Artificial (False) Eyelashes

A number of people have been credited with the invention of false eyelashes including D. W. Griffith (1916), George Westmore (1917), Max Factor (1919) and Karl ‘Charles’ Nessler (1921). However, we have to look back a lot earlier than this to discover their origins.

Sewing in eyelashes

The first method of adding false eyelashes was also the most drastic. The widely reported Parisian beauty technique of sewing hair into the eyelid was carried out without anaesthetics – or with cocaine to numb the pain – and, despite claims to the contrary, would have been very unpleasant.

Truly the inventions this nineteenth century has brought forth are wonderful, but surely one of the most marvellous is this:—The Parisians have found out how to make false eyelashes. I do not speak of the vulgar and well-known trick of darkening the rim round the eye with all kinds of dirty compositions, or the more artistic plan of doing so inside the lid. No, they actually draw a fine needle, threaded with dark hair, through the skin of the eyelid, forming long loops, and, after the process is over (I am told it is a painless one), a splendid dark fringe veils the coquette’s eyes.

(The Newcastle Courant, 1882)

Fortunately, although it was widely reported in the press, I doubt that the practice was common.

Strip lashes

A less invasive method of applying false eyelashes in the nineteenth century was to use an early type of strip lash. Made with human hairs strung together on a backing which was then glued to the upper eyelid, these appear to have been available in Europe at least as early as the 1870s.

Early strip lashes were made by, and probably purchased directly from hairdressers, most of whom were also wigmakers; they built and used the many different types of hair pieces fashionable at the time. Some also made mustaches, whiskers and even eyebrows for theatrical and other clients, and a few appear to have made false eyelashes as well. I surmise that these were not widely available as Willy Clarkson [1861-1934] – a famous English wigmaker who ‘wigged’ most the leading lights of the English stage and made-up many members of the British aristocracy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – made his own false eyelashes when the need arose.

One of the most difficult cases that I have ever had to deal with was of a lady, who, as the result of illness, had lost all her hair, and also her eyebrows and eyelashes. The hair and the eyebrows were easily replaced, but the eyelashes were a different matter, and she grew quite thin and ill through worrying over their loss. When at last she came to me about the matter, I at once recognised the difficulty of the task, but undertook to do my best by her. You can imagine how great were my difficulties when I tell you that I had to make twenty different attempts before I hit upon the right method of accomplishing my object. The hairs had to be fixed with the utmost care on the finest possible foundation into which they were inserted one at a time under a very powerful magnifying glass, but the result was worth the trouble. When all was ready the lady drove up with her husband, and left him in the carriage while the lashes were being adjusted.
You have no idea what a difference the lack of eyelashes makes to a person’s looks, and I was nevermore surprised than by the difference in this lady’s appearance before and after I fixed on her lashes. She had driven up a plain woman, she went away a beauty, and I shall never forget the look of surprise on her husband’s face when he saw her return to him as she had been before her illness.

(Willy Clarkson in The Hairdresser and Toilet Requisites Gazette, July 1909)

By the twentieth century ready made boxed pairs of false eyelashes were being sold in some of the larger cities. The earliest version of these that I know about were made by Charles Nessler; these first appeared in London around 1903, along with sets of false eyebrows.

Charles Nessler

German born Charles Nessler moved from Paris to London in 1901, opened a hairdressing salon in Great Castle Street and patented ‘A new or improved method of and means for the manufacture of artificial eyebrows, eyelashes and the like’ in 1902. Around 1903 he began selling boxed pairs of artificial strip eyelashes made from human hair attached to ‘fish-skin’ – also known as isinglass it was made from fish swim bladders. Later versions of his strip lashes, known as Nestolashes, were available in black, dark brown and brown.

The latest aids to beauty are art eyelashes. They are the invention of a hair specialist in Great Castle Street, London … On the counter were cardboard boxes containing countless cards. On each card was a delicate set of lashes attached to a scarcely visible strip of fish-skin. A small bottle containing a “skin fluid,” patented in America, and two cards complete the outfit. The eyelashes are 2s. 6d. per pair for “society wear,” and 1s. 6d. per pair for theatrical wear. “On our customers first visit,” said the manager, “we fix the skin on the eyelid with the fluid, and the false lashes mix with the lashes of the lady. It is beautiful—beautiful.” The lashes last ten days usually, but twenty days with care. The manager declared that the 2s. 6d. pairs were proof against even a prolonged fit of hysterics.

(Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 1903)

Although false eyelashes were used in the early part of the twentieth century, they would not become really fashionable until the interwar years. The probable reason for this was the rise of Hollywood; it began to dominate the global movie industry at this time, allowing make-up artists like Max Factor and the Westmore brothers to spread their visions of glamour world-wide. Women who wanted to emulate the eyes of film stars like Greta Garbo could use mascara, but they also had the option of applying false eyelashes from suppliers like Nestlé-le Mur or Max Factor.

Applying  Artificial Eyelashes

The above link is to a British Pathé film which shows strip eyelashes being applied in 1930.

False eyelash kits of the time were made from natural hair, mohair or artificial hair attached to isinglass, silk, gauze or some other transparent or flesh-coloured membranous material. The sets of false eyelashes included an adhesive to glue the strips to the eyelid. They could be applied at home but many women opted to have the treatment done at their local beauty salon.

The adhesive, which is packed either in a small phial or a tube, is used lightly on the under-side of the silk strip. This is allowed to dry for a moment, so that the liquid becomes merely sticky. It is then ready to adhere to the skin. The client should close her eyes, and you attach the strip first on the inside near the nose. The strip must be placed along the upper lid as close to the growing lash as possible, and smoothed away from the inside towards the outside of the face. When it is in position the corner of a face towel should be dampened and held over the silk strip, pressing it firmly to the skin. This sets the adhesive. If eyeshadow is to be used, it can be applied over the silk strip and on the lid. It is best to use a dry form of eyeshadow if artificial eyelashes are worn. The necessity for any cosmetique on the lashes will depend upon the natural colour and the colour of the artificial ones. If they are a pretty good match, it will not be necessary to use any colouring, for the lashes will appear thick and long. The natural lashes should be brushed upwards, so that they mingle with the artificial ones.

(The Hairdresser and Beauty Trade, 1934)

Early strip lashes were not without their problems: they came in a limited number of shades so colour matching was a issue; they also had a tendency to lift off on the outer edge of the eyelid or fall off altogether – a problem they shared with strip lashes of the previous century.

False eyelashes are not the perfect inventions they are represented to be. I saw one floating in a cup of tea the other evening, and the lady went on toying with the saucer and conversing, and never for a moment suspected that the left side of her face, by contrast with the right looked rather as if it were slowly recovering from a small explosion of gunpowder.

(The Royal Cornwall Gazette, 1879)

Also, as the angle in which eyelashes grow varies in different people, some women found it hard to get the curl in their false eyelashes to align with their real ones. The invention of the Kurlash tool by William Beldue [1889-1955] in 1923 – which enabled eyelashes to be easily curled – must have been a great help in correcting any misalignment.

1934 Kurlash

Above: 1934 June Knight using an eyelash curler from Kurlash to curl her false eyelashes.

Eyelash grafting

As well as applying strip lashes, some salons in the 1930s offered a service which stuck false hairs one-by-one on to the client’s own lashes.

The fixing of the lashes, one by one, by means of a special adhesive, takes a good hour, and it requires a steadiness of hand and keenness of eyesight on the part of the operator which is the result of long training. It was Madame Antonie, I believe, who first launched the system of fixing the lashes one by one, and this method of attaining the beauty of expression of a Greta Garbo or a Marlène Dietrich—that velvety or mysterious look of the eyes that every pretty woman likes to possess—has entirely superseded the old system among those who can afford to pay the price.

(The Hairdresser and Beauty Trade, 1933)

Referred to as eyelash grafting, it required a great deal of expertise and so was normally only carried out in a beauty salon.

The outfit for grafting eyelashes consists of a small tube of special gum, a packet of lashes, ready curled, a small round china container, a pair of long tweezers, an eyelash brush, and a pair of cuticle scissors.
Lift your client’s chair slightly back so that you do not have to strain over the top of her head, but at the same time you do not want her as far back as for a face treatment. Give her a hand mirror, in which to watch the process. By so doing, you enable her to keep her eyes steady, and prevent her from constantly blinking her eyes. And also you are making the operation more interesting for her. Before applying the lashes, make sure that the eyelid and real lashes are free from any trace of grease or mascara. The safest way to do this is to firmly sponge the closed eyes with a piece of soft muslin, and brush the lashes apart with your eyebrow brush.
Place two or three drops of the gum into your container, which you then place in the hollow of the thumb of your left hand. Sprinkle a dozen or so of the lashes over the back of this hand, and then with your finger slightly lift the eyelid from the eyebrow.
Hold the tweezers in your right hand and pick up one of the lashes. Try to hold it so that only one-quarter of the hair is held in the tweezer. Now dip the lash into the gum, so that half of it is sticky. Now carefully lay this lash along one of the real ones, so that it actually rests on it. I advise you to start with the left eye, and work from the outer corner to the nose.
To begin with, make a framework of about sixteen for either eye, and then cut them. To do this, use your cuticle scissors with the points outwards. The eyes should, of course, be shut for this proceeding.
Cut each hair separately, and so prevent a clubbed appearance.
Now add more lashes, until they are thick enough.
In the case of gaps it is sometimes necessary to lay your lashes slightly across the real ones and so build them up. Be sure you apply them thickly enough, and also that you cut them to a reasonable length. If you do not watch this point, they are apt to look like spider’s legs.
The artificial eyelash should not touch the eyelid, it should be a fraction of an inch away from it. When you have finished, go in front of your client and look up at the eyelashes. This is to ensure that you have left no gaps.
Cut the lashes to suit your client’s eye, but always make them shorter towards the nose.
Properly performed, the method of application should be undetectable even at close quarters. To attain this perfection, you need a great deal of practice, an infinite amount of patience, and a steady hand.
The first point to master is the picking up of the hairs so that they are at the correct angle to apply. This is purely a matter of practice. The actual placing-on of the lashes is where your patience is necessary.

(Eaton, 1936)

The treatment was more expensive than strip lashes but many beauty specialists considered it to be more effective; it was certainly more lucrative.

You can introduce this treatment in two ways. First as an application at a fixed cost, and any consequent repair charge according to the time taken. Secondly, you can charge an inclusive fee for the application, and six consecutive weekly repairs. I do not advise anyone to keep on the lashes for longer than six weeks before they are completely removed and fresh ones applied.

(Eaton, 1936)

Although eyelash grafting avoided the lifting off or falling off problems associated with strip lashes, getting the curl right was still a issue as there was very little variation in the false eyelashes made at the time.

The strips with the eyelash affixed are not comfortable on the eyelid, but some people still prefer them to the newer method of eyelash grafting. Each lash is grafted with gum on to the existing lash, and except for feeling a little heavy, there is no sense of discomfort. The lashes are really too long when applied, and have to be trimmed to a suitable length, but the main drawback here is that the curl is also cut away, leaving the eyelash standing out rather straight, which does not look, especially from the sideview, exactly artistic.

(The Hairdresser and Beauty Trade, 1937)

Postwar period

After the disruptions of the Second World War, manufacturing of false eyelashes resumed. In the 1950s, paler pinks became more common in lipsticks. These lighter lipstick colours reduced the prominence of the lips and helped to shift the central focus of face make-up from the mouth to the eyes. This trend culminated in the European look of big eyes in a pale face epitomised by models like Twiggy in the 1960s.

Making Artificial Eyelashes

The above link is to a 1949 British Pathé film which shows women making the false eyelashes out of human hair.

Along with wigs, there were technical developments in the manufacture of false eyelashes after the war. The most important of these was probably the introduction of nylon. As false lashes became more popular in the late 1950s and 1960s, the range of materials used to make them expanded to include a wide variety of real and synthetic materials, with the more expensive forms being made from mink, sable, seal or human hair (Corson, 1972, p. 560). Synthetic lashes were the most economical, but they had a pre-shaped curl which was difficult to change. Those made with human hair were more flexible and could be curled after they were applied. Lashes made with fur were heavy and hot to wear and were generally restricted to cold climates or used for evening wear.

Rolling eyelashes

Above: Eyelashes made with real hair were flexible enough to be shaped (Modified from Gerson, 1992).

The swinging sixties

The 1960s were a highpoint for false eyelashes in the twentieth century. By 1968, American sales of false eyelashes had jumped to more than 20,000,000 pairs a year (Australian Women’s Weekly, 1968) and were being made by a large number cosmetic manufacturers including Yardley, Seventeen, Revlon, Lenthéric and Max Factor as well as specialist manufacturers such as Eylure under names such as ‘First Flutter’, ‘Luv Lashes’, ‘Sweepy Lashes’, ‘Sidesweep’ and ‘Fashion Lashes’. Although much of the advertising was aimed at younger women, many older women were following the fashion trend as well.

False eyelashes of the period were produced in a wide range of lengths, thicknesses, styles and colours (not just blacks and browns); Eylure, for example, made over 30 different styles ranging from more natural lashes made from real hair to forms with added paste jewellery for evening wear. Women could apply them at home, have them added at their local beauty salon, or go to one of the many specialist Lash Bars that sprang up at the time.

The eyelashes were sold as pairs of strip lashes or in sets of individual hairs. Individual lashes were fixed directly to the eyelids rather than glued to a natural lash, as had been the practice in the 1930s. Strip lashes were attached in single, double or triple rows using natural or highly coloured lashes, depending on the effect looked for. Some strip lashes required feathering – to avoid the hard lines sometimes seen when strip lashes were used in the past – but many manufacturers sold lash sets that were already feathered for a more natural look.

Lashes trimmed and feathered

Above: Lashes being trimmed (left) and feathered (right) (Modified from Gerson, 1992).

The lashes were glued to the upper eyelid – using surgical adhesive, eyelash adhesive or some other gum – but some women also fixed them on the lower lids as well – a new development for the time.

Most lashes are sold in a standard length and width. They are shaped by placing them on a flat surface and cutting the individual hairs with cuticle scissors, unevenly, and at an angle to avoid an obvious blunt end.
Likewise, lashes should not be blunt and square at the outer corner of the eye, but rather slightly longer and tapered – similar to your own – for a natural effect.
Make sure your lashes fit your lid. Snip off any excess.
The only necessary tools are:
1. Mirror – always below eye-level so you are looking down.
2. Tube of adhesive – surgical adhesive is the cheapest and best.
To apply, hold lashes firmly between two fingers (or tweezers) and spread adhesive in a thin line, with a toothpick, along the lash base. Wait a moment, then apply to lid.
Starting about a quarter of an inch from the inner corner of the eye, hold directly in front of your eye and affix directly above the roots of your own lashes.
That is all there is to it. The entire application takes less than two minutes.

(Australian Women’s Weekly, 1968)


Lash Shapes (Modified from the Australian Women’s Weekly, 1968).

Some women cut their strip lashes into segments so that they could apply them in groups for more natural or other effects. This led manufacturers to being retailing boxes of false hairs grouped into clusters along with their usual strip and individual lash sets – another new development for the time.

Using a cuticle clipper, separate the false lashes into small tufts of two to three lashes and place them on a tissue. If they are of the same length, they should be cut to different lengths to give them as natural an appearance as possible. They must be longer near the outer portion of the eye and shorter towards the inside. Place some glue on your hand, and using a pair of tweezers, pick up the lashes and dip the base of the lashes in the glue until they are well soaked. Place the false eyelashes at the base of the natural eyelashes. Pick up another tuft and continue in the same way for the rest of the upper and lower lids. Single false eyelashes can be kept in place for several days as long as the eyes are cleansed with a special lotion and not with ordinary oil.

(Tremblay, 1978, pp. 196-197)

Women who were big reusers of false eyelashes ran the risk of glue and other material building up along the base of the lashes after repeated application. This needed to be removed by soaking the strip lashes in white spirits, dry cleaning fluid or some other solvent to soften the gum, which was then gently eased off.


As with many fashions the use of false eyelashes went to extremes – such as the introduction of types made of feathers, made of faux gold or silver or encrusted with paste jewellery – and then faded. As the fashion trends moved towards a more ‘natural’ look in the 1970s, eyes and eyelashes continued to retain their importance, though now the trend was to have them made up with lash extending mascaras.

Updated: 6th May 2016


The Australian women’s weekly. Sydney, Australia: Author.

Corson, R. (1972). Fashions in makeup: From ancient to modern times. London: Peter Owen.

Corson, R. & Glavan, J. (2001). Stage makeup (9th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Eaton, D. A. (1936). Applying false eyelashes. Beauty Culture. 7(20), 10.

Gerson, J. (1992). Milady’s standard textbook for professional estheticians (7th ed.). Milady Publishing Company.

The hairdresser and toilet requisites gazette. London, England.

McLaughlin, T. (1972). The gilded lily. London: Cassell & Co. Ltd.

Tremblay, S. (1978). The professional skin care manual. London: Prentice-Hall.

Verni, M. (1946). Modern beauty culture (2nd ed.). London: New Era Publishing.