How Cosmetics Are Made

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Long before modern women made their lips kissably red with their favorite lipstick, Mesopotamian women were spreading finely crushed semi-precious stone powders on their lips to get that perfect pout. And although we now have mascara wands to separate and lift our lashes, the Egyptians were using kohl mixed with crocodile stool and honey to achieve the same look. Innovations throughout the years have saved us from having to smear these ingredients on our faces in the name of beautification.


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Lipstick manufacturing has come a long way from Cleopatra's use of crushed carmine beetles and ants. Now, almost all lipsticks are made using wax, oil, alcohol and a colorant or pigment. Wax is used to mold the lipstick mixture into the standard bullet shape and can be one of three types: beeswax, candelilla wax or camauba. In making lipstick, mineral, castor, lanolin or vegetable oil is mixed with melted wax along with fragrance and pigment; preservatives and antioxidants are also added to keep the formula from spoiling. Depending on the manufacturer, additional ingredients may be added to render a glossy look or moisten lips. The finished mixture is then poured into a tube molding and cooled.


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Though Egyptians were the first people documented to use mascara, the modern iteration of mascara didn't appear until chemist Eugene Rimmel invented petroleum jelly in the 19th century, which would later be mixed with coal in 1913 by the original founders of the Maybelline company. Petroleum jelly has since been replaced with oils such as linseed, castor, sesame, eucalyptus and lanolin, while coal has been replaced with carbon black, a powdery form of carbon used as pigment. Paraffin, carnauba and beeswax are included to coat lashes and create volume. If the mascara is promoted as being waterproof, the formula may include dodecane; if it's to be lash-extending, nylon or rayon microfibers may be added. Making mascara frequently utilizes the emulsion method, where pigment, oils and select ingredients are added to melted wax. Using a homogenizer -- an equipment specially designed to thoroughly mix ingredients that would normally repel each other, such as oil and water -- the wax mixture is then blended with a cream base made of water and special thickeners. The finished mixture is then packaged for final distribution.


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Modern eyeshadow has expanded beyond its roots as crushed insects and oxidized copper in Babylonian and Egyptian times. Today, eyeshadow is made by grinding pigments made of synthetic iron oxides in colors ranging from red and yellow to black and brown with fillers such as kaolin, talc, silica and mica. Binding ingredients such as oils and zinc stearate are added to create a pressed powder. Pearls -- or pearlescent pigments -- are added to eyeshadows for sparkle and to reflect light. In the production of cream eyeshadows, melted castor oil, beeswax, jojoba oil or silicone are added to the mixture before being poured in containers to cool.

Nail Polish

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China is credited with inventing nail polish in 3000 BC, using a combination of egg whites, beeswax and vegetable dyes. While painting fingernails remained in practice by the ruling classes throughout many Chinese dynasties, it wasn't until the 20th century that nail polishing reached the masses. The production of today's nail polishes uses four main ingredients: film forming agents, resins and plasticizers, solvents, and coloring agents. Nitrocellulose, the film forming agent, is mixed with synthetic resins and plasticizers such as castor oil, amyl and butyl stearate, which make the polish resistant to soap and water. A coloring agent or pigment is then added, and using a "two-roll" differential speed mill, the mixture is ground down to produce sheets of finely dispersed color. The sheets are then broken into chips and mixed with a solvent in a stainless steel kettle. Perfumes, moisturizers and other ingredients are added to the kettle once the original mixture cools. Thereafter, the polish is packaged and shipped for retail.