The Beautiful History of False Eyelashes

We’ve all heard the saying that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but why do we have such a fascination for this body part? And why do we favor large eyes with long, thick eyelashes most of all?

Perhaps the answer lies in science; larger eyes are associated with both youthfulness and higher levels of estrogen, which means they’re an indicator of fertility. So just like a large waist-to-hip ratio, we’re evolutionarily programmed to find big eyes attractive. This would also explain our love for full and fluffy eyelashes since they make the eyes seem bigger.

Of course, the reason could also be that we tend to look at people’s eyes more than anything else when we’re talking to them – and know that ours are going to be looked at too. It’s no wonder then that throughout history, women have sought to emphasize and glamorize their eyes by framing them beautiful eyelashes.

Here’s a little look through the evolution of lash enhancements…

People have been styling their eyelashes since as far back as Ancient Egypt; over the ages, beautiful eyelashes have been achieved by coating them in everything from charcoal to berry juice.

The first mascaras

People have been styling their eyelashes since as far back as Ancient Egypt; over the ages, beautiful eyelashes have been achieved by coating them in everything from charcoal to berry juice. The first commercially-produced mascara came along during the Victorian era, invented by Queen Victoria’s perfumer Eugène Rimmel.

This mascara was a mixture of Vaseline and coal dust and was sold as a solid cake along with a toothbrush-like brush to apply it. The product was revolutionary at the time, and the company that sold it still exists today – Rimmel cosmetics.

Cream mascaras took until 1957 to be invented, by Helena Rubinstein, although early versions needed to be squeezed from a tube onto the applicator brush!

The painful invention of false eyelashes

While mascaras were being fine-tuned, another eyelash trend was also emerging: false lashes. And the earliest false lashes of all were semi-permanent ones – but the process wasn’t remotely like getting your lashes done nowadays!

In 1899, a newspaper article described this new-at-the-time technique: first, a hair was taken from the head, then sewn repeatedly through the eyelid to leave a line of loops, and finally, the loops snipped open to form lashes. Ouch.

The first strip lashes

In 1911, Canadian woman Anna Taylor filed the first patent for strips of temporary, glue-on lashes made from hair (presumably human hair, although the patent doesn’t specify).

And in 1916, similar strip lashes appeared on film for the first time when director David W. Griffith got the film’s wig-maker to DIY some long false lashes from gauze and human hair, and glue them to the actress’ eyelids.

From human hair to synthetic

Vogue began advertising false eyelashes in the 1930s, but it was the 1950s when they really took off. Not only were Hollywood starlets flaunting them on screen, but this was also the decade when synthetic eyelashes were introduced, and that resulted in lower prices.

Early synthetic lashes might not have looked as natural as ones made from hair, but when the 1960s rolled around soon after, that didn’t matter: supermodel Twiggy is famous for her long, spiky, obviously-fake lashes, and everyone wanted to copy that look.

The accidental invention of eyelash-lengthening medication

In 2001, a medicated eye drop was developed with a fabulous side effect: many of its patients quickly found themselves with long, dark, fluffy eyelashes! It seemed the active ingredient, bimatoprost, encouraged lash growth as well as doing its intended job.

The same company that has created the eye drops soon after launched bimatoprost-containing LATISSE, an FDA-approved treatment to ‘fill out’ your lash line.

Semi-permanent lashes get a modern makeover.

Semi-permanent lashes get a modern makeover

Modern semi-permanent lash extensions were first developed in Korea (aren’t all good beauty things?) and were introduced in the US in 2004. This technique involves gluing individual false lashes or small clusters of lashes onto your existing ones, for long and fluffy eyelashes that last for weeks (until your natural lashes fall out, and the extensions with them).

Celebrities including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Jennifer Lopez were all early adopters of lash extensions who openly professed their love for them, helping it to catch on with the general public.

Semi-permanent lashes are nowadays made from a range of materials, from synthetic fibers to animal hairs to silk. They’re more lightweight and natural-looking than the false eyelashes of days gone by, and better still, they don’t involve having needles poked through your eyelids! However, lash extensions still have their downsides compared to removable strips, which you can read about here.

Modern strip lashes

Strip eyelashes have also come a long way since their first iteration. Like extensions, they are available in a variety of synthetic and natural materials, of which we prefer real silk. And in 2014, Katy Stoka invented magnetic lashes, although glue-on ones remain most popular.

Today, long false lashes are more popular than ever – and more natural-looking than ever. It can be hard to tell whether a set of beautiful eyelashes are the result of extensions, strip lashes, or simply good genes and a fab mascara. But one thing is sure. However, we choose to enhance them; we all still want the same thing woman have craved for thousands of years: long, dark, fluffy eyelashes!


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