The purpose of cosmetic foundations is to cover up skin imperfections and provide a natural, even appearance to skin. Foundation formulation helps achieve those goals.
Foundation history: From Ancient Greece to Modern Day
The history of foundation use can be traced back as far as 200 B.C. It was considered fashionable to have a pale complexion, so Greek women applied white lead powder and chalk to lighten their skin. Roman women and men also lightened their skins using white lead, chalk, and tin oxide-based creams. This fashion continued during the middle ages up to the early 19th century when consumers used numerous toxic concoctions to lighten their skin.
The development of modern foundation formulation can be credited to Carl Baudin who developed the first theatrical makeup. In 1914, Max Factor developed an improved theatrical makeup version that was more reflective under the lighting used on movie sets.1
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Cosmetic foundation types
The types of foundations currently marketed include:
- loose and pressed powders
- anhydrous pan cake (powder, emollient, wax based)
- emulsion based (oil in water, water in oil)
All foundation formulations are differentiated by shade and the level of opacity or coverage on skin. Coverage refers to how much color it will conceal on skin.
- Sheer is the most transparent and contains the least amount of pigment. It will not hide discolorations on the skin but it can minimize the contrast between the discoloration and the rest of the skin tone. Products with sheer coverage have less than 5 percent pigment.
- Light can cover unevenness and slight blotchiness, but is not opaque enough to cover freckles. Products with light coverage have 5-10 percent pigment.
- Medium coverage can cover freckles, discolorations, blotchiness, and red marks left by pimples. Products with medium coverage have 10-15 percent pigment.
- Full coverage is very opaque, and used to cover birthmarks, vitiligo, hyperpigmentation and scars. It is sometimes referred to as “corrective” or “camouflage” make-up. Products with full or high coverage contain over 15% pigment.
The pigments used are Titanium Dioxide in the Anatase or Rutile crystal form (occasionally Zinc Oxide) combined with various combinations of black, umber, or russet iron oxides, depending on the desired shade. The amount of coverage is mostly determined by the amount of Titanium Dioxide in the formulation. The pigments are usually dispersed in the oil phase using a roto stator mill and an oil soluble dispersing agent prior to the water phase addition.
Water-based foundations, which are the most popular form, first appeared on the market as stabilized oil in water emulsions after the end of World War II. The vast majority of current marketed forms are water in oil/silicone-based formulations.
The technology to make these formulations has dramatically improved in the last 20 years, enabled by the development of superior water in oil polymeric emulsifiers, emollients, and pigment coating technology. These developments have significantly enhanced performance while making it easier to stabilize foundation formulation.
Water in oil/silicone emulsions apply more evenly and feel better on skin because the continuous oil phase of the emulsion is in contact with skin, which reduces the dry feel of the pigments. Improved pigment coating technology also has led to improved color development and further improved skin feel.
Many water in oil foundations also are beginning to make SPF and broad spectrum UVA protection claims. These require the use of a chemical UVB absorber or micronized Titanium Dioxide combined with micronized Zinc Oxide, since Avobenzone cannot be used with metal oxides in the US. The normal SPF ranges from 15 to 30, with 30 trending to be the new norm.
Typical water in oil/silicone emulsions are comprised of:
- Water (40-60 percent), depending on coverage
- Humectant (1-10 percent): Propanediol, Butylene Glycol, or Glycerin
- Emulsifier (2-5 percent):
- Lauryl PEG-9 Polydimethylsiloxyethyl Dimethicone
- PEG 10 Dimethicone
- PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone
- Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone
- PEG-30 Dipolyhydroxystearate
- Polyglyceryl 4 Isostearate
- Emollient/silicones (10-20 percent):
- C12-15 Alcohol Benzoate
- Isononyl Isononanoate
- Coverage pigment (3-15 percent): normally Titanium Dioxide, which can be coated
- Shade pigments (1-5 percent): usually micronized black, umber, or russet iron oxides, which can also be coated
- Effect pigments (0-3 percent): titanated mica, Boron Nitride, Bismuth Oxychloride
- Other powders (0-5 percent):
- Emulsion stabilizers (.5-2 percent):
- Disteardimonium Hectorite
- fumed Silica
- Silica Silylate
- Sodium Chloride
- Magnesium Sulfate
- Preservatives/potentiators (1-3 percent):
- Benzyl alcohol
- Caprylyl Glycol
- Ethylhexyl Glycerin
- Disodium EDTA
- Dispersing agent (.5-1 percent): Polyhydroxystearic acid, Polyglyceryl 6 Polyricinoleate. Using coated pigments can reduce the need for dispersing agents.
- Chelating agents (.05-.1 percent) can improve preservation: Disodium EDTA
Loose foundation powders are normally applied with a brush or pad and are comprised of:
- Filler (60-80 percent): mica, talc, corn starch
- Feel modifying powders (0-5 percent): Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Nylon, silica
- Emollients (0-5 percent)
- Effect pigments (0-5 percent): titanated mica, Boron Nitride, Bismuth Oxychloride
- Iron oxides (2-5 percent)
- Coverage pigment (3-15 percent): level varies depending on desired coverage
- Preservative (.5 percent)- Caprylyl Glycol
Pressed powder formulations are very similar to loose powders, except they use emollients and Zinc or Magnesium fatty acid salts as binders.
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