Plastic need not apply: how naked makeup gets made

First, shoes come off. Then coats are hung up, jumpers are peeled off, zips are unzipped and buttons are undone until only socks remain. The orders and garments may differ, but the end result is the same: pretty quickly, you have no clothes on. Now if only divesting products of their plastic packaging was as easy…


As it turns out, the first step to inventing a formula for a solid foundation is actually the preceding 14 not-quite-right attempts to invent a formula for solid foundation. “There’s 15 different versions of the formula here,” says Lush product inventor Jemma, scrolling through her laptop, “But they will all have stemmed from something else, because they travel from one idea to another.” So 15+ is probably more accurate.

In 2016, Jemma began work on giving Lush’s makeup a shakeup, the first release of which was the 40 shades of solid, plastic-free Slap Sticks you’ll be able to try for the first time in Lush Labs. The timeline of how this range of shades came to be is, unintentionally, charted across the shelves, desks and colour charts of her lab. So, she invited us (and via the power of the interwebs you) round for a cuppa.

The story of Slap Sticks begins on her shelf of lip colours. Jemma explains: “First, I just needed to figure out a way to make something that is usually a liquid, or packaged, into something that can stand in a room naked. I’d spent time developing a lipstick formula that would not dry out when left in the air, and used the knowledge gained in the process as a starting point, thinking more about ingredients that are good for the skin rather than the lips.”

Two ingredients that made the cut (and one that didn’t)

Like a chef with a tasting spoon, Jemma invents new products mostly by feel. “I’m quite tactile. In my head, I will build a picture of what each ingredient is doing, by feel and touch and things like that.”

One raw material that you won’t find in the final formula is a nut butter. “I was thinking about using a lot of butters,” says Jemma, “But some people are quite sensitive to butters, particularly cocoa butter, and some people find that butters sit on their skin. They can be quite thick. And I was thinking, once you’ve got pigments mixed in with it, it’s going to travel over your face.”

Orange peel wax was one of the ingredients that did make it through the proverbial boot camp. “When I think about orange peel wax, I think about an orange. And I think about what the orange peel wax is doing on the orange. It’s creating a layer. It’s protecting the skin. That’s what it does on the orange. That’s what it’s designed to do in nature,” says Jemma, “I love thinking about things like that.”

Extra virgin coconut oil did too. “Well, coconut oil was more because it melts at room temperature. So that’s more technical,” laughs Jemma, before adding that coconut oil is also revered for its moisturising, glow-inducing properties.

Science, meet art. Nature, meet portraiture.

Jemma, as it happens, also knows quite a bit about colour theory. Because outside of her work at Lush, she is learning to produce oil paintings and portraits. Serendipitously, this experience fed back into her development of the new makeup range. “I came across the Zorn palette,” says Jemma, “And I realised that it correlated with the work that I was doing developing foundation shades. It helped me to develop the final colours that we’ve got here.”

The Zorn palette, which takes its name from the innovative Swedish artist Anders Leonard Zorn, is a colour palette which limits artists to earthy colours: typically yellow ochre, cadmium red, ivory black and titanium white. Although Zorn himself did utilise other shades, the palette has gained widespread popularity with painters, particularly as a tool to help depict skin tones. When Jemma noticed that the four colours most commonly associated with the Zorn palette could be mapped onto the range of iron oxides often used to give colour to cosmetics, she approached creating a new shade of foundation in the same way that she blends oil paints together. Drawing on feedback she had received from makeup testers following a Lush Summit, Jemma worked on creating a comprehensive range of shades to suit a wide spectrum of skin tones. “All of the new shades are a balance of some (or all) of these four colours,” says Jemma.

To create the different warm, cool and neutral undertones, she experimented with the balance of yellow and red pigments and sometimes a hint of black. “It’s literally a case of fine tuning,” Jemma explains. “You give it your best guess, and the more you do it, the closer you are to guessing correctly. I tend to get more things right first time than I used to.” Using experience and experimentation, Jemma then meticulously created each of the 40 bespoke foundation shades by hand, tailoring the interplay of pigments on each to ensure as perfect a colour match as possible.

The resulting solid foundations are both a labour of love - and, as she emphasises, a product of group creativity. “I’ve worked for lush for 13 years and in that time have developed many products,” she explains. “The process of inventing new products involves reflecting on the things I’ve created previously alongside group work with fellow inventors and the company founders to put you in the right mindset to move forward with new ideas. You don’t always know where your ideas come from because you bounce off each other.”

Jemma reflects: “I do process things internally. So I do something and I’ll spend a long time thinking about it afterwards. My paintings at home, that’s all me. But I work for a company where I’m doing things for other people, so all my ideas are to do with the greater cause of what the company wants.”

With more naked makeup lining the shelves of her lab, the new Slap Stick foundations are the first of many products shredding the plastic packaging. Be in the first to try them via here.



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