Beautiful Lashes — Quick as a Wink! Helena Rubinstein’s Cosmetic Innovations

Did you know that Helena Rubinstein invented the mascara wand?

Madame — as her contemporaries called her — pioneered many beauty products that we take for granted today. Does your moisturizer come with SPF? Rubinstein was one of the first to advocate against excessive sun exposure. She developed some of the earliest cosmetics with sunscreen, giving them great names like “Liquid Sunshine.” Do you use morning and night creams? Madame was the first to market her lotions for use at specific times of day, knowing that her clients would thus buy twice as many products. Rubinstein was a true visionary, her business savvy unparalleled.

Before Rubinstein invented the wand applicator, women who wanted darker lashes used a tiny brush to apply cream mascara (a squeeze tube of liquid paint) or cake mascara (essentially, a watercolor set). While these products had their charms, it’s easy to see why they became obsolete once mascara wands became available.

An Advertisement from 1930 displays a suite of ArtDeco products, including a cake mascara kit called “Persian Eyeblack” at bottom right.

In 1957, Helena Rubinstein launched the world’s first mascara wand. Called Mascara-Matic, the metal wand instantly drew mascara paint out of its sleek gold tube. Unlike its precursors, this applicator had no messy brush, but instead had grooves at its tip to help separate and paint individual lashes. Everything about this product was streamlined and smart — the paint itself was even waterproof. Mascara-Matic was an instant success. Early advertisements called it “revolutionary,” and it was: mascara has never been the same since.

Mascara-Matic advertisement from 1957.

Learn more about Rubinstein’s remarkable achievements in our exhibition closing soon: Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power, through March 22!

— Rebecca Shaykin is Leon Levy Assistant Curator at the Jewish Museum.