Career Diaries: L’Oréal Multicultural Lab Leader, Chemist Balanda Atis

April 11, 2018
Alanna Martine Kilkeary
By: Alanna Martine Kilkeary | by L'Oréal

There are a lot of kickass beauty giants out there, but one of our favorites is beauty tastemaker L’Oréal chemist Balanda Atis, leader of the L’Oréal Multicultural Lab. What started as a love of science became a fulfilling career in cosmetic chemistry — and for Atis, part of that journey came with taking influential steps in order to fill a major void in the beauty space.

“Growing up, I loved to explore and play around in my mother’s makeup drawer,” Atis recalls.  “And what I discovered was that some products just did not look good on my skin. I learned early on about the challenges of finding makeup products that work well with my skin tone. In terms of foundation, there just weren't many options available to me.” With this notion in mind, it’s no surprise that when Atis decided to go to school for science, cosmetic chemistry became her ultimate path.

“My journey in cosmetics began several years ago,” says Atis. “First, I worked on developing personal hair care products, then I went on to formulate sun care products, followed by professional hair dyes and baby products. I was fortunate to gain such varied experience working with a wide range of personal care products early on.” Soon after, Atis arrived at L’Oreal as a chemist in the mascara lab and completed her graduate degree in cosmetic science.

But Atis had something a lot of other chemists did not: a diverse experience in customizable cosmetics as well as a desire to expand upon the limited cosmetics available to women of color. “At the time, I remember thinking: There has to be a way to fix a problem that affects millions of women,” Atis notes. And it was with this background and passion that lead to the conception of the L’Oréal Multicultural Lab (formerly known as the L’Oréal Women of Color Lab). And it all began with a colossal amount of research.

“We wanted to create products that were more realistic and more natural for women of color, so we collected quite a bit of research from women who represented 57 countries of origin,” Atis notes. “We realized a lot of work needed to be done to capture a full and encompassing body of work that would address their needs.” And it was Atis’s very lab that found the key ingredient that forever changed makeup for darker skin tones: a pigment called ultramarine blue.

According to Atis, creating foundation shades for women of color typically involves understanding the colors that make up individual skin tones and finding the right colorants to address those skin tones. “In our case,” she says, “this colorant was ultramarine blue, a blue pigment that has the ability to create deep, pure colors without sacrificing the final look.” But if this ingredient is readily available — why haven’t we seen more of it?

“Traditionally available colorants (white, yellow, red and black) that are used to deepen the hue of a foundation’s formula yield a limited color range, often resulting in one-dimensional colors that are flat and lack luminosity or appear oily,” says Atis. “As a result, brands tend to offer a narrower spectrum of colors that don’t address a large segment of the population.” And this is a major problem in the beauty space.

“People tend to shy away from ultramarine blue because it’s not easy to formulate, but from the very beginning, we knew it was essential,” says Atis. “And by incorporating this breakthrough colorant, we developed deeper shades, new tones with vibrant golden hues to create a broader range of colors and fine-tuned existing shades to give them more radiance.” Atis recalls a stand out project at the lab: “Creating shade 555 of Lancôme’s Teint Idole for Lupita Nyong'o was truly groundbreaking,” she says.

Atis is rightfully proud of her accomplishments and we are, too. “In terms of the Multicultural Lab, the biggest success would be the creation of a range of foundations to address women of different ethnicities.” It’s labs like these and chemists like Atis that are a step in the right direction toward our beauty future — and we’ve still got a ways to go.

“Women are beautiful in so many different ways,” says Atis. “But when we’re able to have something that further enhances our inner beauty, it's a definite win-win. I think the creation of the foundation shade range is probably my largest success here.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, and we know Atis’s work will continue to dominate in the beauty sphere.

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