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L’Oréal Chemist Balanda Atis: Makeup is Personal


Beauty comes in many shades. But some women find their shades are underrepresented in the cosmetics industry.

Balanda Atis wants an end to that. She is a chemist in Research and Innovation at cosmetics company, L’Oreal USA. She is also the manager of L’Oréal Women of Color Lab in New Jersey. She wants to create makeup that works for all women.

“Makeup is personal. It is what drives each person, but drives each person differently. So it’s your customized look. It’s your customized feel. It’s what you think of yourself. It’s completely personal.”

Atis is African American. She knows from her own experience how difficult it is for women of color to find foundation makeup right for their skin tones.

L’Oreal launched a product line for women of color to answer the need. Atis says it was a good thing, but something more was needed.

Balanda Atis

Balanda Atis

“The head of the makeup division came to us at the time and said oh, are you guys happy now you have a lot more shade offerings that are suited for your skin tone and although we were excited to see the effort being made.

We did notice that there was still the concern of the shades either being too ashy, too red and just didn’t cover a large segment of the population. So at the time he basically said, and I’m quoting, ‘If you don’t like it, then fix it.’ So that was our opportunity to take on this project and to figure out how we can create better foundation shades for women of color.”

So, Balanda Atis and other L’oreal chemists began to explore.

“We had the opportunity to travel across the U.S, to different regions of the U.S., as well as internationally, such as South Africa, to gather skin tone measurements to make sure that the shades that we were creating were suitable for a large range of skin tones.

And, in order for us to understand the colors that make up the skin, we had to use, basically, a camera. And this camera, instead of giving us an image, gives us numbers and those numbers translates to the color in the skins. So that information helps us to create the foundation shades.”

The information they collected led to breakthrough results.

“What we found is that you can use a really special colorant, called ultramarine blue. And ultramarine blue is a truly clean, vivid, bright, rich color that allows you to go deeper, but as you go deeper, you’re still able to have a very natural color to the skin.”

Again in the industry it’s quite difficult to get deeper shades and not have them look muddy or dirty or ashy. So with this particular colorant we were able to get deeper, cleaner, natural and beautiful colors. We really felt a sense of satisfaction, we felt complete in a sense, because we knew that we had found something that would allow us to give this natural look that so many women were looking for.”

Balanda Atis is of Haitian ancestry.

She says it was exciting when she came to the United States. She had fun learning a culture different from her own, and becoming part of that new culture.

Atis says many Haitian families expect their children to become doctors or nurses. But, she knew she didn’t want a career in medicine. The chemist says she always had a passion for science, but was not sure how to make a career in it.

“The world of makeup and me meeting was not very, I guess, common. I was super excited once it happened, but it wasn’t something that I wanted or that I knew was going to happen. When I got my degree in biology I knew I wanted to do something in the science field. I was always interested in science but not quite sure what aspect of science I wanted to go into.

It was after I graduated from college, and I wanted a job just like any other recent graduate and I was fortunate to join a company that worked on cosmetics and personal care products. And while there, I had a wonderful opportunity to come to L’Oreal and, with that, is how I started my career in beauty. I started off as a chemist working on mascaras, absolutely loved, loved, loved creating mascara and eye products for women around the world so it was a great opportunity to learn and go even further into cosmetics.”

Balanda is happy that she married her love of science to cosmetics. She shares her joy with teenagers by giving talks at schools about the importance of science.

“Being able to showcase and share with others what STEM is -- Science, Technology, Math and Engineering -- is awesome. Most kids don’t have the opportunity to really have a good understanding of how science is used. Most kids just see science as mixing something in the beaker and then, poof, something explodes. But science is so much more than that. Science is in everything that we do. And being able to relate science and beauty together is just fun.”

Balanda Atis

Balanda Atis

Those school visits do not take place on U.S. soil only. Balanda Atis also shares her knowledge and experience to young people in Haiti.

“Besides taking care of my two daughters, I really enjoy giving back. And one of the ways that I give back is I go to Haiti and work with school age kids at a school that we have in the south of Haiti and provide them with education and, then, with medical care.

So we travel during the year and go to different villages, actually in Haiti and provide medical treatment to the less fortunate. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to go back reconnect with your roots, eat some great food, enjoy the lovely beaches and just be one with people."

Balanda Atis will continue to explore and create makeup products for all women.

“I aspire to not only create better foundation products for women of color, but to create better products in general. Whether it’s a foundation, whether it’s a lipstick, an eyeshadow, if its learning how to better customize and personalize products for women, I aspire to go to that next level. I want to see what is out there that allows me to continue to grow.”

I’m Marsha James.

Marsha James wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Next time on People in America, American Actress and Senior Director Melissa Fitzgerald talks about her work for Justice for Vets.


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Words In This Story

customize v. to change something in order to fit the needs of a person

cosmetics n. a substance (such as a cream, powder, lipstick) that you put on your face or lips to improve your appearance

foundation – base make-up; a special cream that is the color of your skin and that you spread on your face and neck before putting on other makeup

colorant - n. a dye, pigment or other substance that colors something

range n. a group or collection of different things or people that are usually similar in some way

vivid adj. very bright in color

ashy - adj. of a pale grayish color

beaker n. a wide glass with a lip for pouring that is used especially in chemistry for holding and measuring liquids

Go even further into - exp. go into=explore

Take the bull by the horns – exp. - to deal with a difficult situation in a very direct or confident way

One of the great ‘a-ha moments’ – exp. we had a moment of sudden insight or discovery

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