“Have you seen the staple trick?” I have not. Benefit’s Maggie Ford Danielson (her mother and aunt founded the brand 45 years ago) disappears from our Zoom. A few moments later she is back, breathless, with a candy-pink stapler. She shakes the staples into her palm. Then, like a motion played in reverse, the staples start floating up and off of her hand, rising, and then clinging to a mascara wand she is dangling just above them.
The wand is not magic; it is magnetic — a mascara novelty that makes for more than just a fun
party trick. Benefit’s research and development teams were looking for a way to make a lengthening mascara that would somehow stand out from all the other lengthening mascaras. It had to deliver a jaw-dropping lifting, elongating effect. They experimented with new ratios of standard ingredients, then reexamined what a mascara could be, considering some unusual sources of inspiration.
“We looked at rulers and string and gum and spaghetti and all these things,” says Kate Helfrich, senior vice president of global product and service innovation. When a formula inspired by quick-dry nail polish didn’t pan out (Helfrich recalls it made lashes look scary, chunky, and spidery), the team became intrigued by the unique pull of magnetism, “the way you can draw something across the floor, across the table,” Helfrich says. “It was kind of an insane idea. Nobody had done it.”
But how, exactly, could a magnet make lashes longer? It’s thanks to ferromagnetism, a fancy term for the way in which certain materials — like iron — are attracted to magnets. See, iron oxides are a type of powdered pigment that come in many colors (yellow, red, black), and they’re already commonly used in mascaras, blushes… just about any color cosmetic you can think of.
But magnets aren’t flying off your fridge onto your eye shadow palette because iron oxide pigments are not typically used in high enough concentrations to interact with other magnetic objects, explains cosmetic chemist Ginger King. But if you did really pack a mascara formula with iron oxide pigments, you’d get impressive lengthening effects. “It’s like adding fibers,” King says. “The particles will automatically volumize and lengthen the eyelashes.”
The challenge is getting enough of the pigments from the tube to lashes — and that’s where the magnetic eureka moment comes in. The Benefit team embedded a small, rod-shaped magnet within the mascara wand’s brush to attract the iron oxide particles and let you carry them where they need to go. This part was frustratingly hard to pull off, Helfrich admits. There were (many, many) magnets too weak to interact with the mascara formula; another was so strong it ended up pulling mascara right off the lashes.
Further complicating matters, the plastic combs that worked for other mascaras often blunted the magnet’s force. After some 75 tries, the team found a perfect match: a not-too- weak, not-too-strong Goldilocks magnet teamed with a comb created out of a thin, flexible plastic. “They got it just right,” says King. “You get better payoff and lashes are coated more evenly so they look longer.”
The result: the Benefit Cosmetics They’re Real! Magnet Extreme Lengthening Mascara, which features a satisfyingly (not clumsy) thick formula that cleanly combs through lashes. I, for one, find it to be a godsend for my thick, downturned outer lashes. I watch as they are lifted by the comb, and they are so well coated that the formula holds them there — a first for me without a curler. Some oily-skinned testers reported that it was on the smudgy side, but staff writer Nicola Dall’Asen says it was “hands-down the best mascara I’ve ever used.” So maybe it is a magic wand after all.