What Makes Great Mascara?

Magic wands.

The History

Our eyelashes have an entirely practical purpose—they protect our peepers from allergens and irritants. Mascara was also originally designed to be protective, though the ancient Egyptians believed it could ward off evil spirits rather than pollen. It was always used to enhance beauty by making the eyes look larger and brighter.

The cosmetic has come a long way from its origins, when it was made from a combination of minerals and crocodile feces, applied with a rod. Or its later incarnation, when one Eugene Rimmel combined Vaseline and soot, a process refined by businessman T.L. Williams and his sister Maybel, the cofounders of Maybelline. These days, mascara is perhaps the most technologically complicated makeup item, with multiple component parts: brush or comb, wand, bottle, wiper (a plastic ring inside the neck that removes excess from the brush), and the formulation itself. It’s also top of many makeup wearers’ essentials, with 61 per cent of respondents to a Beautyque survey saying they are still wearing mascara daily, pandemic be damned. But what makes a great mascara?



Some Standouts

“You have to figure out what you want for your lashes,” says Grace Lee, lead artist and brand ambassador for Maybelline New York. “Some people want length, while others want thickening. Some really want a curve or a lift. The formulation is key, but the brush really helps deposit it to the lashes.” A favourite for her is Maybelline The Falsies Lash Lift. This is supposed to closely replicate the effect of a lash lift, thanks to the shape of the brush. “It has a divot—a curve in the middle—and that helps getting volume into the lash and keeping the curl,” explains Lee.

Charlotte Tilbury has also developed a lash-lifting mascara, Pillow Talk Push Up Lashes, which, Tilbury says, delivers on length and separation too, and the effect can last up to 24 hours. This comes down to a combination of waxes that deliver volume, the blackest-black shade, conditioning ingredients, and the brush, which requires a two-step application (load the lashes with one side, then brush through with the other).

Canadian brand Annabelle is banking on the S-shaped brush of its Master of Eyes Swerve Supreme Mascara to grab every lash, even the tiniest ones, giving a lift, length, and lash separation with no flaking.

Chanel has taken things to another level to develop Le Volume Revolution and the new Le Volume Stretch: 3D printing. “The classical mascara moulds take a long time to develop,” explains Armelle Souraud, the brand’s international scientific communications director. “It is thus difficult to conduct trials of different-shaped brushes in order to determine the best brush-formula. Thanks to 3D printing, which can produce an object instantly, the mascara brush can be reworked as often as necessary until reaching the point of perfection. 3D printing is also incredibly precise and takes product design to new heights.” That means the brush bristles can be placed in the perfect position, and there are minuscule cavities inside the brush that hold onto mascara and deliver the right dose when it’s applied. In the case of Le Volume Stretch, the brush is hollow for maximum flexibility.



What to Look For

Whether a product will last, flake, run, or be easily removed comes down to the formulation. These days, it’s easy enough to find one that will stay the course all day and be removed without major hassle. Tubing mascaras are a good option for those who tend to rub and touch their peepers. These are made from polymers that wrap around the lashes so they stay all day but can be easily removed with warm water. Nyx Professional Doll Eye is one example, extending lashes to give almost a falsie effect. It might look like your eyelashes have fallen out when you wash the mascara away, but don’t worry—the polymer comes off your lashes intact in strands that look like fine hairs.

How to Apply

Makeup artist Oz Zandiyeh says there’s a special trick to proper application. “Shimmy the mascara at the base of your lash, and when pulling up, pull into the direction of the nose,” she says. “It creates lift and separation but also saturates the base of the lash.” Lee says she always starts by curling the lashes, and her biggest bugbear is when the mascara doesn’t reach the root, since it’s an easy way of adding definition to the eyeline.

To keep your mascara fresh, don’t pump air into it. “When pulling the wand out, you roll and pull,” Oz says. “The pumping motion can cause bacteria to get into the product and also dry it out.” Lee cautions that we should also make sure the lid is tightly screwed on to keep our mascaras fresh.

How often to replace them? About every three months, according to  Sourad, who says that 120 applications precisely can be done with a Chanel mascara, while Oz likes to replace hers every six weeks. “I set a reminder in my calendar when I start a new one,” says Lee, who also chucks her mascaras after three months. That said, she doesn’t particularly like box-fresh mascaras. “I find slightly older ones are better for volume and thickening,” she explains.



The Future

What’s on the horizon when it comes to mascara? Lee says anything that mimics a lash lift is somewhat of a holy grail. “Lash lifting has been a big beauty trend efor the past year—five years ago it wasn’t even a thing,” she says. “It’s $100 to get your lashes lifted, so Maybelline came up with a mascara to give you that effect for $11. We’re all about pinpointing the trends and emulating them, like microblading, lash lifts, falsies, and extensions.” There’s also a trend toward lash-care products, such as Maybelline The Falsies Lash Mask, which is meant to be applied before bed so you wake up to lashes that are healthier and shinier, sans mascara.

Overall, though, Lee says the trend is to just do the things that make you feel good about yourself. “I love the excessiveness of mascara, but I love the absence of it too. A no-mascara eye with a red lip! There’s just something so simple about it that makes the red lip pop. Do whatever you have the energy for—what makes you feel pretty.”

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