Article by: Kelly Dobos

Color is key to decorative cosmetics and personal care products. Whether matching a skin tone or tinting gel to enhance consumer perception, understanding the science and artistry of color is an important skill for the a cosmetic chemist.

Color Theory

To begin a discussion on color theory, we’ll start with the work of Alfred Henry Munsell in the early 1900s. Munsell, an artist and professor at the Massachusetts Normal Art School (known today as the Massachusetts College of Arts and Design), was perplexed that there was no easy way for artists toMunsell color systemcommunicate color in a systematically and consistently in a similar manner the way in which music was transcribed.

Munsell’s theory defined a color space using three attributes: hue, brightness, and intensity.

  • Hue: Commonly referred to as shade or color. Descriptors for hue are simply colors like red, green, yellow and blue. However, there are many degrees of differentiation in color. For example, red can be yellow shade or blue shade.
  • Brightness: Or value, is a measure of how light or dark the color is.
  • Intensity: Measures the colors saturation, how weak or strong it is. This attribute is also referred to as chroma or tinctorial value.

The relationships between these three attributes can be portrayed in a three dimensional space as a color sphere. Sophisticated spectrophotometers can be used to precisely measure these attributes using the CIE-Lab (pronounced see lab) color space, which was created by the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) in 1931. CIE-Lab measurements are commonly used to control quality of cosmetic pigments and finished goods.

Color Scale

Attributes of the Lab scale are:color sphere

  • L – Luminance, scale of 0 (Black) to 100 (White)
  • A – Green (-a) to Red (+a)
  • B – Blue (-b) to yellow (+b)

Pantone Color System

The most widely used color communication method today is the Pantone Matching System (PMS). The PMS was initially devised in the 1950s as a way to standardize color so marketers could achieve consistency in branding and advertising efforts no matter where the materials were printed. The idea for the PMS came from a chemist by the name of Lawrence Herbert who created the precise color recipes for printing inks. Today, the Pantone Matching System (PMS) was found application in numerous industries including digital media, textile, fine arts, and, of course, the cosmetic and personal care industry.

Each color in the PMS is identified by a unique number and the range of colors Pantone specifies includes specialties like metallic and fluorescent colors. Many companies maintain strict style guides for their brands with specific colors from the PMS and some even trademark these colors because they are synonymous with the brand. Examples include Tiffany’s robin’s egg blue, Barbie pink, and the canary yellow of Post-It notes. Notably, in 2012, designer Christian Louboutin won a court ruling that prevents competitors from copying the distinctive red soles of his shoes.

Pantone creates color seasonal color trend forecasts for fashion, including the promotion of a Color of the Year. Pantone has even created a swatch book of skin tones that has been translated in to a tool to help customers at beauty retailer Sephora find the perfect shade of foundation.

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