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The Modern Beauty Methods of Max Factor

People | May 23, 2018

circa 1930: Make-up expert Max Factor (1904 - 1996) demonstrates the technique of applying eyeshadow, using actress Josephine Dunn (1906 - 1983) as his subject. (Photo by Clarence Sinclair Bull/Margaret Chute/Getty Images)

Walk into any drugstore, shopping mall, or big box discount store and you will find an amazing variety of cosmetics. It can be almost overwhelming to choose the right brand of foundation, type of compact powder, or neutral shade of eyeshadow to complement anyone’s personal features.

Do you ever wonder where makeup got its start? Believe it or not, it began in the early 1900’s during the time of the black-and-white moving pictures. Actors and actresses of that time wore heavy stage makeup that resembled the consistency of grease paint more than anything. This product was not ideal, specifically with the powerful stage lighting, the monochromatic film, and the ever dramatic close-up scenes between the actors and actresses themselves.

Max Factor, a Polish Jew who immigrated from Russia during a time of rising anti-Semitism, took on the challenge of creating stage cosmetics that would not only work with the black and white film and bright lights, but also give the actors and actresses a natural, flawless presentation. He disliked the makeup used in the movie industry and created the first beauty cosmetic used specifically for film in 1914. It was called “Flexible Greasepaint”, a light, semi-liquid, that complemented the actor’s appearance rather than detract from it.

In 1918, Max Factor introduced “Color Harmony” cosmetics. This particular brand of makeup enhanced the natural features of a person, particularly women, and also kept the actor’s face matte while filming. He considered all aspects of a person’s facial characteristics when he developed this unique line - complexion, hair, eyes, even structural lines and flaws.

Max Factor’s beauty shop was located near Hollywood Boulevard, making it a perfect location for developing customized formulas and shades for the current day’s movie stars. Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and even Judy Garland, were known as some of his most loyal clients.

With his movie industry line of cosmetics taking off, Max Factor made the choice to introduce his makeup to the general public in 1920. By 1928, he had released several more beauty products including lip pomade, now widely known as lip gloss, which was used to make actress’s lips look more glamorous in black and white films. He even won an Academy Award that year for his innovations and advancements in the film makeup industry.

In the 14th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Max Factor wrote the article, including a description, for “Make-Up”:

As a corrective art, make-up serves to (1) cover blemishes; (2) provide the face with a smooth and even color 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.

One of Max Factor’s greatest accomplishments, Pan-Cake makeup, was developed in 1935 to be used with the new upcoming Technicolor film. Without any correcting cosmetics, film actors faces appeared either red or blue, due to the nature of Technicolor. Pan-Cake makeup restored the actor’s natural color and allowed for well-defined facial features when viewed on this new film. When it was discovered that many actresses were taking this makeup home to use off camera, Max Factor realized a great potential in this new line of cosmetics and began marketing it to the general public.

Max Factor's “beauty calibrator,” to detect facial characteristics for the perfect look.

Not all of Max Factor’s creations were a massive hit. The Beauty Calibrator was invented in 1932 and looked more like a medieval torture instrument rather than a beauty tool. He believed that makeup perfection could be achieved by understanding the most minute details of a person’s face, allowing the application of makeup to be applied in a flawless method. This calibrator was developed to measure a person’s facial structure within 1/100th of an inch. The tool worked by placing flexible metal bands across the face and around the head. These bands would then be tightened in order to measure facial symmetry. Only one Beauty Micrometer is in existence today and is currently on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.

In 1938, Max Factor passed away, leaving a legacy for his son Francis, also a very creative make-up artist, who took on his father’s name and became Max Factor, Jr. The company is now run by his great-grandsons, Dean and Davis Factor, who are also responsible for the widely popular brand of makeup, Smashbox Cosmetics.

Max Factor’s influence on the world of everyday cosmetics began with the movie industry, but did not remain there. In fact his original Pan-Cake formula is still alive and well today in an updated version known as Pan-Stik foundation. The man who coined the term “makeup” will never realize how his pursuit of creative advancements in the cosmetic industry has made it possible for today’s modern woman to enhance her own natural beauty.

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Terry Claypoole

Writer

Terry is a lover of the beach, history, politics and has a passion for social media and technology. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach (of course) enjoying the sand and sun and listening to music from the groovy era.