Chemistry has helped cosmetics evolve from concoctions of messy, toxic ingredients to today’s formulations that yield smooth, easy, and long-lasting applications of color to adorn the eyes.
Early Egyptian artwork depicts both men and women with intense kohl-rimmed eyes documents the long history of using a black cosmetic to enhance the appearance of the face. Kohl was made by grinding galena (lead sulfide) and mixing with other ingredients, and fell into disuse in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.
But lining the eyes with a black cosmetic came back into vogue during the Victorian era in England, when women of leisure were expected to devote the majority of their time to the process of being beautiful. The mascara of those times involved mixing soot or lampblack with elderberry juice.
The roots of modern mascara date from the early 1900s, when a French chemist named Edward Rimmel used a newly invented substance, petroleum jelly, as the base for adhering black pigment from coal to the eyelashes. Indeed, to this day, “rimmel” translates to “mascara” in numerous languages such as Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. A similar formulation was created T. L. Williams, an American who made the cosmetic for his sister, Maybel. In 1917, he named his start-up company Maybelline.
But petroleum jelly-based mascara was messy; chemists explored alternatives involving soap as the means of adhering black dye to the lashes. Unfortunately, as this mixture was produced in cake form, it too, was not easy to apply. In 1957, Helena Rubenstein developed the now familiar liquid formula, which was allowed mascara to be packaged in a tube and applied with a brush.
The ingredients in modern mascara, which are overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are a combination of pigment for color, with oil and wax balanced to make the cosmetic smooth enough to apply while resisting flaking and smudging. Carbon black provides the ebony color for black mascaras whereas iron oxides are used for browns and ultramarine is used to give a blue color. Nylon or rayon microfibers may be added to lengthen or curl lashes, and gum tragacanth or methyl cellulose may be included as stiffeners.
Cosmetics are yet another way that chemistry contributes to a beautiful world.
More information about mascara is available at http://www.webmd.com/healthy-beauty/features/makeup-decoding-mascara