Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Cosmetics Contemplations: Creating Your Signature Scent

Since the 1950s (when teenagers first realised that they actually had their own identity) people have become more demanding, more assertive, and more individualistic. This ranges from making one's own choices (i.e. not having things decided or arranged by one's parents) to being more demanding as a consumer, and the latter is particularly evident in the cosmetics market.

It is difficult to tell exactly when custom cosmetics became more popular, although I'd hazard a guess at it (at least as we know it) being at some point in the past fifteen years. However, at its most basic level, it arguably goes back further, at whatever point in time skincare companies decided to differentiate between those with oily, dry, normal and sensitive skin, and when makeup companies started to increase their spectrum of foundation, concealer and powder colours. Certainly it appears that the one-size-fits-all approach is fairly risky, and, in today's market, fairly primitive as well: there are still companies that assume that one cleanser will suit all skin types, or that one concealer colour will seamlessly blend with any skin tone. While occasionally this is successful - I'm thinking of Liz Earle's cleanser, for one - on the whole the maxim holds that if you are trying to please everyone, you'll actually end up pleasing no-one (or at least very few).

Then, one day, someone clever presumably picked up on this potential for dissatisfaction, and correctly assumed that the possibilities for appeasement among the perfection-seeking, beauty-conscious population were endless. Ever since then, the market for customised cosmetics has become increasingly more popular - not just out of a more demanding psyche, but also because humans are always seeking perfection, and custom cosmetics give them the illusion (or perhaps reality) that they will be able to achieve it.

So what's available? At the most sophisticated, and perhaps most well-known level of its kind, Prescriptives offers custom blend foundations, lipsticks and glosses, powders, concealers, bronzers and tinted moisturisers. This doesn't come cheap, with their custom blend foundations starting at £45 - but as one of the very pale, who has often suffered with the 'palest' shade of high street foundation streaking on orange, the motives of a Prescriptives custom blend buyer are fully understandable.

There are, of course, plenty of other custom blending companies (see the list at the bottom of the page). But if you don't have that kind of money to blow on just one foundation, there are (thankfully) other options. At a baser level, Revlon and L'Oréal are perhaps the most prominent high street exponents of customised makeup. Revlon brought the customisable foundation to the high street buyer last year with its Custom Creations foundation, which allows the user to turn a dial to darken or lighten the foundation, adapting it to a summer tan or paler winter skin. Avon has done something similar with its SpectraColor lip gloss, whereby consumers 'dial up' the strength of colour required.

L'Oréal, however, is the undisputed king of this particular high street niche. As well as its Made for Me Naturals Lipstick and its Colour Appeal Trio Pro, which allow users to select lip and eye products according to their eye colour and hair colour, the recently rolled-out Studio Secrets range takes this to a whole new level, with colour charts available alongside the products in the line to help users extend the concept in even more detail. And yet it's not as confusing as it sounds on paper, making it very consumer-friendly, and, perhaps most importantly, idiot-proof.

However, a less generalist approach is available, even from very mainstream brands. Two products have found their own stronghold, even among this already niche market (albeit a steadily increasing one): lipstick, and fragrance. Lipstick matching is arguably even more important, and even trickier to get right, than foundation matching: finding the right lipstick shade is further affected by things like teeth discolouration, and by the fact that a dream lipstick shade being discontinued can set you back even further in seeking a unified look that suits you. While getting your own lipstick blended (by Prescriptives, 3 Custom Color, or by ColorLab at Selfridges, among others) might seem like you're paying for the most expensive lipstick on the planet, presumably this is offset by the fact that you no longer have to waste money on lipsticks that make you look like a vampire.

The custom scent market is perhaps newer, but it is definitely there, and with easily accessible brands, too. By going to , for instance, consumers can use Bath and Body Works' new application to create a customisable fragrance profile, offering up the perfect scent for any mood and occasion by choosing characteristics to describe themselves. Unlike most customisable fragrance companies, Bath and Body Works allows perfume lovers to do this reasonably.

And is it really worth it? I should say so. I've never made a failed selection yet at L'Oréal's counter, and have heard great things about Prescriptives' services. The beauty of all this is that custom blending is available at such a variety of prices - ergo, you simply can't go wrong.

Customisable cosmetics brands
Prescriptives -
Giella -
ColorLab -
Mukha -
Justine -
Joya Beauty -
3 Custom Color -
Face Saver Cosmetics -

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