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When was foundation makeup created?

Author: May

Feb. 04, 2024

198 0 0

Tags: Beauty & Personal Care

Our Beauty P.I. series is where Makeup.com editor Alanna delves into the history of various makeup products — where they originated and how they’ve evolved. Next up on the list is the conception of foundation.

I’ll put it plainly: It’s important to address that not all makeup has a pretty history — and one of the products that falls under this ugly umbrella is one of beauty’s most common: foundation. To be honest, it’s pretty horrifying to realize that the formula I stipple on my face every day has an appalling past, and that’s why it’s so important that we urge the beauty sphere to focus on inclusivity. Because foundation’s problematic history is rooted in the exact opposite.

A Past Rooted in (All Kinds Of) Poison

Foundation’s grisly origin can be traced back to  ancient Greece and Rome. To make their skin appear more “fair,” the Grecians and Romans painted their faces with a poisonous chalk, also known as white lead, New Beauty reports. Unfortunately, this makeup trend continued through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and eventually became a staple in Queen Elizabeth I’s beauty cabinet. Coined as Venetian ceruse, this ghastly combination of lead and vinegar was used all over her face to cover up smallpox scars, and to give a more “pallor” appearance. Even worse, the toxic lead formula had side-effects including hair loss, rotten teeth and permanent skin discoloration, according to National Geographic.

Because white lead nearly killed most individuals who used it, this kind of makeup changed in the nineteenth century, and complexion liquids were made of zinc oxide, glycerin and even calamine lotion. Again, this face makeup was used to cover up imperfections and discoloration — and it only came in  white, pink and red shades. The extremely problematic product greasepaint (a primitive form of stage makeup) was also born around this time, and was heavily used in the theater and on the silver screen.  

Powder Foundation is Born

When technicolor film was finally introduced in the 1930s, Hollywood makeup entrepreneur Max Factor was not pleased with how greasepaint looked on screen, so he decided to develop a new powder formula, aptly named Pan-Cake. This powder was pressed onto the skin, and was meant to create a more natural finish as opposed to the heavy greasy coverage that was commonly used. It was water-based and contained a myriad of pigments and oils that were dried and crushed to create a loose powder, according to Cosmetics and Skin. The OG formula is still manufactured today, but it definitely declined in popularity as liquid foundations improved in the 1940s to 50s and beyond.   

Liquid Foundation Comes Onto the Scene

And it wasn’t just the birth of powder product that came about pre-World War II: Liquid foundation also came to fruition during this time, and in an unlikely manner at that. In an effort to rid stockings from their wardrobe, women of the 30s and 40s turned to leg makeup to even out and “cover up” their legs. This leg makeup formula actually played a large part in the synthesis of what we know as liquid foundation, Cosmetics and Skin reports.

This “leg film,” was formulated to be rub-resistant, sweat proof and non-transferrable, and eventually evolved into liquid tinted bases for the face in the 40s and 50s. In 1952, Coty came out with Instant Beauty — a tinted foundation formula that sat lightly on the skin, which was free from grease and promised to never over-dry. It came in six shades and was packaged in bottles similar to those we know, use and love today. It was official — liquid foundation formulas began to dominate the beauty empire with Revlon, Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and more following suit and creating their own versions.

Foundation Today

Today’s foundation formulas vary from powder to oil-based to water-based to silicone-based ingredients and everything in between. But it’s vital to note that although the formulas have dramatically improved over the years, foundation still has a long way to go when it comes to inclusivity — and that’s where inspiring innovators come in.

Cue: L’Oréal chemist Balanda Atis, who leads the L’Oréal Multicultural Beauty Lab in Clark, New Jersey. “Growing up, my family and my friends were always struggling to find makeup that matched their skin tone because the colors were often too red, giving the skin a bruised look, or too black, making the skin look muddy,” Atis says. “I personally struggled with the same issue: trying to find foundation products was always a big concern.”

That’s when Atis knew she wanted to do something about it and proceeded to get her master’s degree in cosmetic chemistry, ultimately joining the L’Oréal lab team. “At the time, I remember thinking: There has to be a way to fix a problem that affects millions of women,” she recalls.

Soon after, Atis’s team found that a unique ultramarine pigment held the key to creating shades for all types of deeper skin tones. “Creating foundation shades for women of color involves understanding the colors that make up individual skin tones and finding the right colrants to address those skin tones. In our case, this colorant was ultramarine blue — a blue pigment that has the ability to create deep, pure colors without sacrificing the final look,” Atis notes.

It’s this very lab that created some of our modern-day well-wearing and inclusive favorites, including the the Lancôme Teint Idole Foundation Collection, which comes in 40 shades, and the Maybelline Fit Me Foundation Line, which is available in a whopping 48 shades. “I’m excited about every product I’ve worked on,” Atis says. “But I think the work with Lupita Nyong'o and creating her shade 555 for Lancôme’s Teint Idole was truly groundbreaking.” It’s these lines of products that represent a great start to a diverse, comprehensive and personalized foundation future — and I’m so glad to be here for it.

It’s our time more than ever to change and redefine foundation’s place in the beauty world and industry, and to keep pushing our favorite brands to be more inclusive — who’s with me?

Foundation. We’ve all heard the term, been confused by it, thought we’ve understood it, and (probably) spent hours trying to choose the perfect bottle. But what exactly is foundation, and how did it come to be the makeup staple it is today? Read on to find out.

Why does foundation exist?

The biggest clue to foundation’s purpose is in its name. This makeup is used to create an even base (or ‘foundation’) on the skin, prior to more colourful products being added. So while you might hear claims that it’s best to wear a shade of foundation that’s more vibrant than your skin, the ideal foundation will match perfectly with your natural complexion.

The history of foundation

So how did it all begin? The earliest foundations can be traced back to Ancient Greece and Rome, when paler skin was seen as fashionable – especially for women. Unfortunately, they used a type of poisonous chalk known as white lead to achieve this, which had some disastrous consequences – think rotten teeth and discoloured skin. But that didn’t stop them, and the trend continued for many centuries. Those portraits of Queen Elizabeth I with ghostly pale skin? That’s white lead in action.

Fast forward to the 1800s, and we find newer ingredients like zinc oxide, glycerin and calamine lotion being used to create imperfection-covering foundations. A few decades later, German actor Carl Baudin mixed up zinc, ochre and lard to hide the joint between his wig and forehead while onstage. The concoction became known as greasepaint, and was sold commercially for years.

It wasn’t until 1935 that makeup icon, Max Factor, created the first modern foundation – a powder-based formula known as pancake, which is applied to the skin with a damp sponge. You can still buy pancake makeup today, but it’s much less popular than modern alternatives.

When in 1952, beauty company, Coty, made Instant Beauty – a lightweight, grease-free tinted foundation formula – it was an immediate success. Other brands followed, and the beauty world hasn’t looked back since.

What are the ingredients in foundation today?

Today’s foundations come in a vast variety of formulations, shades, coverage types and consistencies – each one promising a different look or feel for the skin. 

But what goes into the most popular format (which we blend here at DCYPHER) liquid foundation?

They have careful balance of silicone-based polymers, water and mineral pigments which makes them lightweight, versatile and easy to blend. They work with pretty much all skin types, and help you achieve the natural radiance you’ve been dreaming of.

The silicone-based polymers enable your foundation to glide smoothly onto your skin giving a soft smooth finish while keeping it breathable.

Combining with water creates an emulsion which provides the cream-like texture and leaves a great finish on your skin.

And the mineral pigments, when mixed in the right proportions, create the shade of your foundation.

At DCYPHER we also use plant-based glycerin for a moisturising quality, and several other natural, paraben-free ingredients to make sure your foundation glides on and stays on.

How to find the right foundation for you

The key to finding the right foundation is to get the colour or shade correct by considering:

  1. Your tone or depth of colour

  2. Your undertone - the balance of red and yellow in your skin colour

  3. The vibrancy - so that it's not too orange or too grey 

For a more indepth overview, read our How to find your foundation shade? article.

Once you think you've found your colour you need to the test it. The best way to do this is to swatch or apply your foundation and check the match in natural light. Natural light is a more neutral light source than indoor lighting, for example. And don't forget to allow time for it to dry; the colour when wet is not the same as when it is dried and the final colour will develop over 20 to 30 minutes.

You can try foundations from the high street, go to a concession stand in store or you try one of the online foundation finders. But these options only offer a limited range of shade that you have to match to.

At DCYPHER we don't match you to a closest shade. We custom mix each and every foundation, from scratch, to your exact skin tone.

First, our Skin Tone Analyser uses world-first technology to scan your skin from three photographs, before asking three key questions to determine what you like when it comes to coverage and finish. It assigns you a unique Skin Tone ID, and from there, our advanced equipment blends a formula just for you – always from scratch.

Four pigments, one unique foundation shade

But how do we get the exact shade, every time? That brings us to pigments – the final key ingredients in any foundation. Pigments are minerals that give your makeup colour and determine its level of coverage. Usually, foundation pigmentation starts at two percent, but it can rise to more than 15 percent in the highest coverage products.

Here at DCYPHER, we expertly blend every foundation using just four pigments: black, white, red and yellow. Using hyper precise measures of these colours, we meticulously mix makeup drop by drop to your one-of-a-kind Skin Tone ID.

So what is foundation? Not just a critical tool in your makeup arsenal, but an artform in itself too. Thanks to advanced technology and expert colour science, this centuries-old product has the power to transform your look – and the best part is, you don’t even have to leave the house.

Start your mixed to measure foundation journey.

When was foundation makeup created?

What is Foundation? Exploring the make up of makeup

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