Back when I was at school, a rumour went around that if your pupils appeared larger when you looked at someone, it meant you fancied them. A good month was then spent gazing into each other’s eyes as part of a strange, prepubescent mating game. Though our amateur analysis wasn’t really reliable, it was based in fact. A study conducted by the University of Chicago showed that if someone looks at something they like, their pupils will involuntary dilate.

Our eyes often say more than our words. We can immediately see tenderness or passion, anger or hurt, fear or malice. Pupil dilation, blink rates, direction of gaze, widening of the eyes – they all send very clear messages. But invariably, once we hit our teenage years, we learn to manipulate with our eyes too, dressing lashes up with mascara to various degrees depending on the look we want to convey. Make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury agrees: “I was 13 when I tried my first mascara – the reaction from my family and peers was so dramatic, it was as if I was being noticed as an adult, and it gave me such an incredible confidence boost that I’ve never looked back.” In fact global market researchers Mintel have noted that mascara is the most purchased make-up item of 2017 so far, and with a host of high tech new products promising the biggest lashes with the easiest application, it seems it may be the magic wand we all need when it comes to strengthening our gaze.

When told they could only use three items of make-up, 76% of readers placed mascara at the top

Eyes on the prize

According to Jess Henley, psychotherapist and mind coach, “Our eyes pick up lots of subtle messages in that we don’t even register cognitively. Things such as body language, or the way someone is presenting themselves – our eyes recognise this and we unconsciously store the information.” 

Being confident enough to hold someone’s gaze is a vital life skill when it comes to getting what you want, like a pay rise. “When you feel intimidated, you create an illusion that the other person is more powerful than you are,” explains Henley, “which means that you often look away, fearing they can see what you’re thinking.” If you want somebody to do something for you or you want to get results from your staff, look them in the eye. “By connecting to the person, you make it personal. Once you make something personal, the results are much better.” 

To hold a gaze we need to feel confident and to send this signal, we need help. In her new book The Makeup Of A Confident Woman, which feels part self-help book, part-practical guide, make-up artist Trish McEvoy suggests, “All of us have one or two products we can’t go without. For some it’s foundation, for others it’s eyeliner. I live in the real world and I don’t have a tremendous amount of time, but that one product, applied properly, makes me feel confident.” For McEvoy, it’s BB cream, but for me, it’s always going to be mascara. 

And it seems you agree. For the past few seasons, beauty trends dictated that it was all about the brows (thanks in large part to Cara Delevingne), but now our attention has moved a few millimetres down. Only 16% of women bought an eyebrow definer in the past 12 months, compared to 57% of women for mascara. In fact, when told to imagine they could only use three items of make-up for the rest of the year, 76% of Stylist readers placed mascara at the top. Mascara is quick, it’s democratising, but best of all we can all do it, unlike a statement red lipstick or complex eyeliner flick. But finding the perfect mascara is like winning the lottery. It can take a lot of dud tickets until we find our winner.

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Lash technology

My own initiation into the world of mascara came early. Aged 11, I begged my mother to buy me a clear mascara from Natural Collection. It was the height of cool. Terry Barber, director of make-up artistry for Mac agrees. “Most women’s first foray into beauty is with a mascara wand. It’s the ultimate statement of femininity really, what you do with the lashes. Brows are just brows. Lashes can tell a multitude of stories.” Tilbury feels the same: “Mascara is my obsession and I have high standards when it comes to finding the one.” But not all mascaras are created equal. It took Tilbury 11 months to create Legendary Lashes Mascara (£25). ‘Elastic’ polymers extend lashes out and up like a piece of elastic, which are held in place thanks to a unique blend of quick-drying waxes. Tilbury then infused the formula with marine glycogen, a hair tonic known to stimulate the growth of the hair follicle so that with continued use, lashes themselves grow longer. 

“Innovation is definitely leading this growth in mascara sales,” says Barber. You only have to look at the latest launches to feel like beauty companies have taken inspiration from Nasa scientists and AI developers, fusing both desirability and technology in one slim, chic-looking tube. Take Givenchy’s latest mascara launch as an example of application innovation. Noir Interdit (£26.50) is the first ever mascara wand with a flexible arm that you can bend at a 90-degree angle, enabling you to coat every lash fibre from root to tip without accidently poking yourself in the eye. The formula is equally as trail-blazing, fortified with black rose oil to condition lashes and a strengthening blend of vitamins. Not only that, quick-setting waxes mean that as you lift the wand, lashes remain in the curl. 

Dior has also set a new benchmark with Pump ’n’ Volume Mascara (£25.50), with its ‘squeezy’ rubber mascara tube. Squeeze it to warm the ‘bouncy’ formula, making it more fluid, then the chicest looking wand I’ve ever seen, covered in flexible spikes, combs the malleable formula through lashes for absolute separation. For incredibly fat, super dark lashes, this is the one. If volume is your thing, Lancôme’s latest lash innovation Monsieur Big Mascara (£21) really is big. Huge, in fact. It boasts large, wavy brush fibres that hold an insane amount of product, so much so that lashes look a little overloaded at first, in a sexy Sixties way, but another comb through with the wand soon sorts that out. And it seems that the future for lash curlers is bleak if the latest formulas are anything to go by. Clinique consultants in Latin America discovered that women were using spoons to get a continuous, natural looking arched curl rather than the pinched, right angles that lash curlers often give. The new ‘push-up’ formula within Clinique’s High Impact Lash Elevating Mascara (£18) borrows curl-forming polymers from hair product technology and encases them within an airy, whipped mousse that lifts lashes, without weighing them down. Finally, for the indecisive among us, Mac’s Bold & Bad Lash Mascara (£19.50) has the tiniest micro-thin brush created to do bottom lashes and get right into the roots, plus a big broom of a brush that gives you volume. “You can get thickness or accuracy, or both, switching your look up with one mascara,” explains Barber.

For an elongated, winged lash, hold the wand diagonally across the lashes and pull the brush up and out at the outer edges

Subliminal messaging

Now you have the armour needed to frame your eyes and fix your gaze, how else can you cheat the system with your eyes? According to the theory of Iridology, your eyes mirror your health, playing a vital medical role in non-verbal communication. Visible white areas in a woman’s eyes plus long, thick lashes are both excellent indicators of health and, as Henley points out, “People are always attracted to happiness, so if you can make the whites of your eyes sparkle and look brighter, you’ll attract people much more easily.” There is no better make-up artist trick to counteracting redness in tired eyes than with a dark navy mascara. Look to Nars, who this month release their famed Audacious Mascara (£21) in Minerve, an inky navy hue. So subtle is the colour that it still looks black to the naked eye but so genius is its colour sorcery that the whites of the eyes appear brighter. Benefit They’re Real! Mascara (£20.50) is the UK’s best-selling mascara but instead of black, try it in Beyond Blue, for eyes that look more awake. And finally, give Estée Lauder’s Crystal Lash Topcoat (£21) a go. Like whitening eye drops in a wand, pliable film-formers adhere colourless ‘crystals’ to your lashes which refract light to amp up your regular mascara and make eyes gleam. 

When it comes to application techniques, your wand can convey a myriad of different lash messages. For an elongated, winged lash, hold the wand diagonally across the lashes and pull the brush up and out at the outer edges. For more of a dolly lash, hold the brush vertically and pull up through the lashes from root to tip to create a wide-eyed effect, or for a glamorous, false-looking lash without the faff, hold the brush horizontally, nestled into the lash line and pull up through lashes in a zig-zag action. 

Fast-forward 21 years from my first foray into mascara and I’m still in awe of a great pair of lashes and their profound ability to transform a person’s face. More than just a gimmick, when you feel confident in how you look, you search out eye contact. Politicians ‘sweep’ the room with their gaze. Salespeople know to look at each member of their audience. “When women feel good about themselves, it pours into every part of their day,” explains psychotherapist Rachel Shattock Dawson. Meaning mascara can be one of the most important tools a woman has in her grasp.

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