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Dr. Susan Mathison, Areavoices.com blogger, Published December 07 2011

Mathison: Lovely lashes important through history

A few years back, voluptuous lips were in the headlines, with Angelina Jolie’s famous mouth gracing many magazine covers.

In case you haven’t noticed, today’s trend is long eyelashes. Everyone from Lady Gaga and Brooke Shields to little Cindy Lou Who in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” flutters amazingly long lashes.

Since eyes are considered the window to the soul, lashes are an alluring frame. Modern day lash enhancers include false eyelash strips in many styles – some with feathers or crystal studs – individual lash extensions, topical prescription medication that makes lashes grow longer, thicker and darker, and even surgical eyelash transplants.

Why the fascination with lashes?

Looking back in history, ancient Egyptian men and women used ointments to style their eyelashes to protect themselves from bad spirits and to recreate the image of Sun God Re. These ointments, usually in black or green colors, also served as an insect repellant and disinfectant and helped protect their eyes from the sun’s glare. The women also felt that styling of eyes and lashes had an aphrodisiac effect.

Roman women were aware of beauty trends from Egypt and even India. They used kohl and burnt cork applied with small ivory sticks to darken and thicken their lashes. Plinius the Elder wrote that “it was important for women to keep their eyelashes long to prove their chastity.”

As Christianity developed, cosmetics were avoided with the belief that a natural appearance was more pleasing to God. Women were not supposed to display their hair in public and some even removed eyelashes and brows. This trend continued through the Medieval and Renaissance times with the exception of Queen Elizabeth in the 1500s, when her reddish-gold hair inspired women to dye their hair, lashes and brows in a similar shade.

During the Victorian era, cosmetics became acceptable again, though women still used home-made methods, such as fireplace ashes or lamp black to darken lashes and brows.

The 20th century brought two innovations still in use today: false eyelashes and mascara.

The first eyelashes were made of fringe carefully attached to thread and glued to the eyelid. They were used in the first movie productions to give the actresses a more impressive appearance.

Mascara was developed by Tom Lyle in Chicago in 1915. He was inspired to make a mail-order product after watching his sister Mabel Williams apply Vaseline ointment and burnt cork to her lashes. Originally called “Lash-Brow-Ine,” it was later renamed Maybelline, in homage to his sister.

Sales and marketing surveys suggest that 60 percent of the women in the world use mascara, and it accounts for almost 50 percent of the total cosmetic sales.

The 1960s brought heavily accentuated eyes to the masses, with Twiggy leading the way. She wore a thick dark fringe of false lashes and lots of eyeliner. The 70s, 80s and 90s brought back a more natural lash look, but eyeshadows, liners and mascara maintained popularity.

This past decade has seen new techniques of lash-by-lash application of individual hairs made of sable, mink or synthetic material. The false lashes are bonded to the natural lash with special glue and last for three to six weeks. The procedure can take two to three hours and touch-ups are common. Costs range from $250 - $400.

As we age, our lashes become finer and thinner, though glaucoma patients have noted that their lashes reversed this trend when they used certain types of eye drops. This did not escape notice of manufacturers who then studied the use of these drops for cosmetic purposes. Latisse recently became the only FDA-approved topical medication for lash growth after safety was documented. It promises longer, thicker, darker lashes.

I have found this to be very true in my practice. Some of our patients and staff have had to trim their eyelashes so they wouldn’t brush up on sunglasses.

I am grateful for my lashes, as short as they are. I wish I remembered to use Latisse more often. The boys in our family seemed to get unfair advantage in the lash department. I feel naked without my mascara, and I’m very glad we’ve moved beyond Vaseline and burnt cork.


Sue’s mascara tip:

Use a mascara with a good thick brush. Wide tooth, spindly brushes tend to clog the lashes. You need the brush to coat each individual lash. Start at the root of the lash for the first two coats to thicken and separate, then apply to the ends to extend the length. Repeat on the bottom lashes.


Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com