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The FDA is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the control and supervision of foo ...
(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. Mascara is now 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, and a number of brands use tubing formulæ to coat the lash.

Ingredients and manufacture

All formulations contain
pigment A pigment is a colored material that is completely or nearly insoluble in water. In contrast, dyes are typically soluble, at least at some stage in their use. Generally dyes are often organic compound In chemistry, organic compounds are gen ...
s, oils, and waxes.

Cosmetic pigments

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. Some mascaras contain ultramarine blue. 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. Titanium dioxide (TiO2) accounts for over 65% of inorganic pigments sales volume. TiO2 gives the pigment a white color while different iron oxides provide a variety of colors such as red, yellow, brown, and black. The particle size of opaque pigments ranges from 0.2-0.3 µm.

Oils, waxes, etc.

Among the many oils used, linseed oil, castor oil,
eucalyptus ''Eucalyptus'' () is a genus Genus ( plural genera ) is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms as well as virus A virus is a submicroscopic infectious agent that replicates only i ...
oil, lanolin, and oil of turpentine are found frequently.
Sesame Sesame ( or ; ''Sesamum indicum'') is a flowering plant in the genus '' Sesamum'', also called benne. Numerous wild relatives occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. It is widely naturalized in tropical regions around the world and is ...
oil is also commonly used. Waxes usually found in mascara are paraffin wax, carnauba wax, and beeswax. 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. Mascaras designed to lengthen or curl the eyelashes often contain
nylon Nylon is a generic designation for a family of synthetic polymers composed of polyamides ( repeating units linked by amide links).The polyamides may be aliphatic or semi-aromatic. Nylon is a silk-like thermoplastic, generally made from ...
or rayon microfibers. Additionally, ceresin, gum tragacanth, and methyl cellulose are regular ingredients and serve as stiffeners.


Mascara is often used on a daily basis around the world. In 2016 alone, U.S. consumers spent 335.6 million USD on the top 10 leading mascara brands. 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 An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid that conforms to the shape of its container but retains a (nearly) constant volume independent of pressure. As such, it is one of the four fundame ...
, 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. Mascara has a shelf life of two to four months.

Artistic Usage

Smudged mascara has also become a symbolic way to show depression in photographs, such as the or "crying mascara" aesthetic on social media.


Eye cosmetics containing '' kohl'', ''kajal'', ''al-kahal'', ''surma'', ''tiro'', ''tozali'', or ''kwalli'' often pose a lead poisoning risk. 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. It is more common to develop a stye, or commoner still, swollen eyelids. 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 Aluminium (aluminum in American and Canadian English Canadian English (CanE, CE, en-CA) encompasses the varieties of English native to Canada. According to the 2016 census, English was the first language A first language, na ...
powder, ceteareth-20, butylparaben, or benzyl alcohol. If not cleaned properly, mascara can deposit itself under the
conjunctiva The conjunctiva is a thin mucous membrane A mucous membrane or mucosa is a membrane A membrane is a selective barrier; it allows some things to pass through but stops others. Such things may be molecules, ions, or other small particle ...
in form of black lumps.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

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%). As many as 13 types of individual PFAS compounds were found in each product. Since PFAS compounds are highly mobile, they are readily absorbed through
human skin The human skin is the outer covering of the body and is the largest organ of the integumentary system. The skin has up to seven layers of ectodermal tissue guarding muscles, bone A bone is a rigid organ that constitutes part of the ...
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.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"

See also

* Eye liner * Eye shadow




External links

* {{Cosmetics Cosmetics Human eyelashes