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No matter how tightly I close up my mascara, it always dries up before I use much of it. I suspect this is planned obsolescence. I've tried dribbling water into the little brush hole but it doesn�t work. What is mascara thinned with, anyway?

-- Elizabeth Arden, La Mesa

If you consider that your mascara is mostly waxy and oily things, you can see why water got you nowhere. I checked out this solidified-eye-goo situation with the Revlon folks, but the minute I said something about pouring stuff into a mascara container, they dropped their nail files and practically leaped through the phone, yelling, "Oh, don't do that!" You probably never think of a mascara brush as a lethal weapon, but it can be dangerous. The product is as sterile as possible when it's packaged, but once you pull the brush out and apply it to your lashes, you've probably contaminated it. Once contamination gets inside the container, your trouble begins.

Some professors at Emory University, who obviously weren't carrying a heavy enough course load, filled their idle hours by poking around in the mascara containers of certain willing citizens. They found bacteria growing in half the samples and fungus contentedly reproducing in one out of eight. There's not much you can do to prevent it, apparently. So part of the built-in obsolescence in mascara packaging is to keep its useful life under three months and prevent a buildup of bacteria.

Although Revlon wouldn't even entertain the idea of answering your question, some additional searching around on my part revealed that a solvent like mineral spirits might do the trick. But I'll tell you, Liz, if I find out that you actually try reviving your dead mascara with anything, let alone mineral spirits, I'll be very upset. If you damaged your eyes, you couldn't read "Straight from the Hip." Incentive enough?

But if you don't care about the safety of your sight, consider that anything you do to change the chemical balance of your mascara will prevent it from drying properly on your lashes, leaving you with little raccoony smears around your eyes.

Of course, to me the big question isn't how you get your mascara spreadable again, it's why women do those funny things with their mouths when they put the stuff on. Not even Matthew Alice has a clue about that one.

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