Between the 22nd-26th weeks of embryonic development, a significant feature begins to develop amidst the formation of the mammalian nervous system (spine, peripheral nerves and brain), teeth, and epidermis (hair, scales, feathers, hooves, and nails).
I’m referring to the ectoderm: one of the three primary main germ cell layers which accompany the mesoderm and endoderm. Feel free to research these other layers yourself (credit to Russian biologist Heinz Christian Pander for their discovery); however, my main focus is on the ecto (outer) derm (skin) layer due to the advantageous and most noticed - yet, overlooked (pun intended) - biological developments in which we tend to highlight (and notice) most often amongst the human species….
Just as whiskers function on a fox, cat, or mouse, for example, eyelashes trigger a reflex stimulus upon being touched, providing a warning to the brain which closes the eye. It’s pretty amazing that something so seemingly simple like eyelashes are connected through the same neural network - the neuroectoderm - responsible for the development of the brain.
Take a tour via The Virtual Human Embro
In terms of evolutionary development and biological purpose for which eyelashes serve, there’s really no mystery: they assist in keeping debris out of our eyes so as to not have our vision impaired (the last thing you want when you’re out for a stroll or grazing at the local watering hole is to be blinded by dust, dander or water, rendering you incapable of spotting the approaching lion…).
Now that we’re up to speed on what eyelashes are, what they do, how they function, and why they are necessary for our survival, let’s get down to some FASHION SCIENCE: THE APPLICATION AND PHYSICS OF MASCARA.
You know those heat-resistant tiles aerospace engineers apply to the outside of a spacecraft so that the astronauts aren’t cooked at over 2,300 degrees?
When you’re reentering the Earth’s atmosphere at 17,000 mph, these little guys deflect and absorb radiation. (Wiki)
Those thermal tiles are made of the same Organosilicon compounds as mascara!
Sounds cool, right? But what ABOUT mascara? How does it work? Shelby Kimbrough of Beautylish enlists Jenny Frankel, former cosmetics formulator, beauty engineering consultant (yes, that’s a thing) and president at Frankly Beauty, Inc., to discuss this precise subject in her article "Anatomy of a Beauty Product: Mascara"…
There are two main types of mascara: cream and waterproof. Cream mascaras are made up of waxes and polymers mixed (but not dissolved) in water. Waterproof versions, on the other hand, contain many of the same ingredients mixed in a non-aqueous solvent, such as dimethicone or acrylate copolymer. Since waterproof mascaras don’t contain water, they won’t dissolve in it (remember “like dissolves like” from high school science class?). This lets them stay put through tears, swimming, and uber-romantic kissing in the rain (yep, we have waterproof mascara to thank for Audrey Hepburn’s amazing lashes in the final scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s—well, and probably falsies, too.)
Structural agents like beeswax, cellulose polymers, and carnauba (palm) wax are what give mascara its body and firmness, while emollients like butylene glycol, glycerin, and dimethicone (a silicone polymer with a “slippery” feel) keep it soft and flexible, so it won’t flake off during the day. Emulsifiers—glyceryl stearate is a common one—are also used to keep the ingredients from separating.
And let’s not forget about pigments. These are typically added in the form of carbon black or iron oxides, although colored mascaras often contain synthetic ultramarines, which range in color from deep-blue to violet and pink. Pigment concentrations range from as low as 0.5% for a really natural look to as high as 10% for midnight-black lashes.
The Last Word
Most mascaras contain preservatives that help prevent microbial contamination. While the antimicrobial properties are good—they keep mascara fresh for up to three months and prevent eye infections—some brands use relatively noxious preservatives like parabens, or worse, thimerosal (we recommend steering clear of this mercury-based preservative!). There are a few products on the market that are preservative-free or use natural preservatives like grapefruit seed extract and citric acid.
So there you have it. But wait…what about the application part? It just so happens that Nicki Zevola at FutureDerm provides a wonderful overview on just that…
Alright, everyone…nothing more to it than to do it….
Stay curious, and keep your #iOnFashion ;)