They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was non-sticky lip gloss or foundation that feels like a second skin. Join us as we take a trip down memory lane to clock just how far our beauty products have come — and predict where they’re headed next. Here’s the before, after — and after after — of five favorites that keep getting better and better.
Gloss has been around since 1928 — when Max Factor invented it to make lips glisten onscreen — but for the longest time it lacked luster. Sure, gloss was shiny, but it was also sticky as flypaper, says makeup artist Daniel Martin. It captured light and hairs in equal measure. The formula hadn’t changed much in decades, says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. The base, typically a blend of synthetic emollients like polyisobutene and isobutene, was “the thickest honey you could imagine that doesn’t want to pour,” says Wilson.
Nostalgia for the ’90s kick-started a gloss comeback — and just in time beauty brands found a way to make it less, well, tacky. Taking cues from skin care and clean beauty, Wilson says “companies started blending in natural oils within the last five to eight years,” ushering in a slew of hybrid formulas. For example, Dior Addict Stellar Gloss, a favorite of Martin’s, is infused with cushiony aloe vera, beeswax, and cranberry and jojoba oils to help offset the overt stickiness of the base emollients.
It remains to be seen if wearing fabric face coverings becomes the norm for the long haul, but it’s a reality that brands are preparing for nonetheless — particularly because some experts say the transfer of makeup onto masks can lead to decreased air filtration. We should expect to see more long-wearing formulas, predicts Michael Nolte, creative director of the trend forecasting agency Beautystreams. The challenge? “You can’t really have traditional lip gloss that doesn’t transfer,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King. She points to Wonderskin’s Wonderblading Lip Color — a peel-off, two-step lip stain that lasts up to 10 hours — as an example of how color could evolve to be mind-bendingly budge-proof. The trick will be fine-tuning a sealant that’s both shiny and comfy. “Imagine using something like a clear nail polish topcoat,” says King. It’ll stay put, “but your lips aren’t going to feel good.”
The first modern foundation, created by the ever-industrious Max Factor in 1935, was defined by its cakiness (in fact, it was called Pan-Cake). Around seven decades on, formulas started to look (and feel) less like foundation and more like skin with the addition of new coated pigments and flexible film formers, says Wilson. But that meant very little if you couldn’t find your shade, which was especially true for women with darker skin tones. Part of the problem was that pigments, regulated by the FDA, were very limited. “Traditionally, only four colorants were used to compose a foundation shade: white, yellow, black, and red,” notes Balanda Atis, director of the face and multicultural beauty lab at L’Oréal. Blended together in carefully calibrated ratios, these four pigments created complexion-mimicking hues, but such a meager palette disproportionately shortchanged women with darker tones, says Atis.
Foundation ranges are finally starting to reflect a fuller spectrum of skin tones. In 2008, Atis stabilized the pigment ultramarine blue in foundation. This allowed her team to reformulate the L’Oréal Paris True Match collection, achieving deeper hues and undertones without sacrificing texture, she says. Then, of course, came Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty frenzy, in September 2017. The wild success of Fenty’s truly comprehensive foundation line created more demand (and therefore more shelf space) for other wide-ranging collections, like Uoma Beauty, which launched in April 2019. The brand’s Say What?! Foundation — with 51 shades — is divided into six color groups, each with a unique set of ingredients that meets skin needs specific to that group. For example, deeper hues are made with ingredients for curbing hyperpigmentation and fair shades have ones for calming redness.
One surefire way to find a foundation that suits your skin: Get it custom-made. Brands like Lancôme and BareMinerals are already blending tailored foundations (Le Teint Particulier and Made-2-Fit, respectively) using skin scans, then feeding the results through color-matching algorithms. And more companies will start creating personalized shades that cater to nuances in your skin, like how undertones change with the season, says makeup artist Fiona Stiles. They could also accommodate for age, says Nolte. “Globally, the number of people age 65 and over is growing at around twice the rate of the overall population and a regular foundation will not do them justice.” He predicts a spike in formulas that will do right by skin of a certain age, like glowing finishes to offset dullness. King foresees a shift away from powder-laden blends that “settle into wrinkles and make them look more prominent.” There are formulas on the market now that fit the bill (Stiles likes Make Up For Ever’s Water Blend), but finding them can feel a bit like rummaging through a thrift store hoping for Phoebe Philo–era Celine.