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beauty is pop culture // sex rules the world 

  • Wanique Block

Beauty Origins: A deep dive into the origins and evolution of the False Eyelash

From Donkey Dung to Designer Lashes: The Incredible Journey of Eyelash Beauty.

The standards of beauty are constantly changing and as history would have it, what constitutes beauty in any given time period is very complex. Throughout history being considered “beautiful”, according to conventional societal norms and standards, would account for a higher social currency and more power, which as we all know forced both men and women to resort to extreme measures to maintain ideologies around beauty.

While times haven’t changed, I do however think it’s very interesting that even centuries ago, how far many were willing to go for beauty, was literally dependent on access and availability. Regardless of treatments being toxic or potentially dangerous, nothing has ever stopped the human race from the pursuit of beauty. Throughout history, long eyelashes have always been associated with beauty, righteousness, wealth and purity. From having false eyelashes sewn into your eyelids, to using donkey faeces and poisonous lead for a fuller lash look,  these are just some of the treatments many have used to become more socially desirable.

Ancient Practices: Egyptians and Romans

Believe it or not, the false eyelash is a beauty regimen that has been used for aeons. The earliest reports of lash manipulation dates back to 3500 BC where Ancient Egyptians used a plethora of natural substances like donkey faeces, Kohl, Malachite, burnt cork and ground lead to darken and lengthen their eye lashes. In addition to this, Egyptian men and women also used brushes and ointments to achieve a more fanned and voluminous appearance. While some of these beauty treatments today would be considered unusual and poisonous, most of these natural substances consisted of anti-bacterial properties and served as protection eye infections from the harsh desert sun.

Nefertiti Bust and Kohl Jar and applicator.

Image via Pinterest (The Metropolitian Museum of Art)

Much like the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Romans also used burnt cork and Kohl to darken the appearance of their eyelashes. They also religiously combed their lashes for a more voluminous look. While the Egyptians used these lash beauty treatments for the sole purpose of appearance, a Roman philosopher and author, Pliney the Elder, famously once wrote that eyelashes fell out due to an excess of sexual activity, (as I roll my eyes, chile). In conservative ancient Rome, this meant that long, visible eyelashes were accepted as a sign of purity and righteousness, in turn leaving many women on a quest to maintain their purity.

“Man has lashes on the eye-lids on either side; and women even make it their daily care to stain them; so ardent are they in the pursuit of beauty, that they must even colour their very eyes... It is not without some reason that it is said that the eye- lashes fall off with those persons who are too much given to venereal pleasures”, Pliney the Elder shared in chapter 56 of his Natural History journal.

Screenshot via X, formerly Twitter.

Shifts in Beauty Ideals: Medieval to Renaissance

During the Medieval and Renaissance period when long, luscious and accentuated styled lashes were no longer popular. During this time, the forehead was considered to be the most prominent and beautiful aspect of a woman’s face, and so to emphasise this facial feature, women would deliberately pluck out their eyelashes and eyebrows. In addition to this, the Catholic Church, who was a prominent influence in Medieval times,   associated lashes and bodily hair with promiscuity, erotica and sin. As such women had to remove all visible body hair, including their eyelashes and eyebrows.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England taken in 1575. Image via Pinterest.

Modern Innovations: 19th Century to Present

In the 1830s, a French perfumer named Eugene Rimmel developed the world's  first commercial non-toxic eyelash mascara, which was made from a mixture of petroleum jelly and coal dust.  Rimmel named his mascara “mascaro,” which means “mask” in Spanish, as it was created to mask any imperfections in the eyelashes.  Despite this new development pioneering the beauty industry, it seems as though this may have not been enough for some Parisian women who wanted more and reportedly sewed their hair on the eyelids in 1882. As reported by Order Materia, with this procedure a fine needle was threaded with long strands of hair, which was taken from the head of the person to be operated upon. For a painless process, the eyelid was then thoroughly cleaned and rubbed with a solution of cocaine. The needle would pass in and out along the edge of the eye lid leaving its hair thread in loops of carefully graduated lengths. 

Eyelash sewing procedure in 1882.

In 1911 Anna Taylor, who was a Canadian inventor, obtained the first patent for artificial eyelashes. Her invention included glue on lashes or strip lashes that were thought to be made from human hair. During this time the silent film industry took off and saw more and more actresses using makeup techniques for their eyes to convey emotions that they couldn't otherwise communicate verbally. Like the strip lashes we see and use today were essentially made from wig hair and sewn into gauze and glued onto the actresses eyelids.

20th Century to Today: Fluctuating Trends

Between the roaring 20s and 70s we've seen woman like Marilyn Monroe, Diana Ross and Twiggy all wearing fluffy doll-like eyelashes. The 80s on the other hand saw the false eyelash fading as many women opted for their natural lashes. By the time the 90s hit the false eyelashes once again became popular. It was during this time where semi-permanent lash extensions were born.

Fast forward to now, 2024, not only has the eyelash extensions industry drastically grown, but we too have created new lash innovations that not only favour aesthetics but techniques that are safe too. (I don't know about you but I'd choose strip lashes over getting my eyes seen with hair, ANY DAY). Although lash extensions have relatively become thinner in texture, the overall consensus is based on your preferences and what you're comfortable with. There's literally a lash technique and lash type for everyone.

Mink Lash via Pinterest (Beth Bender Beauty)

In conclusion, the quest for beauty has driven humanity to remarkable lengths, evolving from ancient natural substances to contemporary safe and diverse eyelash enhancements. This historical journey reflects changing societal values and the enduring importance of beauty in human culture.


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