Ad of the Day: L’Oréal Explains the Science of Creating Makeup Shades for All Skin Tones

How diversity is changing the world of cosmetics

We've come a long way from "Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline."

The spunky, fancy-free spots featuring naturally gorgeous women punting "flawless skin" and "poreless perfection" have been standard L'Oréal branding since we were kids and our (too pink) lipsticks were fake. But they hardly highlight the nuances and frustrations of using makeup, which we only discover as adults, when our bathroom drawers are full of items we tried once and will never use again. 

It's worse still when you're a person of color. While Caucasians are pretty well-served, a less-pink lady is probably limited to three choices for foundation (when lucky): Honey (or Desert, depending on whether you consider yourself terrifically sweet or horrifically dry), Olive, and maybe something called Mocha. 

This problem seems trivial, but it isn't in a culture that judges women severely based on their looks. Sometimes your only options are to find something that doesn't match—in which case you're "wooden" or a "geisha"—or wear nothing, making you look oily or tired. 

Your feelings about yourself change when you can put your best face forward, and when you can't. 

In a new positioning, L'Oréal USA addresses this challenge scientifically: "The Spectrum" is a new mini-documentary that follows chemist Balanda Atis as she works on creating foundations for every skin tone imaginable. 

"Cosmetics have struggled with trying to find the best shades for women of color for as long as makeup has existed," Atis begins, flanked by piano music and serene images of faces under vivid shades of purple, grey and blue. 

Atis looked at over 20,000 data points to understand the colors that make up skin. "We didn't realize there were so many different skin tones that existed!" she exclaims. 

The video also goes into some detail about L'Oréal's Women of Color lab. Created in 2014, it's taken skin tone measurements from 57 countries of origin, resulting in a spectrum of foundations that can serve more or less anybody—though the work is far from over. As Atis observes, "With each baby, a new skin tone is born, and with that we know our work is never done." 

The video, created by agency Rain, launched on L'Oréal's social channels in early March. While views are modest on YouTube—nearly 12,500 as of this count—it's gotten nearly four times that on Facebook, with close to 50,000 views. Comments reflect the extremes you can expect, from the standard-issue "Bravo" to "L'Oréal tapping into that black dollar a little more." 

Even if you're not into beauty science, it's interesting to see how the company, often characterized as so vast as to be faceless, works from the inside.

In a way, it's a glimpse inside the Chocolate Factory without having to deal with any Oompa Loompas (who perhaps demonstrated so little respect for life because their only foundation option was Radioactive Orange). 


Agency – Rain

Client – L'Oréal USA

Executive Producers – Nick Godfrey, Brian Edelman, Andrew Howlett

Executive Creative Director – Will Hall

VP, Head of Strategy – Bill Chamness

VP, Head of Production – Timothy Whitney

ACD / Art Director – Andy Sheffield

Copywriter – Charlotte Davis

Agency Producer – Nathan Breton

Agency Digital Producer – Tim Xumsai

Account Manager – Jaclyn Schillinger

Engagement Strategist – Elissa Dailey

Production Company – Cebu Osani

Director – Rain

Producer – Artesia Balthrop

Editor – Jonah Einstein

Assistant – Matt Jeon

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