Who Invented Lashes?
False eyelashes have appeared in many different iterations throughout history, alongside many different types of lash enhancements. It was a long road to the falsies we know today and a slightly longer road to Lashify’s revolutionary DIY lash extension system.
One great idea deserves another, so let’s take a look at the history of fake eyelashes.
Let’s take it back to ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians of all genders were known to accentuate their eyes with kohl, an early prototype of modern eyeliner. Kohl, which is still available today in some countries, is a powder comprised of finely crushed stibnite and lead compounds.
Today we know that lead in cosmetics can pose serious health risks, so you may be surprised to learn that kohl eye makeup containing lead was available worldwide until the 1990s. In ancient times, they combined kohl with an assortment of ointments and brushed it onto the lash line and lashes as a mascara/eyeliner two-in-one.
Over time, the kohl acted as a natural dye for the fine eyelash fibers, creating a semi-permanent lash-enhancing treatment. Kohl, as a cosmetic, spread across the Mediterranean and middle east, all the way to southeast Asia.
A stone’s throw away in ancient Rome, lashes took their next cultural step. Pliny the Elder philosophized that long, dark, thick eyelashes were a symbol of virtues like youth and chastity. He theorized that excessive sex caused eyelashes to fall out.
He was wrong, of course, but the result of his announcement has had a lasting benefit: Roman women finding and developing means to keep their lashes long and full even as they age. When you wear your lashes and eyeliner today, you have something in common with women from ancient times.
Medieval Times (1400s)
For about a century during the middle ages, women in Europe had a very unique and unpleasant beauty standard: complete hairlessness. Hairlessness was associated with chastity and holiness, so women of high status plucked the hair from their lashes, brows, and hairlines completely off.
This is why women have such odd hairlines in the period's art: they would pluck them back that far. Having a hairless face was a symbol of status and purity. As one might expect, this line of thinking was handed down to the women of society from the church.
The church decreed that any display of hair was a display of “erotic disposition,” and good, pious women should never give any such display. Good thing their skirts were already so long.
After plucking out their brows, lashes, and hairlines, it’s no wonder their portraits look a little off by today’s standards. Luckily, this social expectation didn’t last long since eyelashes serve practical purposes, like keeping dirt and bacteria out of your eyes.
It wasn’t until Queen Elizabeth I took the throne that European eyelash and eye makeup styles changed. The court was fascinated with her red hair and matching lashes. Instead of plucking, the court became obsessed with dying their hair and lashes with the juice of red berries to achieve a “royal” look.
This is perhaps the first known example of dyed hair and colored lashes as a fashion trend. Some cultures around the globe dyed their hair as a cultural practice, but those practices were unlike the short-lived and aesthetically-motivated fashion trends in 16th-century England.
In the 19th century, Parisian women literally surgically sewed human hair into their eyelids. Sound extreme? It was.
This dangerous and painful trend stuck around Europe until at least the turn of the century, about 20 years. The procedure involved taking hair from the wearer’s head, threading it through a small needle, and literally sewing it into the eyelids.
Magazines and social publications of the time spoke highly of its dramatic, beautiful effects but neglected to mention the horrific side effects, like infection and having a needle in your eye.
German hairdresser Karl Nessler filed a patent in the UK for weaving artificial hair into lash and brow enhancements. He sold these extensions in his London salon starting in 1903. This patent formed the modern basis for the semi-permanent salon eyelash extensions we know today. Remember his name; we’ll meet him again later.
In the 20th century, the US and Canada saw their first legal patent for disposable eyelash extensions. Anna Taylor, a Canadian inventor, developed and patented her glued-on lashes. Her design included a curved strip of fabric with small, human hairs stitched in.
This design was revolutionary in the history of false eyelashes. The glue used to adhere these lashes to the lash line was not specially formulated for safety or cosmetic use, nor was it even as safe as today’s non-toxic craft glue.
Today, we cringe at the idea of putting craft glue anywhere near our lashes, but in the early 20th century, the general public simply didn’t know about the permanent side effects of toxic glues. This patent formed the modern basis of the strip lashes we can buy at drug stores and beauty supply stores today.
Just after Taylor acquired her patent, two similar lash enhancements were taking root on opposite sides of the country.
In 1915 in New York City, Karl Nessler (remember him from London?) had come over from Europe to develop a new means of lash enhancement here in America. He had already perfected his craft of hair perming, which he opened a New York salon for in 1915, so his next invention brought perming to lashes.
This new patent used chemicals to curl the lashes around a small rod. This was the modern precursor to the lash lifts of today. Aside from being a renowned hair stylist and inventor, Nessler was a clever businessman: he (intentionally or not) created a cultural battleground around wearing false eyelashes and lash enhancements, pitting men and women against each other.
He hired chorus girls to wear these lashes around his salon and bat their eyes as both a marketing tool to women and a taunt to men. This is the origin of that pernicious idea that a woman who wears makeup is lying about her appearance: the “take her swimming on the first date” mentality that women of today still have to argue with.
In 1916, in Hollywood, California, film director D.W. Griffith was dissatisfied with the way a particular actress’s eyelashes were (or rather were not) appearing on film. Actress Seena Owen was the star of D.W. Griffith’s second major film, Intolerance.
Seena Owen was already in an elaborate Babylonian costume, and Griffith decided that her lashes needed to match the grandiosity of the rest of the costume. So the story goes, Griffith asked the wigmakers to create something like a wig for her eyelashes to make them twice as long.
The wigmaker designed something similar to Taylor’s patent, involving the actress’s own human hair and glue on the eyelids. The world may never know if one of those skilled makeup artists developed their own version of Taylor’s false lashes or if they knew about Taylor’s lashes and tried their own version with a different adhesive.
The makeup artists affixed these lashes to Owen’s eyes with spirit gum, a strong latex-based adhesive often used to affix prosthetics onto actors both onstage and on screen. However, Spirit gum is not meant to go near the eyes, which Owens learned promptly when she supposedly returned to set the next day with her eyes swollen shut.
Her co-star, Lillian Gish, recounted that morning on set in her memoir and pointed out that, luckily, all of Owen’s important scenes had already been shot, so her swollen eyes never appeared in the film. The lack of the after-effects onscreen likely helped in the coming decades, when false lashes became a staple of stage and screen makeup kits.
Thanks to their popularity among glamorous women, glue-on false lashes became trendy for young American women. The flappers of the roaring 20s frequently tried to imitate the eye makeup looks of early movie stars using false lashes.
In the 1930s, artificial lashes that made no secret about being fake were on trend: many were styled with platinum beads, trimmed with rhinestones, or painted in bold colors like gold. Ladies went for long, long lashes, so long that sometimes they would hang like curtains on the eyes. Vogue was an early advocate of the stylistic power of false lashes, promising that the lashes would supply “bewildering length.”
In the 1960s, across Europe and the US, English model and actress Twiggy was the icon of all things fashion and style. She had iconically bold eye makeup, and lash looks that involved wearing lash extensions on her upper and lower eyelids.
In magazines, major cosmetic manufacturers challenged ladies to find their personalized “eye-dentity” among approximately 20 different lash styles. Throughout the 1960s, about 20 million pairs of at-home false lashes were sold. Since then, artificial lashes have been permanently cemented in the landscape of fashion trends across North America.
The Early 2000s
After a dip in popularity in the 90s, false lashes came back in a big way at the turn of the century. Thanks to J-Lo’s luxurious lashes at the 2001 Academy Awards, individual lash extensions took off in popularity.
In 2014, Katy Stoka invented the world’s first magnetic eyelashes. Magnetic lashes have since become quite popular, with many companies offering their own takes on the concept. Magnetic eyeliner was developed in 2018 by Laura Hunter.
2017 – Lashify Changes Everything
Until 2016, artificial eyelashes essentially only came in two flavors: salon extensions or strip lashes. Then, in 2017 Lashify’s own Sahara Lotti revolutionized lash extensions by patenting and launching the world’s first DIY lash extension system.
Sahara Lotti is the founder and CEO of Lashify. Driven by her entrepreneurial spirit, she spent two years developing Lashify before the product’s launch. Since 2017, Lashify’s innovations have received over 70 patents and 50 trademarks internationally.
Lashify’s Gossamer lash extensions have been on display on a myriad of red carpets, adorning the eyes of celebrities like Lupita Nyong’o, Nicole Kidman, and Michelle Yeoh. Under Lotti’s leadership, Lashify has amassed 150,000 customers worldwide and thousands of five-star reviews from customers and pros alike.
Let’s hear from Sahara Lotti herself:
“When I invented the Lashify system in 2016, there was nothing, absolutely NOTHING, in the marketplace except for little tiny clusters that wouldn’t stick with anything other than super glue or those mediocre knotted trios and strip lashes…there was no under-lash method to apply these unmade lashes. Bonding, fusing, sealing, stacking — these are all concepts that I created out of desperation, honestly! There was also no adhesive formulated to be applied on the actual lash with a brush. A multiple clustered PBT lash that was light enough to adhere to the natural lash? Didn't exist. A Spine? Didn't exist.”
So in an act of original brilliance, Sahara Lotti brought all those things into existence. Every single part of the Lashify system is revolutionary: the lashes themselves, the spines of the lashes, the adhesive, the applicator, and even the side of the natural lash you apply it to!
“My sole focus was on creating this new type of magical lash extension that I could actually apply myself. It took an incredible amount of tenacity I didn't even know I had…I knew it was going to change the whole industry,” said Lotti.
Lashify’s DIY lash extension system is exactly the revolution that the history of false lashes had been waiting for, so it’s not surprising other industry players wish they had thought of it first. Many companies, like KISS, have publicly tried to copycat Lotti’s patented system.
Patent infringement isn’t cute, even if imitation is a kind of flattery. Don’t worry, though. Lotti’s a badass: she took them to court and won. Don’t mess with the best!