Marisa Bevenson Veruschka
But what really earned Eugene Rimmel his place in beauty history was his 1860 creation of Superfin, the first commercial nontoxic mascara. As we know, women had been using various potions and pomades to darken their lashes for centuries, but Rimmel’s prepackaged and transportable blend of coal dust and petroleum jelly was revolutionary. Although quite messy and unstable, its popularity spread like wildfire throughout Europe, and the words rimmel and rimel became synonymous with mascara, and still mean mascara in several languages.
Rimmel continued to work on mascara innovation, tweaking and improving Superfin, and eventually launched Water Cosmetique. This had been originally created much earlier as a mustache and beard colorant, known in theatrical circles as mascaro (popular with character actors, as well as mustachioed gentlemen), and was a mixture of soap and pigment in solid stick form, which was then mixed with water and applied with a brush to cover grays and add color. Eventually, the formulation was adapted, and in 1917 it was launched as one of the first block mascaras intended for use solely on the eyelashes and brows.
Around the same time (1917) on the other side of the pond, New York chemist T. L. Williams (founder of Maybelline) also launched a block mascara called Lash-Brow-Ine, described as the first modern cosmetic produced for everyday use.1 According to popular legend, Williams was motivated to create his mascara by his sister, Mabel (also the inspiration for his company’s name, Maybell Laboratories, later Maybelline), after he saw her applying petroleum jelly blended with burnt cork to enhance her lashes, a tip she probably picked up in one of the many movie fanzines. Supposedly, his creation helped Mabel win back an erstwhile boyfriend, which, whether true or not, makes for a great story! Lash-Brow-Ine was only available by mail order at first (advertised in magazines), but the huge demand led to it being stocked in drugstores, and by 1932 one could buy a mascara package for just ten cents anywhere in the United States.
Of course, professional mascara had been developed previous to this for use in silent movies, with the first real product being made by Hollywood makeup artist Max Factor, who created Cosmetic, his own product for eyelashes. A waxy substance that came in foil-wrapped tubes, Cosmetic needed to be sliced and melted over a flame before it could be applied to the lashes (making them black but very clumpy). Needless to say, it wasn’t available to regular women its gloopy texture worked wonders on film, but wouldn’t have translated to everyday life.
Although colored and waterproof block mascaras followed, the next really big innovation took a little longer to be refined. The change came when, in 1958, Helena Rubinstein launched Mascara-Matic, which was the size of a pen with a slim metal rod (the brush at the end was created by grooves in the metal) that could be pushed inside to access a black liquid product. The product effectively did away with the traditional spit and brush approach and allowed for a more precise application. Interestingly, a similar device was patented in 1939 by Frank L. Engel from Chicago, but never put into production, probably because of the pre-World War II timing, when investment in new cosmetics wasn’t a priority. Whether coincidentally or not, Helena launched her mascara just as Engel’s patent was expiring, unfortunately for him New mascaras and innovations came thick and fast after Mascara-Matic, and it wasn’t long before a new type of spiral brush made from nylon fibers was introduced. Of this new type of mascara, it was Maybelline’s waterproof Ultra Lash in 1960 and then their water-based Great Lash mascara in 1971 that became the world’s bestselling cosmetic products. After a relatively quiet period in terms of game-changing innovation throughout the eighties and nineties, the next milestone mascara moment came in the mid-2000s. German company Geka, an innovative brush and packaging manufacturer, developed a patented technology called Moltrusion. It had two components: one was a stiff plastic rod perforated with lots of tiny holes, and injected into the rod was a different type of exploding plastic to create flexible plastic bristles, perfect for combing lashes while delivering an even coat of bulk (the technical name for the black stuff). Geka partnered with Procter & Gamble to launch the world’s first molded-brush mascaras for Cover Girl and Max Factor in 2005.
Rubinstein’s Mascara-Matic which launched in 1958 was the first ever tube and wand applicator type mascara.
The touring ballet troupe Ballets Russes wowed audiences, which included influential names in beauty, with their painterly eye makeup and inspired collaborations with artists and fashion designers.
Having worked for various brands, I can tell you that the effort that goes into making a really great mascara and attempting to invent the next big thing in this category is enormous and the competition is fierce. It’s worth it, as mascara is a massive seller and one of the most lucrative moneymakers in the industry, mainly due to the fact that most women own mascara and have to replace it regularly, unlike other long-life products (powder blush, for example). In the past, the claims that brands made about their new mascaras could be wild, promising to quadruple the thickness of lashes, or double their length, and only recently have these claims begun to be policed. In 2007 the UK Advertising Standards Authority received so many complaints about two particular mascara ads which showed famous faces with very long eyelashes that it led to a ruling that all beauty advertisers have to include disclaimers stating if false lashes or Photoshop has been used to artificially enhance lashes. In recent decades we have seen the launch of curved, double-ended, heated, oscillating, vibrating, and rotating mascaras, not to mention some very oddly shaped wands and brushes and the development of micro-tube technology. New mascaras are constantly released in the market, with around seventy-plus new ones launching into the average large beauty department store every year.
Today, professional-style eye palettes containing a plethora of shades used to create numerous, multidimensional looks are the norm, but it is a relatively modern concept, which only took off during the 1970s.
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