The Secret World of Makeup

Most people assume that their makeup is designed by a makeup artist, but this isn’t often the case. The secret is that chemists make most of your makeup colors, usually guided by a marketing department, who is usually guided by a trend report.

Occasionally, a makeup artist does pick the colors, but it’s not done how you may imagine it. Most artists choose an existing product, a process called “private labeling.” The more industrious (and affluent) souls will go to a chemist, chose a Pantone color, and pay the chemist quite handsomely to create something new.

So now you know makeup’s dirty little secret. I’ve been pretty jaded to this for a while, and had resigned myself to these rather unromantic realities.

And then I met Crist Ballas.

Crist is truly extraordinary.

As a young boy of five, Crist watched Frankenstein and demanded that his mother take him to the cemetery so he could make a monster.

“No, sweetie,” she said, “that monster wasn’t real–it was created by a makeup artist.”

I doubt if his mom knew at that moment she would spawn Crist’s life-long obsession with makeup that would earn him an Emmy, a celebrity following, and a spot on the Oscar winning makeup team for JJ Abram’s Star Trek. Today, Crist can paint a face to look like another face, or sculpt a fantastic creature out of pure imagination. But his philosophy of beauty is simple: Bring out the natural beauty and uniqueness of each face, using the right colors and techniques. He is a true genius with color.

We met at the Spyhouse cafe one afternoon to discuss working together on the Dessa lipstick. Originally, Crist was just planning to do the makeup for Dessa’s photoshoot, and possibly help choose the color based on her skin tone. But as I looked at his portfolio, I was floored. As a chemist, I understand how difficult and capricious color can be, and someone that can paint exquisite detail to create such a life-like representation of skin is clearly a master of his craft.

So you know those rules I just told you about how the Secret World of Makeup really works…? Well, I just broke all of them: I opened up my lab and let Crist play with all of the raw, unprocessed pigment. I pulled out strange vials of sticky bright colors and shimmery powders. I explained various chemistries, FDA rules, and showed him exotic imported glitters. I led him through compounding his first batch, and it was a magical moment seeing his face light up as he pulled his very first lipstick from the mold. We went through countless pigments, and he methodically swatched, glopped and mixed with a look of mad intensity. By the end of a couple of weeks, the whole room looked like the murder scene of a clown, both of us were raving lunatics, and Crist had mixed up an exquisite, flattering color that looked perfect on Dessa–and was flattering on everybody else as well.

Stay tunedĀ for future updates about how Dessa’s signature color was made, and the amazing art that went into it!

Smart is sexy!


Photos: Rebecca Zenefski