This Mascara Made Hundreds Of Women In The '30s Go Blind

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but for hundreds of women in the 1930s, beauty actually made them blind.

A “lash beautifier” of the time called Lash Lure lured women in with the promise of darker, fuller-looking eyelashes - but instead of delivering lush lashes, Lash Lure delivered mascara that caused women to go blind, and in some extreme cases, to die. So what is Lash Lure?

Lash Lure was an old timey makeup product designed to dye eyelashes and eyebrows darker. And pre-FDA, cosmetics weren’t regulated the way they are now - that’s how harmful ingredients and allergens made their way into makeup, causing women to go blind, develop dermatitis, and become susceptible to deadly bacterial infections.

The epidemic was so traumatizing that the FDA campaigned for stronger legislation around makeup ingredients, and even got Eleanor Roosevelt’s support in passing stricter guidelines for cosmetic formulations. Here’s the story of Lash Lure.

  • Lash Lure Was Essentially Hair Dye For Your Lashes

    Lash Lure Was Essentially Hair Dye For Your Lashes
    Photo: Classic Films / Flickr

    The 1930s "lash beautifier" Lash Lure was a cosmetic dye meant for eyelashes and eyebrows. In effect, it should've given women darker, fuller, and more beautiful lashes and brows - and for some women, it did just that. For other women, however, Lash Lure was a beauty nightmare.

  • Dyes Became More Popular Than Mascara

    While mascara did exist in the '30s, lash and brow dyes were a more popular product, especially in beauty salons. Lash Lure wasn't the only one on the market, either - products like Di-Lash, Coloura, Ey-Tec, Ey-dolize, Perma Coleur and Larieuse did pretty much the same thing as Lash Lure, and even contained some of the same harmful ingredients. Lash Lure was the only company with a product that led to blindness, however, and the FDA singled out Lash Lure in their campaign for stricter makeup laws.

  • How It Caused Blindness (And Death)

    The main ingredient in Lash Lure was paraphenylenediamine, also known as PPD. This coal tar dye is now a known allergen, but at the time, there hadn't been a lot of studies done on allergic reactions. For some women, Lash Lure was totally safe - for others, Lash Lure “caused horrific blisters, abscesses and ulcers on the face, eyelids and eyes." It wasn't until a 52-year-old women succumbed to blindness and then death from a resulting bacterial infection that people discovered the harmful effects of PPD. 

  • This Woman's Lash Lure Experience Was Horrific

    This Woman's Lash Lure Experience Was Horrific
    Photo: Kevin Fitzpatrick / Flickr

    The most famous Lash Lure victim had no idea that eyebrow dye would change the course of her life. After she plucked her eyebrows out, she had a salon paint the area with Lash Lure to create the illusion of full, dark brows. Since her skin had open wounds from plucking, the Lash Lure caused her to develop a Staph infection. Her eyes soon swelled shut, she developed a 104 degree fever, and within a week she had a serious case of conjunctivitis. On the 8th day of battling her infections from Lash Lure, she died.

  • Allergy Treatment Wasn't Available At The Time

    Lash Lure was deadly in the 1930s because proper study hadn't been done on allergens, allergic reactions, and treatments for such problems. When the PPDs in the product caused women to have allergic reactions on their eyes, there was essentially nothing to be done. Today, that isn't the case. PPDs are still used in a small percentage of cosmetics and hair dyes, and any allergic reactions women may have to PPDs can be treated quickly and easily with topical creams and antibiotics.

  • The FDA Campaigned Against Lash Lure And Wanted Better Regulations For Cosmetics

    The FDA Campaigned Against Lash Lure And Wanted Better Regulations For Cosmetics
    Photo: UNC Greensboro Special / Flickr

    When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in 1933, his administration planned to revise the 1906 Food and Drugs Act to include stronger regulations within the cosmetic industry. To drive their point home, the FDA set up exhibits at fairs around the country - known as The American Chamber of Horrors - featuring before and after photos of women affected by Lash Lure, under the headline "Cosmetics are not subject to the present law. Some are dangerous."