The Science Behind ‘Mascara Face’ Revealed

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when a woman applies mascara, she will contort her face into all manner of strange expressions.

See: Best Mascara – Our Favourite For Mega Lashes

Usually that takes place in the form of wrinkle-inducing raised eyebrows, mouth agape, and eyes popping wide as if Ryan Gosling himself had appeared naked before them. (Because who’d close their eyes if that happened?)

This face has become known as ‘mascara face’, and it’s now been revealed that there’s a scientifically-backed reason for WHY we do what we do.

Rockefeller University neuroscientist, Zeeshan Ozair has told mental_floss that for some of us, ‘mascara face’ is a physiological fluke – kind of like a knee-jerk reaction.

(Ok brace yourself for the science).

‘The trigeminal nerve controls the movement of muscles of mastication, which open and close your jaw,’ Ozair says.

This is a bit more like our own mascara face…

‘Two other nerves, the facial nerve and the oculomotor nerve, together control the movement of eyeballs and eyelids. Those three nerves all originate in close proximity to one another in the brainstem at a point of origin called a nucleus.

‘In several people, connections develop between these different brainstem nuclei. As a consequence of these collaterals, when one nerve is activated, the other is as well.

That last bit means, that if you’ve been doing mascara face for a while, chances are your brain is used to it, and therefore sends a signal to your eyes and face each and every time you get that wand in your hand, triggering the reaction again and again.


However, Ozair adds that, if we tried really hard, we might be able to stop our ‘mascara face’ from happening, much like you could stop a knee jerk from happening if you really concentrated apparently (although we already know this is impossible for us.

‘Voluntary control almost always takes precedence’, Ozair says. ‘You could stop the mouth movement voluntarily,’ he says.

Hmm we’ll try and bear that in mind next time we’re applying mascara in a packed train carriage in front of 4 hot guys…

By Georgina Lawton