The Fascinating History Behind This $4 Mascara That Sells Every 2.5 Seconds

It goes without saying that beauty is not one size fits all, but there are certain products that just about everyone has tried at least once. Case in point? Maybelline Great Lash Mascara ($4), that ubiquitous green and pink tube that’s sold once every 2.5 seconds. It’s the first beauty product for many, swept on in middle school locker rooms, college dorm rooms, the backs of Ubers, and bedrooms across the world.

Introduced in 1915, Great Lash quickly shot into icon status. The story begins in Chicago, when a chemist named Tom Lyle Williams decided to up his sister Maybel’s beauty game. Maybel would coat her lashes in petroleum jelly and coal dust to enhance her look. Thankfully, Williams thought there must be a better product to slather above your eyes than a fossil fuel byproduct. He began developing Maybelline Cake Mascara, and within years, the product had gained cult status.

More than 50 years later, second-wave feminism was in full swing, and thanks to an increase in social activism and the passing of several equality laws, women were entering the workforce in droves. Those who wore makeup wanted an easy-to-use, everyday mascara that was as easy to apply as it was to take off. Enter Great Lash, the first water-based mascara, which required much less end-of-day scrubbing to fully remove. The tube we see today is extremely similar to its first iteration, and the pop art color scheme was super trendy for the early ’70s.

Now, the formula comes in eight varieties, from black and brown to blue and clear. While it may not provide that showstopping, va-va-voom effect of other mascaras, Great Lash does its job — and then some — as a natural-looking, everyday option. And with 47 years as one of the bestselling beauty products in America, Great Lash is aging quite well indeed.



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