From color-changing lipstick to foundation that adjusts to your skin tone, color-changing makeup seems to be everywhere. It’s pretty impressive, when you apply one of these products and watch it shift, slowly, from the color it had on the packaging to its final–surprise!–color. But how does it all work? What’s the science behind color-changing makeup? We’re about to find out.
How color-changing makeup works
Color-changing or “self-adjusting” makeup is generally powered by one of two technologies: pH-reactive pigments, or encapsulated pigments.
Makeup that changes with pH
Color-changing lipsticks and blushes often change according to the pH of your lips and skin. But how does it all work?
The first thing you need to know is that the pH of human skin and lips is slightly acidic. The exact value will vary from person to person, but overall, we’re all kind of in the same range–which is a little but different from the pH of the color-changing lipsticks on the market.
It’s this pH difference between your lips and your color-changing lipstick that causes the formula to change colors. You see, your favorite color-changing lipstick is formulated with a specific set of colorants called bromo acid dyes. Look at the formula: you’ll probably find colorants with names like Red 21, Red 28, or the hugely common Red 27.
According to studies, Red 27 “is colourless when isolated from water and can be mixed into an oil or a wax-based product, like lipstick, resulting in a colourless finished product as well. When it comes in contact with moisture, the change in solubility and pH causes this pigment to gain a pink shade. This variation of colour can be different from person to person depending on their natural lip and skin pigmentation and of course pH value. The amount of CI 45410 [Red 27 or Red 28], along with the other dyes used, will also determine the final shade.”
To put it simply: color-changing lipsticks use pH-sensitive colorants that change colors when in contact with the moisture and pH of our lips. It’s that easy!
Makeup with encapsulated pigments
In addition to products that change with pH, there are also makeup products that change color because they contain encapsulated pigments hidden away in their formula. This is particularly common in BB and CC creams, but it can also happen in foundations and other makeup products.
Here’s how it works: the skin-colored pigments that that will give your skin the desired coverage are encased inside little wax or gel spheres (meaning, they are encapsulated). These spheres are then suspended in a base that can be any color–it can be white, as with many other skincare products, or it can be green, lilac, or pink, for color-correction purposes.
When you rub the product into your skin, these spheres break open and release the pigments into the base. This is how these products manage to create the illusion that they change color and adapt to your skin tone–in reality, in changing from white to something closer to your skin tone, they are only reacting to the friction of application.
This may sound ingenious enough, but there’s a downside: no matter how much it seems like the formula is adapting to you, it can only go so far. The pigments encapsulated in the formula may be a good match for fair to medium skin tones, but they are not always able to come close to darker skin tones. For this reason, it’s important to approach the marketing claims of these products with a grain of salt: although many promote themselves as having a “universal shade” or “universal tint”, they’re unlikely to work on either very fair or very dark skin tones.
7 color-changing makeup products you can try now
If you’re curious about color changing products and want to add one to your makeup routine, we have a few suggestions. Here are some color changing products we love:
J.Cat Lipspect Lip Switch Color Changing Lip Oil
The color-changing lip oil
Lip oils are extremely popular right now, so we had to bring you a color-changing lip oil. Formulated with argan oil, the J.Cat Lipspect Lip Switch Color Changing Lip Oil nourishes your lips and leaves them looking smooth, supple, and very glossy.
The formula is available in a variety of shades that adapt when in contact with your lips, creating a one-of-a-kind lip color that’s just for you.
Shiseido WASO Shikulime Color Control Oil-Free Moisturizer SPF30
The CC cream for combination to oily skin
The Shiseido WASO Shikulime Color Control Oil-Free Moisturizer SPF30 comes out of the tube looking like your average skincare product: white.
The second you start massaging it into the skin, however, the formula begins to shift. As the white color fades, the product starts to adapt to your skin tone, providing sheer to medium coverage and a natural, slightly matte finish. The formula is hydrating but oil-free, perfect for combination to oily skin types.
Frezyderm Active Sun Screen Face Fluid SPF50+
The versatile color-changing sunscreen
Most color-changing products start out white or clear, and then adjust to your skin tone, but the Frezyderm Active Sun Screen Face Fluid SPF50+ starts out black.
Designed for active people with active outdoorsy lifestyles, this sunscreen uses activated charcoal to help you see exactly where you’re applying your product. As you massage the formula into the skin, the charcoal fades against your skin tone, leaving behind a natural, slightly glowing finish.
Filorga Oxygen-Glow Perfecting Radiance CC Cream SPF30
The glow-boosting CC cream
We’re longtime fans of the Filorga Oxygen-Glow Perfecting Radiance CC Cream SPF30, here at Care to Beauty. It’s no wonder: this glow-boosting CC cream provides high sun protection and adapts effortlessly to most skin tones, thanks to the encapsulated pigments in the formula.
Also included are hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and niacinamide, among a plethora of other star ingredients that will bring your skin a boost of radiance and vitality.
essence Space Glow Lipstick
The futuristic lipstick
If you want to fully embrace the whimsical spirit of color-changing makeup, try the essence Space Glow Lipstick. This galaxy-inspired purple lipstick changes color when in contact with your lips, taking on a flattering pink or berry shade.
The finish is slightly shimmery, which perfectly complements the galactic theme!
Erborian CC Red Correct SPF25
The CC cream for redness-prone skin
Not to play favorites, but the Erborian CC Red Correct SPF25 might just be one of the most impressive CC creams we’ve ever seen. This Korean-inspired CC cream is light green when it comes out of the tube, but it changes on the skin.
As you massage the formula into the skin, the green pigments seem to disappear, neutralizing redness and evening out the complexion. The formula is also enriched with Centella asiatica, a star ingredient known for its has antioxidant and soothing properties.
essence Electric Glow Colour Changing Lip & Cheek Oil
The color-changing blush and lip oil
Color-changing blushes aren’t as common as color-changing lipsticks, so essence has decided to create a product that’s both: the essence Electric Glow Colour Changing Lip & Cheek Oil.
Formulated with nourishing peach kernel oil, this product reacts to the pH value of your skin and lips in order to create a fresh, natural glow. Use your finger to blend the product into your cheeks, lips, or both, and enjoy the versatility!
We’ve lifted the veil, and now you know how color-changing makeup works – it may seem like magic, but it’s really science! If you want to have even more fun with makeup, be sure to stop by the shop, where you will find a huge variety of makeup products in all colors–some color-changing, some not!
Beauty Writer & Editor