How Spectrophotometers for Makeup Are Changing the Base Foundation Cosmetics Industry

Charles Revson, the famously irascible founder of Revlon Cosmetics, once opined that “in the factory, we make cosmetics, in the store, we sell hope.”

But the majority of consumers tend to purchase items in colors that subjectively please them, with little objective evaluation of how products will look once applied. And if you’re a manufacturer, that’s bad news. Cosmetics purchasers already show very little loyalty to specific makeup brands1, and what loyalty is left could easily be eroded by dissatisfaction with color choice—regardless of the other qualities your brand might offer.

Trained makeup artists, of course, have developed techniques to help users select the best foundation colors for their skin tones2. However, such methods still tend to require a trained eye and a high degree of subjective judgment. To eliminate subjectivity, some cosmetics manufacturers and marketers are beginning to use portable spectrophotometers to change how buyers select foundation—giving them objective information about the colors most suitable for their skin tones. In short, spectrophotometers allow you to sell more than hope.

Skin Color Measurement  

Because skin is translucent, it both absorbs and reflects light, and its color can look different under different lighting conditions. Different regions of skin also have a differing numbers of layers, surface curvatures, and other variances. Previously, these variations posed significant challenges to anyone who tried to use a benchtop spectrophotometer to measure skin tone. There are simply too many areas to measure—and too much variety—for a benchtop device to be a practical tool at your point of sale.

spectrophotometers for makeup can make selecting the right base foundation easier
Skin color varies widely, making accurate measurement challenging. Image credit: Flickr user Achi Raz (CC BY 2.0)

But portable, handheld spectrophotometers are bridging that gap. Your technicians can use these devices to measure a subject’s specific skin tone at different angles and under varying lighting conditions—and to take sample measurements of several different areas of each customer’s skin. The device can be customized with software that combines those measurements into a single reference standard, and customers can even return to the sales counter at different times of the year for scans that are specific to the season.

Each reference standard can also be matched to one of the 110 possible tones on Pantone’s SkinTone color grid so that, at the end of the measurement process, your customers will have objective information about their underlying skin color, complete with a specific Pantone color designation. Your cosmetics sales personnel and makeup artists can then use this information to identify the best foundation color.

From the Laboratory to the Sales Counter

Elizabeth Arden, Sephora, and British pharmacy brand Boots have already adopted portable spectrophotometers for use at their cosmetics counters3. Elizabeth Arden, for instance, uses a portable device that assesses the relative levels of black, white, yellow, and red pigments in a person’s skin. Sephora and Boots use similar technology, assigning a Pantone skin tone number to a foundation purchaser and then directing that purchaser to one of their products.

Generally, handheld spectrophotometers are lightweight, easy to operate, and able to measure small or discrete skin areas from different angles. They can be operated with one hand and provide measurements in seconds. An instrument that is easy to use also makes training simple, eliminating operator variability, which can skew results.

spectrophotometers for makeup are already in some stores
Some makeup brands are already experimenting with portable spectrophotometers. Image credit: Flickr user Phillip Pessar (CC BY 2.0)

These in-store services and others like them4 stand to revolutionize the world that Charles Revson first built on hope. If you’re a player within the modern cosmetics industry, you probably already recognize that investments in technology are necessary to maintain a competitive position in a crowded field5. Low-cost and easy-to-use spectrophotometers are one investment that can encourage both immediate sales and long-term brand loyalty. Beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder, but spectrophotometers take some of the guesswork out of the makeup selection process.

At HunterLab, we produce several portable spectrophotometers that can be configured to measure skin colors in any retail setting and under a variety of lighting conditions. Please get in touch with us to learn more about how you can use our spectrophotometers to help your customers select the best foundation colors for their skin tone.
Perfect Your Summertime Clothing Colors Using Instruments From HunterLab

  1. “Latest US cosmetic market research points to lack of brand loyalty,” January 2015,
  2. “The 14 Best Foundations for Every Skin Tone,” November 2015,
  3. “5 High-Tech and Totally Genius Ways to Find Your Perfect Foundation Match,” July 2014,
  4. “The Color of Beauty: Because Appearances Matter,” 2017,