How Does “Intelligent” Matching Makeup Work?


skin-tone-matching-makeupCosmetics companies legitimately want to create products that enable users to match their skin tone more easily. If a brand were to create a product for many people with slightly different skin tones that worked well and didn’t involve much effort on the users’ parts, it would be popular, right?

In fact, that kind of reputation would make it, for many people, the go-to brand for foundation. While there are counters with computer systems that can input information and create the perfect foundation, the consumers many companies are trying to create makeup for shop at the drugstore.

But just because there is an ideal and a carefully worded campaign does not mean that all makeup intended for this purpose works the same or works for everyone.

What Changes the Color in Intelligent Match Makeup?

Someone who’s used Almay’s Smart Match makeup may have seen that the cream starts out as a whitish or grayish color that seems to magically turn flesh colored when applied to skin. Is it really smart enough to change to match your exact skin tone when applied?

Short answer, no.

The change actually occurs because Almay’s makeup is a water-in-oil emulsion. Essentially, the color is kept in water molecules that are suspended in oil and broken to reveal the color when they’re rubbed on the skin. This gives the allusion that a once-white or -gray substance has altered itself to match your skin (Revlon Patent).

So Is Color-Change Makeup All Smoke and Mirrors?

While the coloring change with application is just for show, the formula might really be something that works for many skin tones.

Here’s where things get a little tricky.

The patent makes it clear that the color change from white to skin tone isn’t much more than showiness:

In the case of a composition applied to skin as foundation makeup, the development of the color directly on the skin from a non-skin matching color to a skin-matching color give the consumer the impression that the composition is “smart” and capable of changing color to exactly match her skin tone (Revlon Patent).

While the actual color changing part of the makeup doesn’t have much of a practical purpose beyond being somehow magical for consumers, that doesn’t mean the makeup isn’t formulated to match many skin tones. So while there may be some showiness involved, the makeup could work for many users.

Almay doesn’t explain exactly how their formulation works, aside from referring to it as “sheer,” which could imply make things. They do appear to say that their formulations worked on many skin tones, but didn’t get as specific as other companies and inventors have and it’s difficult to say how well it works.

Helping Consumers Match Foundation to Skin Tone

L’Oreal Paris uses iridescence to give their makeup a more “alive” quality.

L’Oreal Paris doesn’t use the water in oil emulsion that Almay uses, but they have their own solution to getting natural-looking and well-matched makeup.

Their solution to the color problem was to create a True Match system where customers identified the shade of their skin tone (tone being “fair,” “medium,” “dark,” etc.) and also their undertone (undertone being “cool,” “neutral,” or “warm”). While this gave the user more responsibility, it also helped guide them to a better match.

They also have something to give their makeup more depth.

Several years before Almay’s parent company Revlon filed for an application, L’Oreal Paris applied for the rights to something else that would allow for a more natural look. Their idea was to create goniochromatic makeup (L’Oreal Paris Patent).

Goniochromatic is another name for iridescence, the properties that stones like opal have that allow them to shine different colors from different angles. It gives the makeup itself what the inventors deemed a more “alive” look. While this wasn’t necessarily created to “match,” it was created to solve the problem of pancake or dull look with foundations.

Making Consumers the Color Matching Foundation Makers

By using red, green, yellow, purple, black, and white, this system allows consumers to make the perfect color for their skin.

Finally, one of the ways that formulators work to make matching makeup that hasn’t exactly caught on is the very elementary idea of the color wheel. Inventors Dan and Laurie Markowitz filed an application for a makeup a palate essentially using red, green, yellow, purple, black, and white that allowed users to mix their own foundation (Markowitz Patent).

This might jog your memory about certain color principles that allow something with no beige or brown to create makeup that works on skin tones. Red and green and yellow and purple are opposites on the color spectrum, which means when they’re mixed with one another, they create a brown color. Both sets of colors allow users to create cooler or warmer tones, while the black and white allow for darker or lighter shades.

That particular invention put a lot of the artistry of color matching into the consumers’ hands, but also gives them room to change their foundation instead of buying one color and hoping it works.


Bottom Line

There are many ways that companies work to create foundation and makeup that matches skin tone. While some of it — in particular the parts that seem most “magical” — are there for show, there are technologies out there designed to make makeup more versatile for many skin tones. In the future, there will likely be even more strides into creating makeup suitable for many skin tones.

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  • Natalie Bell

    @Moxie — Thank you so much!

    @CTJRT — I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Thank you! I apologize for the copy editing; sometimes your eyes aren’t so fresh immediately after writing something. I’ll be sure to read aloud when I edit to catch more, because I want readers to have the most enjoyable experience possible.



    This was a great post! My suggestion for future articles though is to proofread before posting (i.e., “job your memory” and “yellow and purpose are opposites”). I hate to be picky, but it’s just more professional. Great article though!

  • Moxie

    I have always been curious about the claims, although I have never tried any of the foundations. Thank you, really interesting!

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