Actually, with an annual consumption estimated to more than a billion units a year, mascara may inflame the entire cosmetics industry with greed. Furthermore, all marketing studies demonstrate the particular status of this product: 54% of women consider they absolutely need mascara, while they are only 18% to say the same about foundation. The proportion is decreasing to 13% for lipsticks, to 8% for blushes, to 4% for nail enamels and 3% for eyes-shadows. Last, but not least, women shoppers are ready to pay premium prices, for their “beloved” mascara. A configuration companies’ cash controllers particularly appreciate.

A short history of mascara

Did you know it? Modern mascara would have been invented at the beginning of this century by a chemist called T.L. Williams, for its sister named Maybel. The formula was based on coal dust mixed with Vaseline. As the idea seemed good, T.L. Williams started a direct-selling business for the product. Thus Maybel and Vaseline were shortened as… Maybelline.

But, it’s only in 1957, that Helena Rubinstein, helped to switch from the old presentation - a mascara-cake made of wax and colour additives that was rubbed with a small brush - to the inseparable brush and tube duo.

A great idea that strongly contributed to the cosmetic industry’s wealth! “A genius’ idea that takes almost 80% of my time,” confirms Nick Thornes, Director of Innovation & Development of Alcan Packaging Beauty.

An innovation-driven market

There would be more than 500 patents regarding this little object that women really adorn. “And there are new patents every day,Nick Thornes highlights.

Among the latest innovations, are the famous vibrating mascaras launched by Estée Lauder and Lancôme andthat Premium Beauty News honoured in a previous article. “Did you know that it is the new Mach 3 Gillette safety razor, with a vibrating head, that stimulated the creativity of marketing and development departments in the main companies at the same time,Thornes comments.

This succession of vibrating mascaras shows the importance of innovation on the market,” says Thomas Sirot, of Geka - Toly, one of the leading global producers of mascaras, with a production surpassing 400 million units every year.

As far as innovation is concerned, Geka - Toly is precisely an expert. Let’s just mention, for instance, the famous spherical brush, which was really a source of a great astonishment to everybody in the industry. “However, let’s repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” Thomas Sirot adds, “this product was Givenchy’s idea. And I must recognise it was, apparently, a very good one, as we are already working on new orders just a few weeks after the product’s launch.

However, the small plastic ball, with its highly flexible plastic hairs, all over the surface, was not easy to design, “we demonstrated our ability to address this technical challenge,” explained Thomas Sirot. “We never gave up and here is our achievement”.

“Don’t give up!” It’s really the main motto at Geka-Toly, where development teams are fully booked today. “Whether for plastic or fibre brushes,” they say. “The plastic brushes category is now a big segment, representing almost 35% of our sales,” Thomas Sirot adds, “but that does not mean we do not innovate in the fibre brush category. On the contrary, the one we recently launched, with its very specific waving shape, demonstrates that we do.

Traditional brushes are not dead

An opinion which is shared by Pierre Marand, Make-up Business Unit Director at Rexam Personal Care, who considers also that “so-called classical brushes are not about to disappear, indeed they are easy to produce and less expensive to launch, they will probably carry on representing 30 to 50% of the market. However, as far as mascara is concerned, innovation is not limited to brushes.

At Texen’s, where the 2007 production exceeded 100 million units, Georges Lachas insists on the fact that “traditional brushes have always been on demand, and it is important not to forget that certain moulded plastic brushes have been unsuccessful.” Last novelty to date at Texen’s, the Iconic brush holders for Dior, the Collagene mascara for L’Oréal Paris and a Guerlain’s mascara.

So, mascara is … an exceptional market! Gerald Oehlorm, Oekametall’s CEO will not say anything different. Historically a specialist of lipsticks, this German company employs 400 staff and achieved a EUR 35 million turnover in 2007. Oekametall’s mascara production merely skyrocketed during the last five years, followed, but at a lower extend, by the lip-glosses production. “It’s true that we invested a lot in the segment, he said, both in injection machines and automated assembling machines. Mascara and lip-gloss now account for 70% of our turnover”.

The company is equipped with six automated assembly lines, also including hot stamping. It was recently decided to integrate the manufacturing of traditional brushes for 1/3 of the demand, as well as a part of the production of plastic brushes. “But I am sure that traditional brushes are not dead, Gerald Oehlhorn states. It’s a product where innovations are still possible and a product that remains quite simple to develop and to adapt, which is far from being true with injected plastic brushes.

The Oekametall’s staff is proud having been able to develop and produce the new Lancôme’s vibrating mascara within four months. “A real challenge,” Gerald Oehlorm underlines, “that initially appeared impossible to address”. And Oekametall can also boast itself to be at the origin of L’Oréal Paris “Extra Volume Collagene” mascara.

Contradictory trends

According to Jean-Louis Mathiez, of Cinqpats, “what’s happening on the mascara segment may really seem absolutely crazy…

Considering the demand from the industry regarding this type of product, he says, I had to make a tremendous work for overlooking the whole history of patents in this market segment. And if I take consideration of patents related to each step in a mascara production process, I have counted not less than 900 patents. With some funny anecdotes, such as the first turning brush, which was designed in 1942, or such as this patent from Moulinex, who was the first to design a turning hydraulic brush in 1976. But it’s mainly during the last decade, and more particularly from 2004, than the first patents regarding electric mascaras do appears. Even leading electronic consumer goods producers, such as Samsung or Matsushita, have obtained patents for vibrating, warming or turning systems.

Actually, there are currently two contradictory trends on the mascara segment. In the one hand, there are high-end products, with high-technology, and on the other hand, there are minimalist products, demanded by low-cost retailers. “In the latter case, the aim is to produce a very simple mascara, at a very low cost,” Jean-Louis Matthias summarizes.

Regarding the future”, he says, “it should remain refreshing! We’re currently working on a new type of plastic brush, which should be a breakthrough innovation within a few months.” To be continued…