Color Cosmetics 101: Every­thing You Need to Know

color cosmetics illustration

The right color can be a “brand maker” in the cosmetics industry. That’s why color selection is such an exciting and important step in cosmetics manufac­turing.

Of course, it can also be a little overwhelming for brands as they launch new lineups.

Some brands strategize by putting their names on popular, tried-and-true colors. Others break the mold by formu­lating exclusive colors.

But first things first:

What is Color Cosmetics?

The term “color cosmetics” refers to several categories of makeup and beauty products that either enhance or conceal the skin’s natural pigments by applying color.

what is color cosmetics illustration

Common consumer categories include:

  • Eyeshadow
  • Eyeliner
  • Blush
  • Lipstick
  • Lip pencils
  • Lip gloss
  • Highlighter/contouring creams
  • Bronzer sticks
  • Nail polish
  • Concealer
  • Foundation
  • Pressed powder
  • Tinted moistu­rizers
  • Brow pencils/creams

Color cosmetics can be both neutra­lizing and “decorative.”

For example, pigmented concealers or face makeup may be designed to hide blemishes and neutralize redness without neces­s­arily calling attention to the fact that color is being used.

Meanwhile, a bold ruby-red lipstick is designed to stand out. Both require the same amount of diligence even though they show up quite differ­ently on the skin.

Basics of Color Cosmetics

Nobody simply paints their face with primary colors. As anyone who has spent time studying the beauty scene knows, cosmetics offer nuanced colors.

Basics of Color Cosmetics illustration

In fact, it’s common for a cosmetics brand to offer up to a dozen shades of a specific color in its lineup.

Here’s a look at the science behind how those colors are made.

Hue: The True Color of the Pigment

A product’s hue refers to its dominant color family.

When looking at a product, its hue would be the most discer­nible color you see without taking into account intensity or wavelength.

Hue is easiest to spot in primary (red, yellow, blue) and secondary (orange, green, violet) colors. However, even tertiary colors (red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-orange) that are created by mixing primary and secondary colors still exhibit hues.

hue of color cosmetics, true color of pigment illustration

Deter­mining hue is typically the first step in color selection for manufac­turing color cosmetics.

From there, brands and formu­lators can colla­borate on creating nuanced colors.

Luminosity: Amount of “White” Added to the Color

Luminosity refers to the measu­rement of brightness of a cosmetic product.

The popularity of highlighter products that use the way light bounces off the face to accen­tuate facial contours has really put luminosity at the forefront of the cosmetics industry in recent years.

luminosity of color cosmetics, amount of white

When measuring luminosity, formu­lators measure the brightness of a color using a scale that goes from white to black.

Saturation: Intensity of the Hue

Saturation refers to a color’s intensity.

High-saturation colors are vivid and strong.

The customer will feel like they are picking up a lot of pigment on their brushes or fingertips when they apply the product.

Low-saturation colors are slightly muted or “watered down.”

saturation of color cosmetics, intensity of the hue illustration

Cosmetic brands tend to tweak saturation based on their intended markets.

For example, some well-known cosmetics brands that have built names on creating “stage makeup” that will show up boldly both in person and on camera are known for products with high saturation.

A brand that caters to customers looking to create natural looks using makeup would typically focus on low-saturation cosmetics.

Of course, some brands do both. “Daytime” looks offered by many cosmetic brands focus on low-saturation products.

“Evening” or “party” collec­tions tend to have those deeper, more intense color palettes that show up without the need for repeated appli­ca­tions.

Different Types of Color Cosmetics

Hue, luminosity, and saturation aren’t the only factors to consider. 

Deter­mining how a product will display on the skin is another important aspect of formu­lation.

types of color cosmetics illustration, opaque, translucent and transperent

Opaque Color Cosmetics

Opaque colors are solid colors. When a cosmetic product is formu­lated to be opaque, light cannot travel through it because it isn’t trans­parent.

Opaque colors are also not trans­lucent. There are many uses for opaque colors in the cosmetics industry.

In many cases, opaque colors are used for “base” products.

You can also select from a much wider range of color choices when incor­po­rating inorganic pigments into formu­lation.

Many founda­tions and primers are opaque. Base-layer eyeshadow colors that are intended to be used with highlighting colors also tend to be opaque.

Trans­lucent Color Cosmetics

Trans­lucent products can be “seen through.” While they don’t “cover up” the skin, they offer brigh­tening and warming effects.

In the realm of color cosmetics, trans­lucent products such as setting powders, highlighters, lip balms, blushes, eyeshadows, BB creams, and tinted moistu­rizers are parti­cu­larly popular.

These items are favored for their ability to offer a subtle enhancement, blending seamlessly with the skin to create a natural, under­stated look that aligns with current beauty trends.

Fully Trans­parent Cosmetics

Fully trans­parent cosmetics generally add texture, shine, moisture, or some combi­nation of these benefits.

They can also be used to set or “mattify” cosmetics after appli­cation. Think of every­thing from plumping lip glosses to setting sprays.

Organic vs. Inorganic Pigments in Color Cosmetics

Most cosmetic brands today use a combi­nation of organic and inorganic pigments to add color to their products.

organic vs inorganic pigments for color cosmetics illustration

While there is a trend toward natural ingre­dients in makeup, inorganic colors are often necessary in order to achieve the intensity and staying power needed for makeup to provide the visibility and long-lasting wear time that customers want.

Organic Pigments in Color Cosmetics

Organic pigments are composed of carbon. In general, organic pigments are used when creating earthier hues.

Inorganic Pigments in Color Cosmetics

Inorganic pigments are sourced from natural minerals. They are generally used when creating richer, deeper colors. 

You can also select from a much wider range of color choices when incor­po­rating inorganic pigments into formu­lation.

3 Tips to Create Your Color Cosmetics Line

Your brand vision is always the guiding light when selecting colors for your cosmetics line.

However, there are some best practices to keep in mind as you cross the finish line in designing your lineup.

1. Ensuring Color Compa­ti­bility Across Products

Major cosmetics brands don’t tend to invest in standalone colors.

By focusing on color compa­ti­bility across your brand, you can ensure that customers stay within your brand instead of looking elsewhere for matching or comple­mentary colors.

Even just trying to maintain color compa­ti­bility within categories is helpful.

For example, each eyeshadow should be pigmented to go with a liquid liner or pencil in the lineup. The same goes for lipsticks and glosses.

With the popularity of lip and eye kits, customers are eager to snatch up “systems” that allow them to put together a perfect look using a small collection of products.

3. Packaging Conside­ra­tions for Color Visibility

Product packaging and product design is one of the biggest influences on consumer decisions.

packaging considerations for color cosmetics

Cosmetics consumers are especially interested in seeing what products look like in real life versus pictures because they are acutely aware of the importance of cosmetic colors!

This is one of the reasons why clear or “window” packaging is highly recom­mended for cosmetics. Trans­parent packaging allows consumers to get a peek of the product before they buy.

If you’ll be selling products in retail environ­ments, providing clear packaging actually deters customers from ripping open packaging on the shelves just to get a look.

Consumers also feel like they are getting a look at the quantity when the product’s contents are visible instead of “boxed up.”

Glass and plastic are heavily used in cosmetics packaging because they “reveal” products while ensuring that products remain protected and hygienic.

3. Choose an Existing Color or Create Your Own

Here’s another area where a brand’s vision is the deter­mining factor.

When you bring your product line to life using a private label cosmetics manufac­turer, you actually have the option to either put your name on estab­lished color formu­la­tions or create your own custom colors.

Choose existing or create your own Color for color cosmetics illustration

A small fee is usually added to formu­lation costs if you choose to create your own colors.

However, the process isn’t overly compli­cated.

Most cosmetic manufac­turers simply need a color code or sample product to work with in order to produce your formu­lation using the color you want.

Private label cosmetics labs are capable of recreating colors using color matching.

In order to replicate an existing color, they combine pigments, dyes, stabi­lizers, and other ingre­dients to achieve the same charac­te­ristics.

Minimum Order Quantity for Color Cosmetics

Most important for you might be how to get started. 

Bring your Color Cosmetic Line to Life illustration

Privare Label Manufac­turers: Color Cosmetics MOQ

When you choose to work with a private label cosmetics manufac­turer for your color cosmetics line, you never have to feel limited in your color choices.

You’ll have the option to choose from existing best-selling colors or formulate your own signature palettes.

But be aware that the minimum order quantity can increase if you opt for the second option.

We for example, have a minimum order quantity of only 1,000 pieces per color for most color cosmetic products. No matter if you choose to go with an already existing or your own color.

White Label Manufac­turers: Color Cosmetics MOQ

A white label cosmetics manufac­turer usually has much lower minimum purchase quantities. Some manufac­turers start at just 50 units.

However, we only recommend this option as a beginner if you want to get a taste of the cosmetics market without any major financial risk.

You can find a detailed overview of the advan­tages and disad­van­tages of white label cosmetics here.

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