How is Mascara Made?

Mascara is a beauty product typically used to colour, darken and curl eyelashes. It's usually manufactured from a combination of wax, oil, pigment, and other ingredients. Some mascara brands also contain fibres that help to give the lashes definition, length and thickness. Mascara is put on with an applicator brush and is available in lots of colours, but what is mascara made of and how is mascara made? Let’s take a closer look.

Engineering How It’s Made
15 October 2022

The eye-watering facts about mascara is that there are around a billion units sold every year. It’s a £10 billion global market dominated by the world’s biggest makeup brands including Maybelline, L’Oréal, Yves Saint Laurent, MAC and Lancôme. You couldn’t make up facts like that.

Go into any department store, supermarket or pharmacy and you’ll see that the choice of mascaras available is incredible. Waterproof mascara, mascara for lower lashes, mascara for volume, non-flaking mascara, budget mascara, ultra-expensive mascara, vegan mascara, mascara that stays on why you’re in the gym…the list goes on and on.

But while you’re agon-eye-sing over which one to buy, have you ever asked yourself ‘how is mascara manufactured?’ Read on to find out.

A Short History of Mascara

Cosmetic adornment of the eyes is perhaps the oldest form of make-up. It was used by the ancient Egyptians as far back as 4,000 BC. They used a substance called kohl, which was made up of minerals like galena and malachite, charcoal or soot, honey, water and, believe it or not, crocodile dung. Men and women used it to mask their eyes and to ward off evil spirits. The Greeks, Romans and Babylonians all used dark eye make-up, as did many other civilisations throughout ancient and medieval history.

How mascara is made today varies quite dramatically from the earlier manufacturing methods. For example, Victorian women would heat ash or lampblack – a pigment made from soot – combine it with elderberry juice and use a brush to apply the mixture to their eyelashes.

The first mascara as we’d recognise it today was made by a French chemist and perfumier called Eugene Rimmel in the late 19th century. He used petroleum jelly, and his product was so popular that to this day a popular word for mascara in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish and Romanian is ‘rimmel.’

Around the same time, American Thomas Lyle Williams created a very similar product for his sister Mabel. His small mail-order business became Maybelline, one of the biggest cosmetics companies in the world.

Without further ado, let’s answer the question ‘how is mascara produced in a factory?’

How is Mascara Produced?

Applying mascara makeup (Photo: Andreas Kuehn via Getty Images)

In broad terms, when it comes to understanding what mascara is made of, Mascara is produced by combining a pigment, a wax, and an oil. The pigment gives the mascara its colour, the wax makes it thick and shiny, and the oil keeps it from clumping.

As with all types of cosmetic products, the exact formulas vary by manufacturer. Regardless of the exact recipe, almost all mascaras are made up of a water soluble phase and an oil soluble phase.

The Oil Soluble Phase

To prepare the oil phase, a technician combines four different types of wax: carnauba wax, candelilla wax, beeswax, and glycerol stearate. This makes the mascara freeze-resistant and keeps it from forming a surface crust. The next ingredient is liquid vitamin E which conditions the eye lashes and gives the product a smooth texture. Finally, the water-resistant compound is added, known as Pelemol D-2000. The mixture is heated and once the wax elements start to melt, the ingredients are blended together. This is just the first phase in answering the question ‘‘how is mascara manufactured?’

The Water Soluble Phase

What is mascara made of? The next ingredient is key. To prepare the water soluble phase, cold water is heated up and an emulsifier is added which will bind the water to the oils. A cosmetic-grade pigment of jet black iron oxide is added to the hot water and the mixture is blended. The next stage is to add an organic compound to balance the mascara’s pH level, so it’s neither too acidic nor alkaline. Then, PVP, or polyvinylpyrrolidone, is added which gives the mascara fixative properties.

The Combination Phase

Finally, the oil phase is slowly poured into the water phase and it’s continually mixed to prevent the wax from solidifying. This answers the question ‘how is mascara produced’ but there are still a few more stages to go before it ends up in the shops.

The Testing

Before it can be packaged, the mascara is run through a series of tests. First, the thickness is measured by a machine called a viscometer and then the pH levels are tested again to ensure it’s as it should be. If it meets the required specifications, the technicians give the go-ahead for the mascara to be packaged.

The Packaging

The batch is poured into a filling machine which continually stirs the mixture and keeps it hot. This is so the mascara doesn’t jellify and clog the nozzles. The liquid fills the small thin containers and in the bottle it transforms into a semi-liquid gel. A rubber stopper is added and then the cap is screwed on which has the built-in applicator brush. Lastly, the bottles are labelled, sealed and boxed up ready for the world’s eyes. This is the final stage in the process of how mascara is made.

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