Backstage at Fashion Week, in the suitcases of some of your favorite supermodels, and even in your own makeup bag, chances are you'll find a familiar pink teardrop sponge.
The Beautyblender is a phenomenon. Today, seventeen sponges are sold every minute, and over 325,000 YouTube videos have been created around the makeup tool. That is even more impressive considering that when the sponge first appeared in stores in 2003, it was basically a one-woman operation: a very resourceful and skillful woman named Rea Ann Silva, a Latina makeup artist with more than 20 years of experience.
"My mother is Mexican, and my dad was Portuguese and Irish. I was brought up in Los Angeles with my mom's family. I identify 100 percent as being Latina," Silva said when we caught up with her over the phone to talk about her invention. "My mother never wore makeup. She thought I would be good in fashion, so she enrolled me into the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising." There, Silva says she quickly realized it was the sketching and drawing she loved the most, so she got herself a job at a makeup counter.
That's where it all began for her. She met the right people and started working on music video sets with singers like Rod Stewart, then made the jump into television and film, working with Vivica A. Fox in Set It Off. Finally, in 2000, she was running the makeup department for the first TV show filmed in high-definition: CBS's Girlfriends featuring Tracee Ellis Ross.
I'd spend hours cutting the sponges into the tear shape by hand, and they'd disappear from the trailer!
The idea for the Beautyblender came to Silva in the makeup trailer on the set of Girlfriends. "I would airbrush everyone in the morning, but by the end of the day, the makeup looked heavy," she says. "I couldn't bring the airbrush kit to set, so the team would do touch-ups with sponges. It was hard to keep a light hand. I found this special-effects sponge used to apply prosthetics and started wetting it like film makeup artist Kelcey Fry used to do. I realized that the smoother sponge would absorb less foundation once wet and created a natural finish. I'd spend hours cutting the sponges into the tear shape by hand, and they'd disappear from the trailer! Makeup artists and actors were taking them home." That's how she knew the invention had potential.
Read on to learn 10 surprising things about Rea Ann Silva and the cult beauty brand that has inspired hundreds of viral tricks.