How does mascara work?

In case you didn’t know, some of the beauty blogs are running a series of posts about Mascara during the month of May. They call it “The Great Mascara Hunt” and it’s a lot of fun and could be useful for your Makeup Kits.

Even though we’re not ” officially ” participating we thought we’d pitch in with the Brain’s point of view. Since our expertise is on the scientific aspects of products, here’s a post about how mascaras work.

History of mascara

First a quick bit of background – we know that mascaras have been around since at least 4000 BC because historical records show that Egyptians used charcoal and other minerals to darken their lashes and eyelids. In modern times, mascara first appeared in the form of a pressed cake that was applied by wetting a brush, rubbing it on the cake, and than applying it to eye lashes. The cake consisted of a mixture of black pigments and soap chips. The next innovation in mascara involved a lotion like version of the soap cake that was packaged in a tube and squeezed onto a small brush to apply. Mascara as we know it today was created in the 1960s with the invention of a grooved brush that could apply a consistent amount. This is the basic form that’s still used today.

Mascara ingredients

The primary ingredients in mascara are pigments – the chemicals that provide color. Because U.S. Federal regulations only allow certain colorants to be used in area of the eye, only natural colors and inorganic pigments are used. Carbon black and iron oxides provide black, brown , and red colors; chemicals Ultramarine blue provide blue and green shades.

How to make mascara

These pigments are mixed together in a cosmetic base that is an emulsion of oils , waxes, and water. For examples of these waxy ingredients, let’s look at an example formulation from Maybelline Great Lash:

Water, Beeswax, Ozokerite, Shellac, Glyceryl Stearate, Triethanolamine, Propylene Glycol, Stearic Acid, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Methylparaben, Quaternium-15, Quaternium-22, Simethicone, Butylparaben, Iron Oxides (may contain), Titanium Dioxide (may contain), Ultramarine Blue (may contain)

The Beeswax, Ozokerite, Stearic Acid, and Shellac provide the main body of the mascara and give it it’s waterproof and smudge proof properties. Glyceryl Stearate and Triethanolamine are added to make sure the mascara can be washed off.

The Propylene Glycol, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, and Simethicone, added as processing agents and help control the consistency of the product while Methylparaben, Quaternium-15, Quaternium-22, and Butylparaben are preservatives that keep the mascara free of “bugs” Finally, the Iron Oxides Titanium Dioxide Ultramarine Blue are the pigments.

These ingredients are mixed together in large metal kettles. Typically, the waxes and emulsifiers are mixed together and melted in one vessel and the water soluble ingredients are mixed in another vessel. Once the waxes are completely melted, the pigments are added. When both portions are sufficiently heated and mixed , they are blended together to form the final product. A device known as a homogenizer is used to make sure all the pigment particles are properly dispersed.

Once the mascara is finished mixing, it is transferred to a filling machine that pumps a metered amount into each glass or plastic mascara bottle. The brush or wand is inserted into the tube and a capping machine automatically twists it shut. The tubes are then packaged for shipping.

So how does mascara work?

This is really the simple part – when you stick the brush into the mascara tube and pull it out, a metering ring built into the orifice scrapes off the excess mascara so the brush has a controlled dose on it. So, when you brush your eye lashes, just the right amount gets delivered to each tiny hair fiber. The waxy nature of the mascara helps form a relatively thick coating that, due to the high wax concentration, is very water proof. That’s how a good mascara can resist smudging and bleeding . The result – your eye lashes get a nice splash of color and they look much plumper.

And that’s how mascara works!