I’m not a makeup artist. Truthfully, I’m still learning what works for me. But one thing I love is mascara. Putting on mascara for me is like putting on armor. It gets me ready to face the outside world. I can be in yoga pants and a t-shirt, but mascara makes me feel “put together”.
Based on the proliferation of the product throughout the cosmetic market, I think it’s safe to say I’m not alone in this. Walk down the cosmetic aisle at your local grocery store, pharmacy, or supermarket and see how many different options there are and then tell me I’m wrong.
And it’s not like mascara just appeared on the market yesterday, some form of eyelash cosmetic treatment has existed for millennia. So if you’re writing a romance, a historical fiction, or just have characters who like to look good, here a few things you might not know about mascara.
- The first use of eyelash cosmetics is widely credited to ancient Egypt. Kohl was used on eyelashes, eyebrows, and eyelids. Among other ingredients, it often consisted of honey, soot, and–wait for it–crocodile dung.
- The use of cosmetics like kohl for the Egyptians was for more than just decoration. It was used as a religious practice and was also believed to have magical properties. While it did serve a purpose, it was less magic and more chemistry.
- The use of kohl spread through the Babylonian, Greek, and Roman empires from Egypt as well. But after the fall of Rome, it fell widely into disuse throughout Europe. It remained popular in Egypt and the Middle East as part of cosmetic, medicinal, and religious practices.
- Mascara made a roaring comeback in Europe during the Victorian era. Women sometimes made their own at home using lampblack and elderberry juice. The mixture would be heated and then applied to eyelashes in an effort to make them appear longer and darker.
- A more modern version of mascara was invented in 1913 by chemist Eugene Rimmel. In fact, “rimmel” is still synonymous with mascara in multiple languages.
- A similar product was invented by Thomas Lyle Williams in 1915 for his sister Maybel. By 1917 he was selling the substance through a mail-order company he dubbed Maybelline.
- Both the original Rimmel and Maybelline products were petroleum jelly based, but that was messy. The products also went through a “hard cake” phase during which a brush was rubbed against the hard, dark substance until it flaked off and then was rubbed on the eyelashes.
- Lash Lure was another competing product. It became available in 1933 and was an eyelash dye. However, it was highly toxic and was eventually banned by several states after multiple people went blind after using it.
- Mascara went largely unchanged between the 1910s and the 1950s when Helena Rubinstein made a lotion-based version of the product. Rubinstein, who was soon joined by Elizabeth Arden, promoted her mascara product by getting the Hollywood starlets of the day to wear it during filming so that the average woman would want to emulate the look.
- In 2016, consumers in the United States alone spent over $335 million on just the top ten selling mascara brands on the market.
So maybe your character is mixing elderberry juice in Victorian London or applying it for medicinal purposes in Babylon. Perhaps they are a modern Goth and have a meet-cute in the cosmetic aisle as they search for the perfect shade of black. No matter the scenario, knowing a little about your character’s daily routine, including their favorite mascara, might just help you connect with them a bit.
It’s also possible that this is all just a good excuse for me to go down the research rabbit hole. Either way. Win-win.