How does your mascara make your lashes look awesome?

Hey everyone!

Being one of the oldest known cosmetic product in the history of mankind, I thought today I’ll share some insights into how it works and what kind of ingredients are commonly found in them.

I have to say that when I started doing research for today’s post, I was tempted to switch from writing about the science of mascara to its history since it is really quite fascinating! Did you know that mascara traces its origins to ancient Egypt where women used to use kohl to darken eyelashes? or did you know that the first product from Maybelline was mascara composed of vaseline and charcoal? oh another fun fact, mascara was made by the founder of maybelline for his sister Maybel..the company name being a play on the names of his sister and vaseline ..ok I’ll stop and get on with the main stuff of the post ūüôā

File:Woman applying make-up.jpg

(Picture source: wikimedia commons)

Mascara is applied by women (and men sometimes I guess) to lengthen and give thickness to natural lashes. While shopping around for a mascara we all tend to look for one that doesn’t clump, is smudge/smear proof ¬†and doesn’t get all flakey and make the lashes brittle. Mascaras can be broadly classified into 2 types based on their formulation: water resistant and water proof mascaras. The basic composition of mascaras consists of a mixture of oils, waxes and pigments. The medium in which this mixture is dispersed determines if the mascara is water resistant or water proof.

Here is a broad list of ingredients found in mascara and their functions;

 Carrier medium

Water Resistant : Here the combination of waxes and pigments are delivered to the lashes by a water based medium making the removal process easier.

Water proof: The mascara ingredients are delivered to the lashes using a hydrocarbon solvent like isododecane or cyclomethicone. Because these formulations have little to no water they are quite hard to remove and require a strong eye makeup remover to do the job.


Their primary function is to glide on to the lashes and form a water resistant film. Commonly found waxes are micro crystalline wax,beeswax, candelilla wax which also provides some luster to lashes.


They help to bind the pigments and wax film together. Additionally,  they are also responsible for thickening the mascara formula and prevent it from being too watery. Commonly used polymers include cellulose based,vinyl and acrylic polymers. Polymers fibers like nylon and rayon are sometimes added to increase the length of lashes. These fibers stick to the natural lashes and provide some extra length.


They are a group of substances added to prevent the separation of the product. Emulsifiers commonly found in mascara tubes are polysorbates, stearic acid, oleic acid etc


The eyelashes are darkened by the presence of pigments.

Brown-Iron oxide

Black- Carbon black

Green- Chromium oxide


It is extremely important that a mascara has some form of preservative present to ensure that no bacterial or fungal growth occurs in the tube. Parabens are the most commonly used preservatives in mascaras.


So how do they all come together and work?

When you pull out the mascara wand from the tube, the rim design of the tube ensures that just the right amount of product is present on the wand.As we then comb the wand through our lashes, the waxes present in the formula coat the lashes and separate them. The polymers present ensure that the pigment sticks to the wax thereby coloring the lashes. The separation of the lashes and addition of color provides the dramatic effects we all love when using a mascara. In the case of a lengthening mascara the special polymers added attach themselves to the real lashes and provide enhanced length.


I hope this post was informative! I take this opportunity to also emphasize how important it is not to contaminate your mascara wand or share mascaras with anyone! Also never use an opened mascara tube for more than 3 months since each time you put the wand back into the tube after use, some amount of bacteria is introduced into the product..

Hope everyone is having an awesome week…until next time ciao!


  1. Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology.Robert Baran, Howard I. Maibach. CRC Press
  2. Chemistry and Technology of the Cosmetics and Toiletries Industry.D. F. Williams, W.H. Schmitt. Springer
  3. Cosmetic Dermatology: Products and Procedures. Zoe Diana Draelos. John Wiley & Sons

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