I have to admit, I am a pretty big geek about products. I will ooh and ah much more over a new technology or texture than the latest wrinkle-fighting, spot-busting peptide. The processes of product design, engineering, and creative chemical thinking that go into a well-executed texture are phenomenal, and yet most people have no idea that they ever took place.
But believe me, inventing a new way to bind ingredients together, so that they are not only pretty but also effective on the skin, is difficult. Especially since you are only allowed a certain number of ingredients; those that can be applied to the skin. Factor in the trouble of making tens of thousands of these pieces on an industrial level, all of them exactly the same as each other, in a form that doesn’t fall apart in four minutes, and you might be pulling your hair out by the end of the day, unless you start to be clever about it.
Why am I rambling on about this? I suppose I just want to point out the trouble that goes into a new product form. Even though a jelly blush might only have the same end result effect on the face as a regular, boring powder blush, i.e. it makes your cheeks pink, it is exciting, intriguing, tactile, and most of all, cool.
Let’s bring the admiration to the engineers, developers and chemists behind these products – those that can make a powder eyeshadow form a high, flowing wave without crumbling into dust, create a BB cream that returns to the same shape even after use, or make a swirl of pearlised serum or coloured primer stay suspended in a clear gel. These are not easy things to do. Next time you go into Sephora, or take your daily stroll through Selfridges’ beauty department, just look around. Think of the team that had to work out how to put two different powders together in an intricate mosaic, with an incredibly detailed engraved surface. They are busting themselves to make it for you.
In this spirit, I present to you several products that you might not have known are super difficult to make:
Estee Lauder Pure Nuance Blush
Do you see that colour shift? That is not from the photo – that is a shifting shade of powder. The right is a blue-based, vibrant pink, and the left is an ultra-pale highlighter. You know what that means? At some point, this powder was liquid, and was blended together to make an ombre effect. Then vacuumed to take out the liquid, then baked. Yes, that’s right. Difficult.
Christian Dior Transat Mono Eyeshadow in Cabine
There is serious skill in making a design in pressed powder that not only looks textural and detailed, but also doesn’t crumble. It’s easier in formulas with high oil content, but the pressure at which to press the carved metal (or plastic) mould depends on each and every shade of powder, depending on the pigments, glitter, and design. All so when you walk past the beauty counter, you stop and go “ooooooohh prettttyyyyy”. Literally no other reason. (Don’t think I am being disparaging about this. Makeup should be beautiful as it makes you beautiful, in my opinion.) This Dior eyeshadow from their new summer Transat collection is just a good example of a design that is clear but also heavily detailed.
Giorgio Armani Eyes To Kill Intense Eyeshadow
This incredibly long-lasting eyeshadow, Eyes to Kill, is one of the most interesting formulas out there. Of course, it has been replicated a million times on the market since it came out a couple of years ago, but when it first launched, it was revolutionary. It is a very loosely pressed, highly oily powder, with high pearl levels which look metallic on the skin. It comes with a little lid that sits inside the pot, as the powder is so loosely packed that it crumbles to a dust without something in there to hold it down.
“Yes, but what is so difficult about this?” I can hear you ask “It’s just a new formula?”. Well, the difficulty here is the industrial production of such a variable product; making tens of thousand of pieces that are all the same in every way. Especially the shades which have two different colours of powder pressed together, such as Blast of Blue or Lust Red. The levels of difficulty to making this product on an industrial scale, very lightly pressing a loose powder into a jar instead of a metal pan, are mind-boggling.
Yes, I do mean all mascara. These little products, tiny thin little tubes, are so bloody difficult to create successfully that I know some people have paled at the thought of developing a new one. You never, ever, develop a mascara without knowing exactly which packaging you are going to use. The combination of the formula with the brush, stem, wiper (the little plastic ring inside the vial of mascaras and lip glosses that literally wipes the excess goop off, leaving just the right amount on the applicator for you to apply) is the trickiest thing to get right.
Invariably, you have to go through eight hundred iterations to get it to work. The wiper is too tight for the stem, leaving practically no formula on the brush, or the brush with your overly sticky formula pushes the lashes together instead of apart, or the formula is too thin for the moulded rubber brush. Everything needs tweaking, everything needs intensive testing. Plus, mascara is intensely subjective, and whenever you test out your new creation on the closest people you can grab, it is a guarantee that the very thing you just worked so hard to get rid of, such as spideriness, is exactly what that pool of people like. Stressball time, for sure.
I present the simplest product on my little list, but possibly the one with the most joy. From Lush, the Shower Jelly is essentially an extremely jellified bar of soap, or alternatively, an extremely tough block of Jell-O.
You tap it out from its little pot, then rub it under water for the soap. It has the most amazing bouncy texture, which is more resilient if you give it a few minutes in the fridge. If you freeze it, it gets an almost chewy feeling (not that I ate it, I am guessing). The soapy formula is held together by carrageenan gel, which gives it the seaweed-y slimy texture. Only problem with it – my showers now take much longer, as I bounce it around and splat it against the walls for far longer than I should.
(OK maybe this one isn’t so hard to make, but it is damn cool and I want to talk about it so I shall).