Mascara: The Art of Application

NefertitiEnhancing the eyes by darkened articulation has been an accepted aesthetic preference from as far back as 4000 BC in ancient Egypt. Over the millennia, the properties of the materials used to cosmetically blacken the eyes, eyebrows, eyelashes and moustache hairs (of men), while similar throughout the world, would never have been approved by today’s FDA guidelines. Not until the late 19th century, would a prototype for our current concept of mascara be developed by the French chemist, Eugene Rimmel, in England, using petroleum jelly. A similar, yet improved product was fashioned in the U.S. by T.L. Williams for his sister, Mabel, in 1913; and later sold through mail order by a company eventually known as Maybelline. As the 20th and 21st centuries progressed, so did the compelling desire for cosmetic manufacturers to create mascaras that promised long, longer, thick, thicker, black, blacker lashes.  If you look at giraffes and camels, these animals have luxurious, beautiful lashes – if only we could emulate theirs – oh, wait – we have. We have false eye lashes in every imaginable pattern and shape. But, for those of us born with modest, short, sparse and lightly-colored eyelashes, not into adhesive attachments – there is mascara.

I started wearing eye makeup at the age of 13. Over the decades, I have only made very minor changes to my look. Since fashion trends are often revisited a couple of generations later, the current eye fashion, (using excessive black eyeliner, smoky shades of eye shadow, pearlized highlighters, and lots of mascara) is pretty much the same as when I got started. Eye makeup should be dramatic and, I believe, sexy. I have always been complimented on my makeup application and, on occasion, asked to show a woman how to make up her eyes. I am not a “makeup artist.” I have no training outside of my own observations and lifetime of personal experience. When I did ballroom dance competition, I was given a few pointers in ballroom makeup, and, of course, have seen, many competitors and their amazing makeup – often done by professionals.

Women who generally don’t wear makeup, especially eye makeup, are often intimidated by the whole process of picking products – and complain that they are physically uncomfortable with “stuff” on their eyes. I agree that sensitivity to different products is very common, and it does take exploration to find those we can live in. I suggest buying inexpensive over-the-counter brands in chain stores, i.e., CVS and Harmons, where they also have liberal return policies.

Not all mascaras are created equal: some are watery and non-lengthening, some are volumnizing and allow you to build up your lashes significantly. Age changes the consistency of mascara, thickening it, making it more substantial and easier to apply. When asked to critique a woman’s makeup, by my standards, she is usually not wearing enough for me to see. I often comment that she needs eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, foundation, blush, lip liner and lipstick. I am then told that she put the components on in the morning, but they wore away during the day. I have never personally had this experience, except for lipstick, which needs re-application a minimum of 3-4 times a day. Because I’m writing about Mascara, I will not get into why makeup disappears, but simply advise: consider the products and the application. For women who claim their mascara is not noticeable – they usually do not understand “the art of mascara application.”

So, here we go: To properly apply mascara, one has to have patience and precision. Dip the wand into the case to coat with fresh mascara, but not excessively. Carefully apply to upper lashes starting from inside of eye (closest to your nose) moving to the outside (near cheekbone). Stroke gently upward from the base of the lash to the tip. Return wand to case to refill brush and keep putting fresh mascara on till you see your lashes turning black and lengthening. Yes, you should always buy black mascara unless you are an albino or have blonde lashes, and then brown would be OK. You may accidently smudge part of your eyelid or nose; clean up at the end with a cotton swab and eye makeup remover. Also, you may have to remove an obvious clump of mascara from some of your lashes; do so carefully with your finger tips (or a toothpick if your vision is exceptional). The key is to keep applying mascara to the lashes across the entire lid for as long as it takes them to become obviously thicker, blacker, and longer. If you were to count the strokes – you could easily do from 50 to 100 strokes per eye. In time, that’s a minimum of a minute per eye. The lower lashes (inside lid or outside lid)only need to be outlined with eyeliner.

There are many brands and types of mascara to choose from. At the higher end ($24-$35), Lancôme makes excellent mascara, in the $8 range, I like L’oréal Voluminous Original.