Beauty Bullshit: Almay Smart Shade Makeup

This product review marks a low point in my beauty blogging career because I purchased this product with the specific intention of making fun of it. I paid for it, with my hard-earned money, specifically because I knew it was complete and utter crap.

Almay Smart Shade makeup claims to adjust its pigmentation to fit the color of your skin.
According to the Almay website, these products allow you to “take the guesswork out of finding the right shade of concealer.

Concealer [the product that I will be looking at specifically] instantly adjusts to your perfect shade. Breakthrough shade-sensing technology starts out white and adjusts to right.” Amazon adds that “the shade sensing microbeads start out white and instantly adjust to match your natural skin tone”.

Almay Smart Shade Concealer

So, being intelligent and science-literate individuals, let us consider the possible explanations for Almay’s supposed phenomenon:

  1. Some sort of chemical is mysteriously able to bind to melanin in your skin. Not only is is absorbed into your cells (allowing it to find the melanin), it is somehow excreted back into the makeup product, where it causes a conformation change in the pigments (meaning it has to be able to bind to them as well). This conformation change affects the way that the pigments reflect light. Furthermore, something about the chemical prevents it from binding to hyperpigmented areas, which one would want to be covered by makeup.
  2. This makeup is filled with microscopic nanotechnology that is able to intelligently determine the shade your makeup should be, and, consequentially, can trigger a chemical reaction that changes the pigmentation in the product.
  3. Magic.
  4. Almay is run by lying liars who lie.

Before investigating the mechanism that Almay uses for their product, I first wanted to try it out.

When it first exits the tube, the product is essentially white with a few black spots.
A bit of speading.
As you start to blend, the color begins to get darker.
As you rub it, it starts to look a bit more like skin.
By the end, it looks nice and flesh-y.

So, obviously, I concluded that Harry Potter is non-fiction and Almay is owned by witches.

The problem is that what I am seeing is not exactly what I am investigating. I’m not curious whether or not the makeup changes colors. That would be quite easily disproved the first time anyone used the product. I want to know whether “Smart Shade” makeup is a real thing. Is anything about this product “shade sensing”?

Above, we hypothesized about four possible mechanisms: a chemical mechanism, a technological mechanism, a magical explanation, or a deception-related mechanism.

The chemical mechanism and technological mechanism are both likely impossible, and, if they were possible, they would certainly be well beyond our current scientific abilities. (Furthermore, if these mechanisms existed, I highly doubt that Almay concealer would cost a mere $8.99 on Assuming that we are comfortable ruling out magic, it seems most likely that Almay is being deceptive.

Luckily, Almay’s parent company, Revlon, made it rather easy to investigate what is going on. They got a patent!

According to Revlon, Smart Shade makeup is comprised of “…a composition would exhibit one standard resting color and a second application color so that there is a consumer perception that the cosmetic composition is ‘smart’, e.g. it changes color to exactly match her skin tone.” Note the word “perception”. Revlon is quite aware that their product is all smoke and mirrors.

Woo! Mysteries!

So how does the product actually work?

In chemistry, there is a rule of thumb known as “like dissolves like”. This allows us to predict solubility. In essence, it means that a solute will dissolve better in a solvent with a similar chemical structure. Polar solute will dissolve better in polar solvents (such as water).

Nonpolar solutes will dissolve better in nonpolar solvents. Since oil is non-polar, oil and water do not typically mix.

Although oil and water do not mix on their own, if you input a lot of energy, you can make an emulsion, which will cause normally non-mixable components to blend.

One common emulsion is a vinaigrette.

According to Revlon’s patent, Almay Smart Shade makeup is an emulsion of water-in-oil. The pigments in the product are hydrophilic, or “water loving”. The “shade sensing microbeads” are simply water and pigment. When you spread the Almay makeup on your face, these pockets of pigment break open and change the color of the product.

There is absolutely nothing “shade sensing” about this makeup.

Revlon justifies this deception by claiming that “…for color cosmetics… the consumer has almost too many colors to choose from. [This will help] simplify the shopping experience… One obvious way to do this is to provide three or four general categories and ask the consumer to determine what category she falls into… for example… eyebrow categories may be ‘light’, ‘brown’, or ‘black'”.

So, in other words, they think it’s just too hard for you to make real decisions about what products you want. They want to explicitly limit your choices. And apparently Revlon thinks there are exactly three colors of eyebrows. Has Revlon seen any human beings?

According Revlon there are exactly three colors of eyebrow in this picture.

Even more tellingly, Revlon states, “Foundations with higher opacity are harder to match with skin… a foundation manufacturer that sells a relatively high opacity foundation may need to have 24 to 30 shades… [This] means more expense for the cosmetics manufacturer.” The reason that many people think that this product matches their skin is simply because there is very little coverage.

And Revlon likes it that way because it is cheaper to make less shades. However, people with very light skin (ahem), very dark skin, or unconventional coloring still won’t be represented in this brand.

Sorry Revlon, but hell no. Hell no to deceptive advertising, hell no to limiting my color choices because you are too cheap to provide the colors I genuinely want, and hell no to eliminating full coverage options.

If you have any beauty claims you want researched in future Beauty
Bullshit blogs, feel free to leave them in the comments below.


  1. Carly Dameron

    You should do a beauty bullshit post on those Physician’s Formula products that claim to be ‘mood boosting.’ I actually bought the lipstick on clearance because I wanted to know what the hell they were thinking (I didn’t feel any happier). This is on the packaging – “Infused with our Happy Boost Blend, featuring Happy Skin* and Euphoryl, natural plant extracts which have been shown to promote a feeling of happiness by mimicking the effect of Endorphins and helping to protect skin from environmental stress.”


    Wait, what?! That’s ridiculous! I thought they were just called “Happy Booters” because it was, like, hearts and shit, and cute stuff makes you happy

  3. Michelle

    Nope I was looking at them the other day too and they claim to actually put some kind of scientifically proven mood booster in it. Crazy stuff.

  4. Goddess of Negativity

    Yeah do that next!

  5. Kitty Crawford

    Hi! I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and I’m really enjoying it (loving the science behind the bullshit!), but I also have a proposition for you. I’m recently over a bought of Accunate after developing sever cystic acne, and now that my face is clearing up I’m looking into changing my foundation (I was using Estee Laudar’s double wear, and whilst it’s one of the only foundations that have stayed on my face, it’s so heavy I had to stop using it).

    Basically I’m on a mission to find the best foundation I can for my skin (being that while it’s a sensitive combination type, finding makeup that stays on longer than 2 hours is stupidly hard). So I went to my local house of fraser yesterday and whore’d out as many samples of things as I could. I’ve created a document and I’m going to give each tester a weeks trial with as similar conditions as possible, and record my findings.

    I think this information might be helpful to others with skin like mine and I’d love to write about it, but I doubt I will ever write anything on the topic again, other than this little experiment I’m doing. So my question is, would you ever consider a guest blogger? It would only ever be for the one topic, but I guess I feel it’d be somewhat a shame for the information to stay on my laptop. Plus, I feel like I having your guidance on the topic would be a massive plus. I’m taking my own notes on colour, durability, how it feels on my skin etc, but if there’s any other attributes you think I should be taking note off I’d love to know! =] Anyways, either way thanks for taking the time to read this, and I will continue to read and learn from your blog =]


    I would absolutely be interested in that!

  7. Goddess of Negativity

    Here is another suggestion a shampoo that claims it will make your hair dry faster.

  8. Unknown

    Your blog reminds me of The Beauty Brains, which I love reading. I appreciate people that take a scientific analysis when reviewing beauty products because most of us (speaking for myself), don’t have that kind of science background. When I came across your blog, I immediately knew that I had to subscribe (via googlereader).

    I absolutely loved this post. Most of the time I imagine beauty companies think we consumers are pretty stupid… or maybe they are merely exploiting our own desires/insecurities (wouldn’t it be great if this product could magically adjust to my unique skin?!)



  9. dinosourousrexx

    I’ve seen mood lip gloss at Ulta before and I’d be very curious to know what makes it work or if it works


    I will look into it for you!

  11. Beth

    Please please please address the “plant stem cell” products. The commercials make me laugh every single time. Are they quite literally cells taken from the stems of plants? Because it would be awesome if that was the case and they weren’t technically full of shit. hahahahahaha

  12. little shut-in

    LOVE this post! I keep feeling that my intelligence is being insulted when I see ads for smart makeup.
    @KittyC, Make Up Forever HD foundation has great coverage and has never bothered my superfair sensitive skin and their concealer is fantastic (though the tube never seems to close perfectly) 🙂

  13. sally maefield

    I agree, you go girlfriend 🙂 Just wanted to mention another skin site about How To Tighten Skin.

  14. Porsche

    I just laughed my ass off. Great article!

  15. Jackie Yoshi

    Well at least this puts to rest my fears about it being nanotechnology. I saw an episode of The New Outer Limits where a guy tried a nanotechnological thing, and it ended up repairing things that didn’t need repairing, and ended up really bad. That’s why I’m paranoid of nantechnology.

  16. Suzanne

    OHMYGOD, I love this post. I found it after searching for “Almay smart shade bullshit.”

  17. The Budget Beauty Blog

    Amazing post, lol. I have always wondered why cosmetics companies think we’re morons. I’m sorry, but last time I checked, water, oil, and pigment didn’t have the ability to think.

  18. PraiseTheGlaze

    Physician’s formula also makes a “sexy boost” eyeshadow that they claim to add pheromones to, lol