A Latina Invented Your Favorite Beauty Tool — Yes, the Beautyblender!

Backstage at Fashion Week, in the suitcases of your avorite 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.


The Shape Came About by Chance

"Sponges are generally a foam material that is poured [in a lab] into a square shape, kind of like bread loaves. They slice that square like bread, and then into pieces of pie, and that's how you get that classic wedge shape," says Silva of conventional makeup sponges. "If you look at the Beautyblender, you can kinda see where, if you cut out all those sharp edges from the traditional wedge sponge, you would get a teardrop. I needed to work with what I had, but it was also perfect."


Technically, the Micro.Mini Was the Original Beautyblender

"[The teardrop I was cutting from the wedge sponges] was too small. It was a mini. You can probably say Micro.Mini was the first Beautyblender," she says. "When I first set out to figure out how to make the sponges for sale, I knew I wanted them to be bigger, to cover more skin quicker."


You Can Thank a Scientist For the Beautyblender's Bright Pink Shade

"The sponge factory had to separate each batch of sponge they sent me to test, so every new tweak would be a different color so I could recognize which was which," explains Silva. "This was the last batch that was sent to me. There was a note inside in big letters that said: 'Do not look at the color.' It was the Beautyblender pink, and it just made me smile. It was the happiest, most vibrant color. They contacted me a few times, asking 'Are you sure you want this color?'"


The Pro Beautyblender Was Inspired by Men

"Even if my male clients weren't wearing multiple steps of makeup, we were still doing corrective makeup. Some guys were saying to me: 'I love this thing, but does it have to be pink?'" Silva says. "Other makeup artists were supporting it and using it, too, so I knew I needed to make a darker color for them: classic makeup-artist black. It was a combination of those two things. [The Pro Beautyblender] progressed naturally, but it solved both problems."


Rea Ann's Favorite Viral Beautyblender Video Might Shock You

"I was intrigued like anyone else by the condom video," Silva says of beauty vlogger Laila Tahri's recent viral hit. "Why would you do that? I wanted to know!" She adds: "I thought it was so cute when people were asking their boyfriends what they thought Beautyblender was. I used to do that at the beginning in little focus groups. They always go with something sexual."


There Is a Very Surprising Way to Repurpose Your Old Beautyblender

"You can use it for nail art, but I also have a friend that uses it as a cat toy!" she says. "I have another friend that uses it to paint on canvas. People are creative."


And It Can Save Your Outfit

"Stylists in television and film costume departments always have to find ways to remove microparticles that show up on clothes on camera — makeup, dandruff, whatever. They always have a sponge they use to wipe down the clothes before a take," Silva says. "Several times they would tell me they lost it and use a dry Beautyblender. The sponge sucks everything in, so it makes sense."


Rea Ann Doesn't Take Her Success For Granted

"It's awesome. People use that word a lot, but I am truly in awe. Where this journey has led me — this was by no means the divine plan," says Silva. "You have to dream, don't get me wrong; you have to say 'what if?' But it was just a goal [to launch this product]. I struggled to pay my rent, my car was repossessed, I was doing magic tricks with money trying to pay bills as a single parent, and now I think what a long, long way I've come."


She Says She Owes It All to 1 Key Thing

"I hope that I'm an inspiration for my kids. Times have changed a lot. I'm a people person and I'm really persuasive. I don't live in a land of no, I live in a land of yes," she says. "I hope my kids know that technology is great, but there's also this personal aspect to business. You have to make relationships. You have to be a person that people want to deal with. You have to have a heart."


She Has 1 Simple but Important Piece of Advice For Every Woman

"Dream, be fearless, and follow through," she says. "It's a marathon, this whole process of entrepreneurship. One step at a time — there are so many clichés, but they are so true. Take one little step to your dream every day. You have to embrace, not fear, the challenges. I embrace everything — the problems, the celebrations, all."