Cake mascara, incredibly popular in the first half of the twentieth century, is formulated as a hard, square “cake” of product. Activated with water and a brush, it creates a mascara paste that can be applied to tint and define the eyelashes. Bésame Cosmetics has one of the most popular contemporary versions of this product in their Cake Mascara, available in three shades: Black, Brown and Purple. I purchased the Purple shade to find out if this mascara formula with vintage charm could satisfy my twenty-first century desire for beautiful, dark lashes.
Find it HERE
Tested April 2020
There’s a scene in the 1930 film The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel) where Marlene Dietrich’s character, a cabaret singer, spits into a box of cake mascara and applies it to her eyelashes before a show. While I can do without the whole spit part, it’s a memorable scene and a reminder that, although the desire to define and darken the eyelashes is nothing new, mascara as a beauty product has changed quite dramatically over the last 100 years. Bésame’s Cake Mascara, inspired by a product from 1920, brings back a form of mascara application that most people abandoned after the advent of the wand and tube mascara in the late 1950s.
I’ve heard stories from my Mom about how my grandmother used to use cake mascara like this, and I’m a pretty big makeup history nerd, so I’m surprised it took me so long to try this mascara. It comes in a square metal tin with a small applicator brush. The brush is just ok, and it’s all I had on hand to apply with during the week I tested this product. A spoolie brush or a clean mascara wand might be a better option, but I really wanted to test this product as it came. The cake itself is wrapped in a piece of wax paper that I’ve kept on just to keep the inside of the tin clean.
Before I attempted to use it, I watched the tutorials Bésame offers explaining how to apply cake mascara and read the instructions that came with the product. My first attempt was nothing short of a huge fail. Although I only used two small drops of water, it was too much. I worked the water into the surface of the cake with the brush and when it became kind of paste-like, started to apply it with the applicator brush from the base of the lashes. The product was too liquid-y and smudged all over my lash line, and then as soon as I blinked, it was on my lid. The photo below will pretty much tell you everything you need to know.
As I went to apply the mascara on my other eye, the cake had dried up a bit and this was a huge benefit. Application tip: even one big drop of water might be too much! Start with only one drop, work it in, and then wait about 30 seconds and you’ll end up with the right consistency.
This first application made me realize the learning curve on this product is pretty steep. If you try it, don’t use it for the first time when you want to run out the door in a flash. I absolutely needed a few attempts to figure this product out and get comfortable applying it. Even then, I often had to tidy everything up with a pointed q-tip dipped in makeup remover. In the real-time application video below, I was really trying to get even application and make it work, but I think you’ll see how challenging this product can be.
As mascara, this doesn’t give me everything I need. It’s more of a lash tint, providing soft definition and a little lengthening, but practically zero volume. To me, the color doesn’t come off as purple on the lashes, but it does make them darker. On the plus side, the lashes are soft to the touch with this product, which is not generally the case with tube mascara. On the minus side, I struggled getting it close enough to the roots of my blonde lashes without making a mess, had problems with flaking and fallout during application (you can see flakes in some of the photos and the application video) and think this takes way too long to apply for the level of impact it has on my lashes.
As eyeliner, this is just okay. Using a pointed eyeliner brush to dip into the cake and apply on the lash line functions a lot like applying gel liners that come in a pot. It was much faster to apply this product as eyeliner, and the fact that it’s purple actually makes a difference here; the color is a gorgeous eggplant shade that pops. Because this product is water-activated, it doesn’t make for the most opaque or even finish though. I had some issues getting the line the same thickness across the lid and the wings I created weren’t particularly crisp.
I will say, however, that as a liner this product really stays put. A lot of liners break up at the outer corner of the eye or start to transfer onto the lid space over time. The Cake Mascara did neither of those things, and stayed in place for hours.
The vintage glamour that this product harkens back to is so appealing to me, but in reality, this mascara is mostly a miss for my personal taste. No volume, not enough color, messy, time-consuming, and a bit too natural looking. I kept thinking that if I were a professional film or TV makeup artist, this would be ideal for actors in period pieces because it wouldn’t look like mascara, but would frame the eyes better than bare lashes. For my makeup routine, which often consists of just mascara on the eyes, this blast from the past just doesn’t do enough.