Our Beauty P.I. series is where Makeup.com editor Alanna delves into the history of various makeup products — where they originated from and how they’ve evolved. Next up on the list is the conception of mascara.


The human body has a knack for genius traits, and one of its best traits is its ability to protect itself from outside harm. Take hair, for example: It’s a natural defense system that coats the skin and is meant to keep bacteria at bay. Another similar protecting barrier? Eyelashes. Meant to divert, protect and defend the precious sclera and cornea, lashes are a lot more than just a charming feature.


Mascara: The OG Protector


This is why it’s actually no surprise that mascara was one of the first makeup products to exist — it was created as another layer and practical mean of protection around the eye. The precursor to what we know as mascara began way back when — around 4000 BC in Ancient Egypt. Beauty gurus would use mixtures of kohl and ointments to darken and accentuate the lashes, and this OG version even helped protect the eyes from bright sunlight, Marie Claire reports. Like many things in the ancient world, these early mascara practices also coincided with spiritual phenomena: Not only is the mascara a protectant of the physical eye, but also a shield to ward off any bad juju — and although archaic, that’s something we can stiill get behind.


But the origin of mascara doesn’t stop there. Ancient Romans also had a heavy hand in the practice of darkening lashes, and the first Persian-founded cosmetology school taught women how to formulate their own mascaras around 900 BCE, Popsugar Beauty reports. With the major rise in makeup (and Queen Liz-inspired red locks) centuries later during the Elizabethan Era, women began experimenting with dyeing their lashes using berries and fireplace soot (pretty is as pretty does, I suppose).


The Rise of the Formula as We Know It


Although ambiguous, the term “mascara” is thought to have been derived from Spanish, Portuguese and Italian words, màscara and maschera, meaning mask or stain. The first modern predecessor to mascara as we know it came from a French chemist named Eugène Rimmel, yep — saying it louder for those in the back: that Rimmel — for Queen Victoria. What was finally different about Rimmel’s formula was that he used the newly invented petroleum jelly, which he mixed with coal to create the new mascara formula — and bingo, modern mascara was born.


As the 20th century rolled around, American businessman Thomas Lyle Williams created a similar mascara product for his sister Maybel, and by 1917 he had his first cosmetic mail order business selling Lash-Brow-Ine. This applicable mascara was the very first marketable mascara in the cosmetic industry, and soon its name changed to a familiar one we know and love: Maybelline — after Ms. Williams herself, *yep, mind blown.*


Without surprise, mascara became a household item in the cosmetics world, with bigger beauty giants jumping on the trend, like makeup maven Helena Rubinstein. Even more interesting, the original design of the first mascaras came in cake form where the product was packed into a palette and sold with a small brush (you can even buy one here!). And with the rise of Hollywood actresses, costume makeup and false lashes of the 30s, mascara transformed from practical to coveted, and it’s this versatility that has allowed it to be one of the most-sought after makeup products for just about everyone who wears makeup.


It wasn’t until the 1960s that mascara evolved into tube form, thanks to Rubinstein’s Mascara- Matic and Maybelline Ultra-Lash. The tube truly revolutionized mascara and forever changed the way in which we apply and use it. Mascara finally achieved the ultimate makeup goal: It became totally effortless.


Lashes on Fleek


Today, mascara still transforms its wearer, but even more so than ever before: Now it enhances, lengthens, thickens, curls and darkens (or even colors blue or purple or burgundy). Mascara is one of those astonishing makeup products that has come full circle, beginning as a fierce protector of the eyes against sunlight and terrain, and becoming a must-have for all kinds of makeup gurus out there.


There’s a reason why mascara is often one of the first makeup products beauty amateurs reach for. With the swipe of its wand, it makes you feel that little bit of magic that is makeup.


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