Why Do I Make a Weird Face When I Apply Mascara?

iStock
iStock

Mascara Face. You know what it is: that slack-jawed, open-mouthed, dopey look when someone swipes the wand over their lashes again and again in an effort to get them just right.

It seems to be a worldwide and well-documented phenomenon. Nina Leykind, cofounder of British mascara giant Eyeko, tells mental_floss she knows the look well. As someone who helped create the concept of a“mascara bar,” she's seen plenty of people apply the stuff. “I love mascara face!” she says. “Bizarrely, as soon as someone lifts the wand to their eye, their mouth opens. I think if someone is not doing mascara face in front of me, it’s because it’s a conscious effort not to.”

We asked Rockefeller University neuroscientist Zeeshan Ozair for a possible explanation behind mascara face. According to Ozair, three nerves acting in conjunction—the trigeminal, the facial, and the oculomotor nerve—are likely responsible.

“The trigeminal nerve controls the movement of muscles of mastication, which open and close your jaw,” Ozair tells mental_floss. “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.

Mascara face may be a kind of physiological fluke. “In several people, connections”—called collaterals—“develop between these different brainstem nuclei,” says Ozair, who’s currently studying human-specific aspects of neural development and corticogenesis (cortical development). “As a consequence of these collaterals, when one nerve is activated, the other is as well.”

But mascara face doesn't have to happen, Ozair says. As Leykind has observed at her company's mascara bars, people aware of her presence became self-conscious of their own facial movements and were able to stop. In instances where muscles respond to both voluntary control and involuntary reflexes, as is the case with mascara face, “voluntary control almost always takes precedence,” says Ozair.

He likens it to the knee-jerk reflex. “If you were to actively think about it, you could stop the knee jerk from happening," he says. "Likewise, if one were to think about [mascara face], you could stop the mouth movement voluntarily.”

But why doesn’t the phenomenon happen when someone simply opens their eyes without applying mascara? Well, it can, explains Ozair. Think about the last time you heard truly shocking news. Did your mouth fall open? Was it "agape"? Did you call the news "jaw-dropping?" Those terms aren't metaphors. “In periods of stress, e.g., when you hear bad news, the voluntary control of the jaw is overridden, and you may open your mouth agape unconsciously,” Ozair says.

When it comes to applying mascara, the physical action stimulates the sensory part of the trigeminal nerve, which forms connections with the motor trigeminal nucleus. In other words, says Ozair, the action provides additional input for the slack-jaw reaction. In this case, you don't need to hear jaw-dropping news for your jaw to, well, drop.

Interestingly, the phenomenon doesn’t happen in reverse; for example, your eyes don’t pop open when you’re chewing. That's because the collaterals have directionality. “Reflexes in one direction don’t translate into reflexes in the opposite direction,” Ozair says.

There are exceptions. In rare instances, some people have collaterals in the opposite direction. “When they open their mouths,” he notes, “they involuntarily lift their eyelids as well.” (Which raises the question: Is the opposite of mascara mouth lipstick eyes?)

So, what percentage of the population actually possesses the collaterals responsible for mascara face? For that, Ozair says, “I don’t have an answer … This hasn’t been studied at an epidemiological level!”

Epidemiologists, looks like the (eye)ball’s in your court now.

What Happened to the Physical Copy of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' Speech?

AFP, Getty Images
AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

In 1989, some three decades after King had earned his doctorate, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

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