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Foundation: The Very Basis in Makeup

Foundation: The Very Basis in Makeup MIND(s that filled) THE GAP(s) [VI]

Perhaps everyone who uses makeup has wondered at least once about its origins? Every little thing has its own past but not a lot of people know the history of foundation. Surprisingly, its antecedents are not as pretty.

Foundation traces its origins back to Ancient Greece and Rome. Its first name was “white lead” due to the fact that it was used to make Mediterranean skin appear “fairer”. It was actually made from poisonous chalk which remained through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In Queen Elizabeth I’s time, the “white lead” became “Venetian ceruse”, which was then formed of lead and vinegar in order to cover up smallpox scars. Unfortunately, this product had horrible side-effects such as hair loss, rotten teeth and permanent skin discoloration. Because of the toxic formula, makeup took a turn in the 19th century, making foundations out of zinc oxide, glycerine and calamine lotion. Still having the same purpose as the “Venetian ceruse”, it only came in three shades: white, pink and red. 

Beginnings of the foundation cream 

However, modern foundation leads back to the theatre. A German actor called Carl Baudin came up with the idea of mixing a paste of zinc, ochre and lard in order to hide the joint between his wig and forehead. His technique became popular amongst other actors and was appreciated enough to make Baudin call it “greasepaint” and sell it commercially.

By the time Technicolor film was introduced in 1930, “greasepaint” did not please as many people as it used to during its days of glory, because of the way it looked on screen and its oiliness. At this time, a Hollywood makeup entrepreneur, Max Factor, decided to develop a new formula, which led to “Pan-Cake”. It consisted of a talcum-based product which was meant to be applied with a damp sponge. When comparing it with “greasepaint” it was found that “Pan-Cake” offered a more natural look that was rapidly loved by the crowds but also by the film-industry, making it very popular throughout cinema’s Golden Age. But even before creating this beloved formula, the entrepreneur had a bit of history with other products. 

The creator 

Maksymilian Faktorowicz, by his original name, was born in 1877 in what is today Poland. He began his career as a trainee to a wig maker. By the time he was 20 years old, he was already running his own makeup shop. Later on, he became a pioneer in developing makeup specifically for motion-picture actors. In 1902, Max travelled to the United States along with his family. He began selling hair and makeup products to local stage actors. His local fame spread, actors were coming to him for advice regarding makeup, one thing lead to the other and after settling in Los Angeles with his family, he got a job at the Pantages Theatre.

He thought that “greasepaint” looked “dreadful and terrifying on screen” (Max Factor, 1914). So, in 1914, while he was perfecting makeup for the movies, he developed a way to dye “greasepaint” and give actors a more natural look in close-ups. “Pan-Cake” was the first makeup created for film.

In 1918, he came up with a “colour harmony” range for his face powder that allowed for more individual skin tones. Once the actresses were flawless on screen, they began wearing Max Factor’s products in everyday life, wanting to maintain the same effect. In the 1920s, women wanting to achieve the same look as movie stars encouraged Max Factor to begin selling his makeup outside of the movie and theatre industry. Just like the “butterfly effect”, he became famous alongside his products. He put his most appreciated cosmetics under the Society Makeup brand name. Even though the association with Hollywood gave the brand consumer recognition, he had chosen a name “that would not be too showbiz or unladylike”.

In an article that he wrote for Encyclopædia Britannica’s 14th edition, he explained how makeup is both “corrective and creative”:

“As a corrective art, make-up serves to (1) cover blemishes; (2) provide the face with a smooth and even colour tone for the most effective photography; (3) clearly define the facial features for more visibly expressive action; (4) make the player appear more attractive; and (5) ensure a uniform appearance before the camera. As a creative art, make-up enables the player to take on the appearance of almost any type of character. It can be his means of achieving a distinctive «screen personality»” (Max Factor, 1929).

Max Factor universalized the term of “makeup” but also the use of the “cosmetic repertoire”. By the 1920s, Max’s sons were very involved in their family’s business. Davis was the general manager and Frank was helping his father come up with new ideas and new products. In 1925, they received their biggest makeup order when they had to provide 600 gallons of light olive makeup to the film set of Ben Hur to ensure that both American and Italian actors have the same skin colour.

Max Factor invented many key cosmetic products which made him the well-known “father of modern makeup”. Even today, his life is still an inspiration for beauty trends, innovations and makeup entrepreneurs who aspire to go down a similar path as he has.

After his death in 1938, his son Frank took the name Max Factor Jr. and was involved in the company until the 1970s. 

The path of the company 

Until that point, the business had created a lot more than its original entrepreneur probably ever thought possible: makeup shades for US Marines during the World War II, male products such as shampoo and aftershave, a female fragrance that first launched in 1955 and many other cosmetics. In the seventies, when the third generation of Factors decided to follow their own passions, the company was first bought by Revlon, and then, in 1991, by Procter&Gamble.

In 2000, Max Factor released a product called “Lipfinity”. It was a long-lasting non-transfer lip colour. Also, in 2009, the company launches what was to become its bestselling mascara called “False Lash Effect Mascara”. Furthermore, in 2010, there was the launch of “Colour Effect Boutique”, which provided products starting from nail polish to eye shadows in a range of bright colour cosmetics. Moreover, in April 2012, Max Factor launched “Colour Effect Flipstick”. It was an innovative double-ended lipstick. In December 2012, the company’s last release: “Glossfinity”. It was Max Factor’s nail collection that offered a glossy long-wear nail finish. After being sold, the firm continued releasing products up until 2012. 


Alanna Martine Kilkeary (2018). Beauty PI: The Surprising (and Kind of Ugly) History of Foundation. See:

Hannah Betts (2018). History of Make-up: The Story behind Full Coverage Foundation. See:

Liesa Goins (2012). The Makeup of Makeup: Decoding Foundation. See:

Lifetime. Max Factor. See:

The editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2019). Max Factor. See:

Max Factor’s website. See:




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