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Science Fare : Pre-Coordinated Color Collections May Prevent Makeup Mismatches


THE WORDS makeup and science aren't usually linked, but recently a "science" involving the selection of color has emerged. The new pre-coordinated makeup "systems" are aimed at assuring women that the shades they purchase are ones they will actually wear, not stash away in a drawer because the colors don't suit their complexions.

The idea of a scientific approach to makeup is already one of the most talked-about notions in the cosmetics industry. The theory was devised in response to complaints that despite all the shades available, many women can't find suitable colors.

Some experts blame inexperienced salespeople. "A woman can go to three different counters and be sold three different palettes," says David Kibbe, a Manhattan makeover specialist. "Women are constantly sold product that doesn't look good on them."

Skin-care items promoted to emphasize the fact that they are scientifically matched to complexion types have been resoundingly successful. Industry leaders reasoned that applying the same approach to makeup could solve the problem of color mismatches.

Cosmetics labs soon were equipped with computers, and color scientists were brought in to study skin tones. The result? Avon's Avon Color, Prescriptives' Exact Color and the Gale Hayman mail-order line--all dubbed "mistake-proof" systems.

Fred Billmeyer, a professor emeritus at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., spearheaded the Avon project, studying the skin tones of about 10,000 people. He identified more than 200 shades that he divided into four groups. Based on his findings, the 350 shades sold by Avon were recast into four coordinated groups.

Before computers, color coordination was strictly subjective. Even methods like the one described in Carol Jackson's book "Color Me Beautiful," which keys shades to a woman's coloring, are somewhat subjective.

Kibbe, whose Metamorphosis salon provides color analysis, says that every week he sees about 30 women who have been incorrectly analyzed by makeup salespeople. "Women are so confused about color that they're hungry for a system that makes sense."

Hayman's system is based on hair and eye color. "That eliminates any subjective aspect. The less subjective the better," she says.

Eventually, says Philip Crosland, Avon U.S. marketing vice president, all Avon representatives will analyze clients' skin tones with a computer.

Still, some experts say that computers cannot replace the human touch. "Color is an art, especially when it comes to makeup," Kibbe says. "Without a subjective eye, a woman's beauty and individuality are lost."

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