Health & Grooming

Ever greater lengths

From growth-boosting ingredients to ingenious applicators, there’s more to the latest mascaras than meets the eye. Vicci Bentley reports.

December 17 2010
Vicci Bentley

Mention mascara, and “Wouldn’t leave home without it” is a likely response. Leave it off and, unless you’re so young that jejune looks endearing, eyes seem vague and otherworldly, but not in a good way. Slick it on and they’re instantly focused, enquiring, inviting – any way you want them to look.

It’s hardly surprising that, according to Mintel, mascara has been steadily driving the colour cosmetics market since last year; the recession has forced women to prioritise, and bolder, longer lashes have batted lipstick and foundation down the list. Data from SymphonyIRI currently shows the UK mascara market to be worth £120m, while research at L’Oréal contends that two out of three UK mascara users treasure it as their most important make-up product.

“Quite simply, mascara gives women back their features,” says Terry Barber, director of make-up artistry for Mac Cosmetics UK and Ireland. “It automatically makes them look and feel awake, attractive and feminine.” Red lipstick has the same effect, but it’s high maintenance, he argues, and not everyone wants to make such an obvious statement. “Groomed lashes mean you don’t need to try so hard with your lips or, come to it, your hair.”

As we head towards the height of the social season, false lashes are enjoying a resurgence of their own. “Glamorous make-up is back, and women are spending on items that will instantly make a difference to their looks,” comments Kakuyasu Uchiide, international artistic director at Shu Uemura, whose Tokyo Lash Bars offer a fitting service and tutorial upon purchase of one of its 30 designs (from £12.50). If that sounds too X Factor, but you still fancy the pizzazz, Christian Dior’s “false effect” Diorshow Extase (£21.50) has 3-D black pearl pigments, glossing ceramides and plumping powders that claim to thicken lashes by 50 per cent on contact.

Unlike eyeliner, which has been enhancing ocular eloquence since antiquity, lash enhancers are relative latecomers to the cosmetic arsenal. By the early 20th century perfumer Eugene Rimmel had refined lamp black (the earliest DIY lash ingredient) into the first commercially available mascara, and today popular brand Rimmel accounts for 22.2 per cent of the global market. Meanwhile in 1913, inspired by his sister Maybel, chemist TL Williams mixed coal dust with Vaseline and launched Maybelline. Company legend has it that this was the prototype for Great Lash (£4.99), the award-winning lash-building formula in a pink and green tube that hit US shelves in 1971 and arrived in the UK in 1998.

Today, Great Lash’s latest runway-inspired Blackest Black version competes with a bewildering repertoire of shades and effects. Ever-evolving blends of soft and hard waxes, gels, fibres and polymers mean we can thicken, lengthen, separate and curl our lashes to suit our style. “One mascara is never enough,” Uchiide opines. “It’s like saying a woman should have only one bag or pair of shoes. A wardrobe of mascaras lets you choose each way you want your lashes to look.”

Most women are as particular about their lashes as their hairstyle. Although lashes grow at a slower rate than head hair, with age and the inevitable hormone slump both become thinner, weaker, shorter and sparser. This year has seen a marked rise in formulas claiming anti-ageing benefits including – the holy grail of mascaras – serious growth-boosting potential. The back story centres on Latisse, an eyeliner gel developed by pharmaceutical giant Allergan (maker of Botox) currently only available on prescription in the US and Korea. Latisse contains Allergan’s patent prostaglandin Bimatoprost, an eye-pressure regulator for glaucoma patients. One of its side-effects is preternaturally Bambi-like lash growth – patients have reported trimming theirs to prevent them brushing against their glasses. Allergan’s 16-week trials calibrate this into 25 per cent longer lashes with an astonishing 106 per cent boost in thickness. Not surprisingly, Allergan has patented the use of pharmaceutical-grade prostaglandin and its analogues in cosmetics.

Products such as these may prove invaluable to the folically challenged. Research is under way to develop scalp-friendly formulas that may help regenerate stress-, illness- and chemotherapy-related hair loss. But not everyone tolerates prostaglandins. Latisse has the potential to permanently darken the iris and even naturally derived prostaglandins from plants can irritate and inflame the lids – hardly a good look.

Elsewhere, a growing number of cosmetic lash-boosters are claiming tangible results. In July, Rapidlash (£39.99), claiming up to 50 per cent longer lashes, generated a waiting list of 800 before its online launch, then sold 1,200 units in the first week, with one unit being sold every 30 minutes in Boots branches. The key ingredient, Isopropyl Cloprostenate, is a fatty acid derivative developed solely for cosmetic use, which works alongside peptides, vitamins and moisturisers to promote cell regeneration at the base of the lash and stronger, longer, healthier growth.

More subtle in their approach, lash-conditioning mascaras promise to tick building and boosting boxes across all market sectors. The Growlash complex in Rimmel’s Lash Accelerator Mascara (£8.99) ambitiously claims to make lashes appear up to 80 per cent longer instantly and up to 117 per cent longer in a month. This year, premium brand leader Lancôme launched Hypnôse Precious Cells (£22), a hybrid of its global bestselling mascara formula Hypnôse (one is sold every 20 seconds in the UK) and the stem-cell technology used in its anti-ageing skincare, Absolue.

Lancôme’s research links lash condition to epidermal stem-cell activity. Supplementing cells at the base of the follicles with a cocktail of apple stem cells, centella asiatica (used in anti-hair-loss products) and the amino acid arginine provides lashes with the ideal growth environment, claims Lancôme. In its tests, 62 per cent of women reported better conditioned lashes after four weeks’ use and, encouragingly, 77 per cent noticed fewer lost lashes when removing their make-up. And this summer, Parfums Christian Dior launched Diorshow Maximizer (£21.50), a pre-mascara plumping serum with growth enhancers and cumulative strengthening benefits.

So mascaras have officially joined the anti-ageing mainstream, but smart ingredients are only half the story. To aficionados, it’s the brush that perfects the sweeping illusion of youth. Light years on from the first “spit and polish” cakes, an eye-boggling forest of applicators has proliferated. Plastic combs lengthen and separate lashes – check Clinique’s High Lengths Mascara’s (£14.50) “willow wand”, curved to mirror the lid line and catch hard-to-reach wisps in a single sweep – fibre brushes such as Mac Opulash (£12.50) bulk and curl, while ball-tips such as Givenchy’s Phenomen’Eyes (£19.50) easily reach to the lash roots to make them look appreciably fuller.

Does size matter? “Women perceive ‘big’ as volume,” says Jean-Louis Guéret, L’Oréal’s director of cosmetic prospective packaging, affectionally known as the Wand Wizard. “But the bigger the brush, the less bulk it creates because the wiper at the tube mouth removes most of the product. There’s no link between the amount of product a brush can hold and the final lash-building result.”

Since the 1970s, Guéret has designed some 5,000 brushes, all patented five years ahead of the market, whether or not they made it. His S-shaped brush, designed to maximise contact with lashes, contributes to the 70 per cent longer, 80 per cent thicker claim of Maybelline New York’s Lash Stiletto Voluptuous (£7.99). But arguably, his most headline-grabbing innovation is Ôscillation (£29), Lancôme’s vibrating wand – a “no-brainer brush” that avoids blobs and mistakes. “If your hand shakes or you’re not confident with mascara, you tend to use too many strokes,” says the Wizard. “With Ôscillation, you don’t even have to move – just glide.” His mother-in-law loves it, he adds.

Admittedly, it takes practice to get your lashes just so – let alone hone a range of techniques. “The thicker the lash, the more glamour,” encourages Alex Box, artistic director of Illamasqua (try Volume Mascara, £15.50). “Lengthening, separating mascara gives a refined definition without drawing too much attention to the eyes. A single stroke downwards and to the side creates a Lauren Bacall-style classic ‘French sweep’, the polar opposite of the wide-awake 1970s look of lash-curling plus layers of volumising mascara.”

Even if your lashes are resolutely straight, lash curlers have to be the most unwieldy and intimidating of all cosmetic tools. Yet master them, and you’ve a non-surgical eye lift at your disposal. Box’s technique is to squeeze the curlers gently once at the roots, then again further out along the lashes for a gradual, natural-looking camber. “Gently warm the curlers with a hairdryer to prolong the curl,” she advises. Shu Uemura’s Limited Edition 24 Carat Eyelash Curlers (£24) should prove an incentive. Whether to apply mascara before or after curling seems to be a running debate among make-up artists, but novices should practise on nude lashes to avoid spidery results.

“I hate to see build-up at the tips and missed out roots,” Terry Barber confesses. “For definition, push the wand well down into the roots and zig-zag slowly upwards. Then use the tip of the wand to go through each lash individually before you add another layer.” Gently pressing the flat of a finger against your eye sockets to make lashes stand up helps, he adds. “The biggest mistake is not spending enough time on lashes,” adds make-up artist Lee Pycroft. “Paying less attention to eyeshadow and more to perfecting your mascara gives high impact and polished results.” This will keep the look contemporary too.

“A major emerging trend for spring/summer is to ease back on shadow,” Barber reminds us. “It’s all about not looking as if you’ve tried too hard.” Best leave it all to your magic wand.

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Make Up