What’s in mascara and how does it work?

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How to cite: Wong M. What’s in mascara and how does it work?. Lab Muffin Beauty Science. February 18, 2013. Accessed May 18, 2024. https://labmuffin.com/whats-in-mascara-and-how-does-it-work/

Today’s post is based on a question that Rosemarie of Every Little Polish asked me at a recent Aussie Nails meet-up: what’s in mascara?

There are two main types of ingredients in traditional mascaras that give you dark, thick lashes:

Pigment – This is what gives mascara its colour. Black and brown are the most common colours, created using pigments such as carbon black, iron oxides and ultramarine blue. The pigments in mascara are regulated since they hang around in the sensitive eye area.

Waxes and oils – These help the pigment coat the lash thickly, and provides some water resistance. Examples of waxes and oils commonly used in mascaras today include beeswax, carnauba wax, mineral oil, sesame oil and castor oil.

Functionally speaking, this is almost the same as the original modern formula developed by the very early Rimmel and Maybelline companies in the 1910s – their formula consisted of coal (pigment) and petroleum jelly (wax/oil)! Now of course, mascara formulas are more sophisticated, with a host of additional preservatives and ingredients which help the mascara stay consistent, and brushes designed to spread the mascara evenly, but the general gist remains the same.

What about lengthening mascaras?

Lengthening mascaras add material to the ends of your lashes to make them appear longer. This is usually achieved by adding short nylon or rayon fibres to the mascara, which stick to the end of the natural lash and extend it artificially, sort of like shingles sticking off the edge of a roof.

Further reading
The Beauty Brains – How Does Mascara Work?
Wikipedia – Mascara

Skincare Guide

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11 thoughts on “What’s in mascara and how does it work?”

  1. Hi, Are you well?

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  2. Hi Michelle
    Do you have a listing of mascara ingredients by brandname? In another of your posts recently you talked about allergic reactions to some specific preservatives. I am having trouble finding out which mascaras are free from allergens.


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