More than 10 years ago, celebrity makeup artist Rea Ann Silva realized she could turn the makeup sponge, then a throwaway object, into something not only reusable but covetable. It helped that the Beautyblender, the single product she launched with in 2007, was electric pink.
Today, in the era of contouring, it’s hard to find a beauty tutorial video on YouTube or Instagram that doesn’t feature one of Silva’s sponges. The Beautyblender is now the No. 1 most-purchased tool at Sephora, and in the last 12 months, over 7 million Beautyblenders have been sold, according to the brand. At $20 a sponge, that adds up to roughly $140 million in sales. While the company wouldn’t reveal exact sales figures, Silva said the brand has seen double-digit growth year-over-year.
Since its launch, Beautyblender has released fresh iterations of the original sponge, along with accessories for the tool. Now, Silva is ready to cross the bridge to cosmetics.
In late July, Beautyblender launched its first full-complexion foundation range, called Bounce Liquid Whip Long Wear foundation, available in 32 shades exclusively at Sephora, Sephora.com and the brand’s own e-commerce site. The Beautyblender Bounce lineup follows a similar trend of legacy and indie beauty companies trying to ride the foundation inclusivity wave in the wake of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty 40-shade foundation launch last year.
Following Beautyblender’s Bounce launch, Silva transformed from being a behind-the-scenes makeup artist to a mogul.
Beautyblender’s Bounce Liquid Whip Long Wear foundation
Launch with a hero product
When Silva started her business nearly 11 years ago, she launched with a single product — a sponge. At the time, she was working as the department head for the sitcom “Girlfriends,” which was one of the first television shows to be shot in high definition. “I knew we needed a tool to create a flawless finish, without any lines of demarcation,” Silva said. “I ended up spending hours in my trailer cutting sponges into this teardrop shape.”
While makeup sponges had previously been thought of as a one-use kind of product, eliminating waste was always one of the pillars of Silva’s vision. “Making this sponge reusable was essential,” she explained.
Silva also developed a special foam for the sponge that become softer when wet with foundation.
From there, Beautyblender found its footing when fellow makeup artists and A-list celebrities who loved the sponge began talking about the product; it became a hallmark of the brand, with artists including Mary Phillips, who works with Jennifer Lopez and Chrissy Teigen, and Molly Stern, who works with Reese Witherspoon, using the tool.
Keep up with industry trends
The rise of makeup contouring — thanks to Kim Kardashian — as well as the no-makeup makeup look have also fueled Beautyblender’s rapid rise in recent years.
“The Beautyblender can truly be used a multitude of ways; you can use it whether you wear just tinted moisturizer or have a 20-step makeup routine,” said Silva. “We’ve seen a lot of [people] use the [sponges] to achieve the contouring trend, because nothing blends better.”
Introduce new products — but take your time
Silva had plans for her own makeup line 15 years before she pulled the trigger. In late July, and after a two-year formulation exercise, she introduced a 32-shade complexion range called Bounce. “I knew I wanted to specifically build out shades for multicultural women, who historically have [had] a very hard time finding the perfect shade,” she said.
While many brands, like Il Makiage, NYX Professional Makeup and Estée Lauder, are pushing the new 40-shade standard to even more than 40 shades (think 50, 45 and 56, respectively), Silva underscores that 32 options is just the beginning for Beautyblender. “For foundation, there is never going to be a magic number,” she said of the industry’s current preoccupation with 40. “Thirty-two shades is our starting point, and we will always look to expand the range.”
Innovation is at the core of Beautyblender’s business. “We don’t listen to the noise, we focus on how to innovate and come up with solutions,” Silva said. One example is the savvy packaging she created for the brand’s foundation. Each bottle features a palette on the back, allowing users to easily use it with the sponge.
“Bounce marks the beginning of a new era for Beautyblender; we’re not just about sponges anymore,” she said.
Silva said she wasn’t originally primed for the spotlight. “I was so used to doing my job discreetly, and today, makeup artists have to publicize their clients and their work in real time on social media,” she said. But she now has a very active online community of her own, with almost 20,000 followers on Instagram.
And the BeautyBlender audience is on a totally different level: The brand has 1.9 million followers on the platform, and over 25,000 fans liked a post teasing the Bounce launch. “Our goal with social is to engage our community by providing them with inspiration and Beautyblender tip and tricks,” said Silva. “We’ve been lucky because we have always received so much organic love. Plus, the pink color has always been so captivating; it stands out in pictures and videos.”