I have always found the history of cosmetics and beauty trends incredibly fascinating. One thing I have noticed during my studies of these trends, is that so many things come and go. However, there is one product that has stood the test of time, and predates even the bible! That product is mascara. Records from around 4000 BC refer to a substance called kohl that was used to darken eyelashes, eyes, and eyebrows. Kohl was used to mask the eyes, believed to ward off evil spirits and protect the soul. (source) It wasn’t until the 19th century that the product we know as ‘mascara’ was developed by chemist Eugene Rimmel (yes, that Rimmel.)

Since the 19th century there have been thousands of different mascaras that all do different things and come in different formulas. Sorting through all of the different types can be overwhelming to say the least. What should you be looking for? And what is the deal with those brushes?! Consider this article your personal guide to purchasing mascara.



Believe it or not there is a certain science that goes into designing a mascara brush. Everything from its size and shape to the material used for the wand’s bristles will affect your final eyelash look. To start- it is better to use a mascara wand with long bristles if you want to add volume to your lashes without them clumping. A wand with shorter bristles will not be able to coat your lashes in one stroke, so to achieve the same effect you will need to apply multiple coats which may result in more clumps and spider leg lashes.

If you have thick, long lashes, choose a wand that is made with a cushiony brush material. Your lashes will be substantial enough to push down on the wand and pick up more of the formula. If you have short, thin, lashes you want your wand to be made of a silicon or rubber. Less product sticks to the wand when it is made with silicon which means more mascara will transfer to your eyelashes. Short and thin lashes are not able to push back on a cushiony wand the same way thicker lashes do, so too little product is dispensed onto the eyelashes.

While a dense, thick, brush will create more voluminous lashes, it is important to consider the shape of your eye when choosing a mascara wand. “The size of your wand should make sense for the size of your eyes,” according to makeup artist Jenny Patinkin “I like a wand that’s medium sized, densely packed, and has a pointed tip, because it works on all eye shapes and sizes.” (source)


It’s all in the brush: My reaction when the factory asked me if I wanted to see the 200+ mascara wands..


Another thing you’ll want to consider when shopping for new mascara is formula! Now, to be honest, the formula for mascara has not changed much in the past 50 years. They all use the same basic ingredients (wax, pigments, and film formers) (source). Some brands have claimed to innovate on their mascara formulations or how they coat/wrap the lashes. Don’t worry, I bought them all to try and I have to say.. just stick with the normal stuff! Weird “innovations” do weird things to my lashes. Additionally, Asian brands tend to have lighter formulations. Personally, I don’t like Asian mascara formulations; I find them too wet, which means my lashes stick together too easily, making them appear thinner. No thanks.

Anyway, because mascara formulations haven’t changed much, the brush is very important- that is really what will affect the way the mascara ends up looking when applied. Reach for water-soluble formula because they are easier to remove, and you won’t be scrubbing at your eyes trying to get it off. They are much better for day-to-day wear. Water-soluble formulas are also much easier to layer without resulting in flakes or clumps. Learn how to create your own lash-lengthening mascara remover here.

Waterproof formulas are made with almost the same ingredients as water-soluble ones but with one major difference. “The waterproof super power comes from the inclusion of dodecane, a long, saturated hydrocarbon also used as jet fuel” (source). This makes it difficult to layer, and hard to remove. I used to think that was a cool lifehack when I was younger–mascara that you can never remove! The most efficient makeup ever!–but now I realize that it’s really bad for your lashes.

Save the waterproof formulas for special occasions only as they can be too harsh for daily use (and could be causing lash loss – read more here).



When shopping for mascara look for thick brushes, that fit your eye shape. You’ll want to go with a cushiony wand if you have thick lashes, and silicon if your lashes are thin and short – here’s what I use. Use a brush with longer bristles to avoid clumps, and always go with a water-soluble formula.


Have you found your holy grail mascara? Let us know what it is!

Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez is a board-certified general practitioner with more than 15 years of patient care experience. She takes an integrative approach to patient care that considers the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – and is deeply committed to assisting her patients in achieving and sustaining optimal health. Dr. Vanessa is also a skilled writer and medical reviewer, specializing in preventive care and health promotion. Her articles are written in an approachable manner that is simple to comprehend and implement in one’s own life. Dr. Vanessa’s mission is to equip her patients and readers with the knowledge and resources necessary to live their greatest lives.

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