Saturday, September 9, 2023

Airbrush Makeup is still the best kept secret in the beauty industry in 2023... and why it will stay that way.

In 1025 we will celebrate one hundred years since Max Factor reportedly used airbrush makeup for the first time on the set of Ben Hur. In all likelihood what he did was more akin to spray painting, since the goal was to darken the bodies of the many extras involved in the production in the fastest and more natural way possible. Still, he demonstrated a  principle that was never to be forgotten, establishing for the first time the many advantages of applying color on skin through air. While the most innovative professionals in the Hollywood makeup industry continued to experiment with airbrushing beauty makeup, as demonstrated by the photograph of Monty Westmore working on Olivia De Havilland on the set of Gone With The Wind, the technique survived mainly in the realm of special effects and prosthetic design, where the speed and subtlety it was able to achieve became an essential asset to the specialized teams in the budding SFX world. 

With the advent of High Definition in the late seventies, everything started to change for the makeup industry. The new digital recording medium allowed for a level of definition of the image that the contemporary products available to makeup artists were struggling to live up to. Makeup suddenly became obvious on camera, and huge changes were needed. It was at this moment that airbrushing came to the foreground, as a way to achieve the undetectable result that was now needed, and the first innovators such as Dina Ousley and her team began producing formulas that were made specifically for this type of application. The mainstream beauty industry meanwhile began its long attempt to catch up by creating the first HD formulas that had subtlety and true to life color matching as their goal, all without having to use a much dreaded mechanical instrument such as the airbrush.

These attempts remained pretty underwhelming throughout the '90s and early '00s, when the awareness of airbrushing among professional makeup artist was at its peak. Then in the following years the industry (almost) caught up, producing formulas for traditional application that now yield more comparable results to those obtainable with an airbrush. More importantly, they managed to promote the idea that more and more products were necessary to achieve the desired results, as the personal image culture shifted thanks to social media and the beauty industry as a whole reached unprecedented earnings in the western hemisphere. 

In my years of teaching airbrush makeup, I have often been asked why doesn't every pro makeup brand adopt and promote airbrushing, seen as the results are still above those obtainable any other medium, and the time, resources, hygiene practices and environmental impact needed to achieve them considerably less. The answer is the same as always: money. With single made-for-airbrush products that effectively do the job of three or four traditional ones, much longer expiration dates and PAOs, remarkably smaller quantities required, and fewer tools and sanitization needed, airbrush makeup is simply too efficient for its own good. Then of course there is the educational aspect: unlike brushes, an airbrush is still a tool that was not given to us to play with from a very young age, therefore we perceive it as scary and difficult to use. The opposite is true, as those who give it a try soon find out. 

It is now September 2023 and I have just updated the LINKS DIRECTORY of this website, the most complete listing of Airbrush Makeup brands and related companies on the internet. The update was long in the making, because the global pandemic had severe implications for the beauty industry and even more so for the independent companies that keep this medium alive. Year after year, as I give thanks for their continuing presence, these courageous innovators confirm my now deeply held belief that while airbrush makeup will never be "mainstream", the undeniable advantages it offers to those who know how to use it ensure that it will continue to be our best kept secret for the imaginable future. 

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