Growing up in New Jersey as a first-generation Haitian American, Balanda Atis learned that not all makeup is created equal. While she discovered burgundy lipstick went well with her complexion, finding a foundation wasn't so much fun: "Either it looked ashy or the color was all wrong," says Atis, 43. "At times, it looked like I'd put baby powder on my face. Nothing matched my deeper skin tone."

Atis grew up to be a cosmetic chemist — she's worked at L'Oréal for 17 years — and in 2006, she embarked on a new project: reformulating foundation for women of color. Over the next seven years, in the quest to develop shades and textures suitable for darker complexions, Atis and her colleagues took skin-tone measurements from more than 1,000 women representing 57 countries. Ultimately, the team helped L'Oréal launch more than 30 new shades.

The special sauce: ultramarine blue. "When it's added to the traditional mix of white, red, yellow, and black," Atis says, "Foundations can look more radiant."

Photo courtesy of L'Oréal USA
Of course, makeup isn't the only way to light up a face. "I've gone to my 10-year-old daughter's school to talk to girls about my job," Atis says. "And seeing their joy and interest pushes me to look toward the next big thing. On those days, I'm the cool mom."


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