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.
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.
When your flatiron was actually in use — and not just plaguing you with anxiety over whether you had unplugged it before you left the house — it could still wreak a little havoc. Yes, it had come a long way from the crude model invented in 1909, comprised of two irons hinged together like garden shears (yes, really). Now there were ceramic-coated plates to smooth frizz. There were mini versions for bangs. But until a decade ago, they were still destructive to the hair shaft. "You’d pass through a section, heat would get transferred to the hair, and [the iron’s temperature would drop] at least 10 to 15 degrees," says Harry Josh, hairstylist and founder of Harry Josh Pro Tools. Meaning: "You’d have to pass through the same section of hair multiple times to get it smooth," says hairstylist Rubi Jones. The result? A whole lotta damage.
Limiting heat exposure isn’t the only way to keep hair healthy. There are "irons that, when you press your hair, an oil comes out of the plates to condition your hair," explains Josh. The catch, he says, is that the results aren’t all that impressive — yet. "We’re on the right path to create devices that either have zero damage, or could even be reparative." But will there continue to be innovation if people aren’t actually straightening their hair? "Long-term, we are seeing a shift away from straightening hair or dramatically altering one’s appearance, for that matter," says Nolte. Jones foresees a compromise that could smooth natural texture without erasing it. "I would love to see a tool that’s a hybrid of steam-and oil-infused irons that could set curls into a looser wave and lengthen them," she says. "That way, you wouldn’t have to set your hair overnight."
At-Home Hair Color
At-home hair color was often a real drip, literally. "In the early 2000s, [many] kits were messy and time-consuming," says Wilson. Runny dyes could give uneven results: "When it’s a drippy formula, it doesn’t hug the hair," says Josh, who is also a colorist. But there was one major bright spot: When Clairol Root Touch-Up launched in 2005, we had an innovative, consistent way to hide grays between salon appointments or at-home coloring sessions. Having the ability to dye just our roots — which are naturally darker than the ends — rather than all of our hair every single time we saw grays gave us more natural-looking results, says colorist James Corbett.
Foam-dye formats, introduced in 2011 with John Frieda Precision Foam Colour, helped deal with the drip. But it’s the actual ingredients that have undergone the biggest makeover: Garnier Olia, launched in 2015, was among the first permanent dyes formulated without ammonia, which can damage the hair cuticle. In 2017, Clairol revamped its Nice'n Easy line with a molecule that replaces PPD and PTD, two common chemicals in hair dyes that have been linked to irritation and allergic reactions. This ingredient consciousness carried over to burgeoning direct- to-consumer options too: Madison Reed's dyes ditch ammonia, PPD, and resorcinol (a common hair dye ingredient that has raised safety concerns) altogether.
Ever since prescription retinol-myths-that-dermatologists-want-you-to-stop-believing' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >Retin-A was approved by the FDA in the ‘70s, retinoids have been "perhaps the holy grail of skin care," says Zeichner. These vitamin A derivatives — the most powerful over-the-counter_products/article.htm' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >over-the-counter family member is retinol — brighten spots, clear breakouts, and smooth lines. They may also irritate the heck out of your skin. But advances started making them gentler. Encapsulation, a protective barrier around the molecule, helps "release it slowly into skin," says Wilson. This technology was used in the late ’90s with Retin-A Micro, and in the past 15 years it’s trickled into nonprescription retinol formulas, she says.
New formats (like oils) and "retin-alts" (like bakuchiol, derived from the antioxidant-rich seeds of the babchi plant) have expanded options and made the application process more appealing, says Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. An even bigger deal? Retinol is no longer a loner. Because the molecule is so unstable, says Gohara, "it doesn't play well with others." But by leveraging technologies like encapsulation, chemists have been able to formulate it with other ingredients to pack a more powerful punch. Hence, the alpha hydroxy acid and retinol blend in SkinBetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream. A specialized emollient base in Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Correcting Cream makes it possible for retinol and vitamin C (perhaps the only other ingredient to rival retinol in its persnicketyness — and holy grail status) to coexist in one brightening, smoothing formula.
So-called drone technologies will take encapsulation one step further by adding protein markers to the outside that make retinol and its prescription-level cousins more likely to attach to certain cells in the skin and get their job done. "You put on a cream sometimes and you pray that the interaction happens," says Gohara. "This would give that chemical reaction an insurance policy." Tech that provides personalized, freshly blended (and therefore more potent) doses is another form of insurance, says Zeichner. That’s the idea behind Shiseido's Optune, currently available only in Japan. The accompanying app snaps a shot of your face and dispenses formulas fit for your skin’s present state and adjusted for factors like humidity and your menstrual cycle. If you’ve ever tried retinol and quit because of irritation, a device like this could act as a trainer by taking the guesswork out of upping your dosage.
Now read more about at-home hair color, foundation, and retinol:
How to Successfully Do Your Own Highlights at Home
These Are the Best Foundations Under $20, According to Beauty Editors
The Best Retinoids Under $30
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