Call it the mascara wars. In what has become the busiest makeup category, cosmetics companies are battling over a hot piece of beauty real estate: our lashes. The result is makeup bags and beauty counters filled with wands and formulas that do everything from vibrate to attach hairlike fibres to your lashes.

Last year, close to 120 mascara products were launched in Canada; in the United States, it was 349. And those figures don’t include the recent avalanche of lash-growth stimulators. The pace is remarkable, given that we’re talking about the 90 to 150 little hairs that grow along our upper lids and the 70 to 80 on our lower lids. “It’s one makeup item that women can’t live without,” says Tom Pecheux, creative makeup director for Estée Lauder. “And women always want something new or different for their lashes, whether it’s curl, length or volume.” Debra Coleman-Nally, director of technical communications research and development for Maybelline, says that her company’s marketing research reveals that women want mascaras that will “resonate with their personality, be occasion-specific and sculpt lashes to their desired end look.” These high expectations have led to a flurry of innovations that can be attributed, in part, to the special challenge of the Asian market, where women struggle with short, extremely straight lashes that tend to grow downward.

Improvements in formulas are part of the story. A recent addition to Maybelline’s roster of more than 25 magic wands, The Falsies mascara boasts tiny adhering fibres that texturize and thicken lashes. And treatment enters the equation with products like DiorShow Extase, a lash-sprouting cocktail that combines a volumizing powder with the brand’s patented “ceramide-like” SR38 complex, which conditions and repairs lashes.

But the real news is in the applicators. Beyond the buzz of developments like battery-powered vibrating and rotating mascaras, such as Estée Lauder’s TurboLash and Lancôme’s Ôscillation, today’s battle lines are being drawn over wands.

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Twisted-wire mascara brushes have been the standard for decades: They are easily customized and come in shapes that resemble everything from Christmas trees to pregnant caterpillars. But it was the launch of CoverGirl’s LashExact in 2006 that ushered in a new era: the age of the moulded polymer—a discovery that turned out the first plastic applicator. With its 2003 acquisition of a breakthrough moulding technology, Bavaria-based GEKA became capable of creating nylon-like “bristles” on a flexible core, turning the company into a major player and launching a wireless revolution. Since then, GEKA’s clients and their competitors have served up a raft of moulded-brush mascaras—from CoverGirl LashBlast Length (currently North America’s bestseller and its “longest ever” brush, featuring more than 450 bristles) to Chanel’s Inimitable (with its chic white-bristles-on-a-black-core brush that delivers “three-dimensional results”). And the pace isn’t likely to slow anytime soon.

“We’re constantly evolving the technology because the market is so intensely active,” says Adrian Hook, vice-president of sales for GEKA USA. He cites one example: Givenchy raised the stakes by requesting a totally spherical brush and—voila!— Phenomen’Eyes mascara, with a patented applicator that looks like a medieval torture device, was born. L’Oréal Paris countered with Telescopic Explosion, featuring a budget-friendly ball-shaped brush of its own. What’s up next? A wand with a bristle density that’s 300 percent greater than anything before it and the very first “push-up” brush, with bristles that cover the entire tip of the wand. Both will be launched by North American brands in the near future, says Hook. And the battle continues.

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