The Finest Mascara

Gone are the days of thin pencilled lines over our eyes; hair is again allowed to grow (although, in my opinion, with some exceptions..)! We also want our eyelashes to be as full as possible… It’s no wonder that we splash out on that special mascara to achieve those special lashes. A quick search of the internet returned products such as Sephora outrageous volume dramatic mascara, Lancome hypnose drama full body volume mascara, Yves Saint Laurent mascara volume effect faux cils shocking and Estee Lauder sumptuous extreme lash multiplying volume mascara. Gorgeous names but how does such a mascara work then? And can using a mascara be harmful?

What does it contain?
Mascara is an extremely popular product with 65% of women wearing it and it is the most popular make-up product for 50% of women. The same was true thousands of years ago too, Cleopatra coloured her eyelashes with a mix of animal fat and charcoal. Today the product is made up of wax, polymers, pigments and water. Because the eyelash hair takes on moisture, it grows 30% thicker, often making the eyelash more curly. The wax is added to create a thick paste making it easier to apply and keeping it firmly in place. The wax may be beeswax but can also be paraffin, carnauba wax or bentonite clay. The function of the polymer is to bind to the eyelashes. Polymers are chains of the same molecule; you can liken them to a chain of paperclips. Examples of polymers are cellulose, starch, plastic and nylon. Cellulose polymers are often added to mascara (chains of glucose or sugar), acrylic polymers (chains of acrylic; type of plastic) or acacia gum (gum arabic, also used in wine gums and marshmallows). Water and propylene are added to water resistant mascara to make it more fluid, in a waterproof version these are isododecane, silicone type substances or mineral oils like petrolatum. The pigments which make up the colour are iron oxides, mica particles or ultramarine. In order for the water and oil to bind together, surfactants are also added such as sodium laureth sulphate. If the product also contains eyelash lengtheners, then keratine, nylon or silk fibres will be in the product. There are also, of course, preserving agents added in order to protect against mould and bacteria.

Sensitive eyes
Mascaras are quick to cause problems for over-sensitivity. It’s not so surprising considering the close proximity to your eyes and the fine skin around them. Sometimes it isn’t noticeable straight away but if you have been suffering from bags around your eyes (particularly in the mornings with itching, red eyes) it may be that you are reacting to the mascara or another eye product. If you do have sensitive eyes then the old fashioned cake mascara may be worth trying. This will reduce the risk of allergies somewhat. If you do suffer from sensitive eyes it is also better to go for black rather than a colour. The red/brown varieties should definitely be avoided. And the waterproof kind will also be less suitable for you. Such products will often contain substances which cause irritation to the eyes, and in order to remove it you will require a more vigorous removing lotion. If you’re unable to tolerate any mascara then you could always try making your own. For this you will need face clay powder (you can buy this from health food shops), iron oxide (order from the online or possibly finely ground norit tablets (activated charcoal) and xantana (available from cookery websites). Mix 2 teaspoons of black powder with 1 teaspoon of clay, 3 teaspoons of water and a pinch of xantana. If it’s a little too thick then add some more water. You can keep this for about a week in a contact lens jar (no longer as there are no preservatives in this product). You can apply using a toothbrush, which you can dispose of afterwards. This mascara is not waterproof but it is safe, looks good and is also cheap!

The shelf life
You need to promise me that you’ll never use a mascara tester in the shop, never let someone borrow your mascara and that you will throw your mascara away after 3 months. After an eye infection you will need to throw it straight in the bin. Why? After a study of female students, it appeared that 70.5% used a mascara which was no longer suitable. After 3 months bacteria/mould is already present in 36.4%. Of the testers in the shop, 67% to 100% of the products were found to be contaminated with Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and E. Coli (yes the stomach bacteria).

Can long-term use cause any damage?
A number of studies have been carried out looking into the relationship between eye problems and the use of mascara. People who wear it have indeed been found to encounter more eye problems. Researchers have also discovered that users may have small pigment spots on the retina. As a rule, though, this doesn’t cause problems. Along with this, researchers also found that mascara wearers lose more eyelashes than non-wearers. Not, all in all, a reason to stop wearing mascara, in my opinion, but it is a good idea to check the ingredients list and to regularly replace the products.
Next time I’ll let you know which ingredients to avoid and which products I can recommend.

Regards Jetske
(Dr. Jetske Ultee-Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)

You can also see the following blogs:
‘Help with Choosing Your Eye Make-Up Remover’,
‘Make-Up’ and
‘Damaging Substances in Make-Up, Pretty Scary’.