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She is peak Black Girl Makeup Magic! 

Andrea Arterbery
Apr, 05, 2016

The struggle can be real when it comes to finding the perfect foundation fit for our skin tones. If you’re on the fair skinned spectrum of African American (like me), you’ll run into the problem of finding foundations that are too light and, upon application, leave an ashy top layer on the skin. If you’re darker, there there’s also the ashy issue as well as the fact that most brands don’t even make shades that are even close to fitting your skin color. 

Enter Balanda Atis. 

Atis, who is also African American, is manager of L’Oreal’s Women Of Color Lab. She’s also no stranger to the frustration of finding the perfect foundation fit and it’s a big part of the reason why she’s super dedicated to creating the best foundation shades for women of color. She even helped to develop the perfect foundation shade in the Lancôme Teint Idole collection for actress Lupita Nyong’o. So, of course, we just had to take a moment to pick her brain about her work! Here’s what she had to say: 

ESSENCE.com: How did you start working with L’Oreal?

Balanda Atis: I was always fascinated by science, but I didn’t consider a career in the beauty industry until college, when I gained a better understanding of the connection between science and beauty. After graduation, I wanted to create cosmetics, and combine my passion for science with my passion for makeup. By joining the number one beauty company in the world, I knew it was a major opportunity to work in a variety of positions and roles across beauty, in skincare, hair care, and cosmetics. As a chemist at L’Oréal, I have the chance to work on projects that help make people all around the world feel more confident. Growing up, my family and my friends were struggling to find makeup that looked good on their skin; the colors were often too red, too black or too ashy. I personally struggled with the same issue. Trying to find foundation products were always a big concern. I had three options: to buy an assortment of products, mix them together and hope it worked, wear the completely wrong shade or not wear makeup at all. I wanted to take on this challenge.

ESSENCE.com: What, in your opinion, is the most challenging thing when it comes to creating foundation shades for women of color? 

Atis: The traditionally available colorants used to deepen the intensity of a foundation’s formula yields a limited color range and can alter product performance, often resulting in one-dimensional colors that are flat and lack luminosity or appear oily on the skin. As a result, foundation lines tend to offer a narrower spectrum of colors that don’t address a large segment of the population.

ESSENCE.com: How are you able to figure out which foundation shades to create? 

Atis: We traveled across the country to measure women’s skin tones and collected data, which represented skin tones from 57 countries of origin. Back in the lab, we were able to identify, and stabilize, a rarely used colorant – Ultramarine Blue, a pigment which has the ability to create deep, pure and true to skin tone shades.

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ESSENCE.com: What is the methodology you use in order to create foundation shades for women of color? 

Atis: Creating foundation shades for women of color involves understanding the colors that make up individual skin tones and finding the right colorants to address those skin tones. In our case, this colorant was ultramarine blue.

ESSENCE.com: What do you love the most about your job? 

Atis: I love my job because I have the opportunity to share science with younger generations, specifically young women. I visit elementary, middle and high schools to discuss the importance of science and possible careers in science that may seem unexpected. Young men and women are surprised that you can be a scientist for a beauty company – they don’t realize you can be a color chemist, a supply chain expert, work in a Technology Incubator – and that you can create and reinvent the future of beauty quite literally. We conduct experiments with the students to also show them how engaging and creative science is. You learn something new every single day. More girls need to be taught that science is where you can break new ground, invent something new and enjoy an incredible career path – much earlier in life, at a young age. 

I also love that the Women of Color Lab is helping to change attitudes about makeup. We’re constantly innovating and evaluating our product lines to expand our offerings and bring more diversity to products. I love that my job helps people around the world feel more confident and beautiful every day.

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ESSENCE.com: What are some of the L'Oreal foundation collections that you've worked on in order to create an adequate shade range? 

Atis: Our team has developed expanded shade ranges for L’Oreal Paris, Lancôme and Maybelline New York.

ESSENCE.com: Do you feel that women of color are starting to embrace wearing foundation more so than in year's past? Why or why not? 

Atis: I think women from all ethnicities are starting to understand that there are more options for them.  The accessibility to diverse makeup has greatly increased since I was young, and especially in the last few years.  

ESSENCE.com: What is the most surprising thing that you've learned while working at the Lab? 

Atis: During my time at L’Oreal and with the Women of Color Lab, I was surprised to learn about the amount of skin tones that exist in the world.  It’s incredible. There’s no such thing as Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Asian because within each ethnicity, there are hundreds of shades and undertones – we are all unique. 

Women always want to identify themselves as being described as a ‘medium’ shade because that’s safe. No one wants to be singled out. We heard that from consumers across the country. When you create a shade range, you want to create a range because you want women to identify with something. 

ESSENCE.com: Anything else?

Atis: I couldn’t have done this work anywhere else because not every company allows you to touch so many parts of the business, experiment and take this much risk. They believed in us, provided us with autonomy and forced us to challenge ourselves. It wasn’t just business, it was personal. It was for all people of all colors.