The Science Behind Mascara

Friday, 30 January 2015

Oh hey Abi’s readers, it’s Lucy from sparklyscience.com here, and I am taking over! Sparkly Science is a blog on the science behind stuff we care about day to day, and like many of you I really care about my mascara.


My current mascara collection; a wide price range but they’re all pretty good!

Mascara is one of the most hotly debated beauty products with thousands of brands claiming they have the perfect solution in their little tube to create big, dark fluttery lashes. In Boots alone there are 280 types, with prices ranging from a mere £1.99 to a hefty £33. This makes it no surprise that mascara is one of the most blogged about beauty products of all time!  But I have been wondering, how does mascara actually work? And what is the difference between what is in a high end mascara compared to the cheaper options?

Pigment – Let start with colour, and how mascara makes our lashes so black (get prepared for some high techy chemical name dropping). Most mascara contains iron oxides and titanium dioxide to give black and brown tints, carbon black is also a common chemical for giving a dark tint. Mascaras with blue hue contain a chemical called ultramarine blue. These pigments are mixed with oils, water and waxes to make an emulsion, and that is pretty much all that is in mascara.

Lengthening – Many types of mascara that claim to lengthen your lashes contain ‘micro fibres’, which are usually made out of nylon (the same material as tights!) or cellulose (a fibre that makes up plant cells). They seem like weird materials to use, but these tiny fibres are able to cling to the end of each lash and hang over the edge, extending our natural lashes so they look like spider legs.

Thickening – Some of the thickening effect comes from the dark carbon black pigments, giving the optical illusion of thicker lashes. Also, the nylon and cellulose micro fibres can cling between lashes, giving the illusion of more eyelashes being there, but it’s really just the ones you have being clumped together by tiny bits of tights and plants in a big web on your eyelid. Another strange material we seem to be putting on our eyes is tapioca starch (yes, exactly the same as tapioca pudding!), this is an effective lash thickening agent in organic mascara.  

Smudge proof- A key component of mascara is waxes like carnauba, ozokerite and beeswax. They bind all the ingredients of the mascara together and glue them to the lash. This allows the mascara to stay put throughout the day, despite our constant blinking, sweating and accidental eye rubbing.

Waterproof- These waxes also protect the mascara pigments from water as they are hydrophobic (which means they can’t dissolve in water). Water can’t break the bonds between the waxy mascara and the lashes, so we won’t get panda eyes in the pool or whilst sobbing watching ‘one born every minute’. The only thing that can break the bonds between the hydrophobic wax and the lashes is oil based makeup remover.

High end vs high street- what’s the real difference?

Honestly, a lot of the ingredients are quite similar, and there are many cheaper brand mascaras that give great colour, length and are waterproof. However, some subtle additions and changes to chemicals in some pricey mascara can give them the edge in a few areas:-          
  • More colourings – I noticed that my Estee Lauder mascara had a longer list of pigment chemicals in the ingredients than my Maybelline mascara. This combination of several pigments could explain why it creates a slightly darker black (although to be fair, the cheaper one is still pretty dark with its iron oxides and carbon black).
  • More waxes – typically high end mascara has more smudge free hours of wear, this is due to a wider range of waxes being used, and sometimes better quality wax to give it extra staying power. The use of shellac in high end mascara also improves longevity of wear, but recently shellac is present in many cheaper brands too.
  • Silky texture – some designer mascara contains tiny amounts of pearl to create a silky shiny finish, it seems super fancy but really it is a teeny tiny amount!
  •  Conditioning – pro-vitamin B5 is present in many cheaper mascaras, but other B vitamins are added to pricier mascara to further improve lash condition. This helps pretty curls to form and keeps lashes in top condition.
As this is a beauty blog I thought you would like to know that my favourite mascara is Estee Lauder double wear; the texture is like silk! I have also been really impressed with my Maybelline ‘Colossal Go Extreme – waterproof’ which was a fraction of the cost, but still gives me beautifu
l thick lashes that last all day, even after a swim!


My favourite mascaras! Don’t underestimate the humble Maybelline; it lasts longer than the Estee Lauder!

So, next time you choose a new mascara, take a look at the ingredients! You may not have to splash as much cash if you can see that the cheaper brand has all the pigments, fibres and waxes that you need (See...science is useful!).

Thanks for having me Abi! For more posts on the science behind useful stuff like hangover cures, sex, love, dieting and shoes check me out at sparklyscience.com.

Love Lucy xxx

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