Luminosity: How An Age-Old Obsession With Light Has Made Its Way Into Cosmetics

Reflective makeup is a tool to control how different light interacts with the human face.
Publish date:
November 26, 2013
eyeshadows, chanel, lipsticks, highlighters, guerlain, Coco Chanel, light

Humans have always tried to master light. It's one of our
greatest aesthetic preoccupations. We want to control it, bend it to our will,
and imbue it with symbolic significance.

“To love beauty is to see light,” from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, symbolizes the power of
light in the western conception of beauty. This quote can be interpreted
metaphorically--in which beauty represents truth and light represents
revelation--but read literally, it’s a good summary of the value of luminosity
in aesthetics.

In European tradition, the lightness and grace of gothic
cathedrals replaced the darkness of medieval churches and represented the
infusion of the terrestrial world with the celestial light of God. New
construction techniques allowed for soaring windows, often colored, to flood
the structure with controlled light.

The beauty of luminosity challenged the
dominant ideals of Grecian proportion and proposed a new definition of

In the realm of fashion, luminosity was the aesthetic obsession
of Gabrielle Chanel. In her careful choices of her personal wardrobe and makeup,
she sought to attract as much light as possible to her face. Despite her love
of summer tanning, in the winter she would wear thick, pale makeup to suggest a
porcelain complexion. She always wore something white near her face--such as a pearl necklace or diamond earrings--to bounce light towards her

Today, in the cosmetics world, luminosity is one of the keys
to beauty. Reflective makeup is a tool to control how different light interacts with the human
face. An overall lustrous quality to the skin and features is often a desired
goal itself. But reflective products used selectively can be a way of adding
definition and punctuation to the face.

In makeup, light equals volume. Reflective products will
make a feature look larger, rounder and more open. Shine on the skin evokes
youth by mimicking the sheen of young skin while reflecting light away from
wrinkles and other flaws. It gives a look of smoothness and freshness to the

As a light pink individual, the tools I use to control light
tend to be light pink. I like to use the middle shade of Guerlain’s Écrin 6
Couleurs in 93 Rue de Passy as a finely milled highlighter for smaller parts of
my face. I dab a spot on the inner corners of my eyes, on top of my mobile
eyelids, under the brow, and just above the center of my upper lip.

Also from Guerlain, their limited-edition highlighter from spring
2012 Météorites Cruel Gardenia is the perfect peachy pink highlighter for my
temples and cheekbones. I use a bigger, fluffier brush to swipe it on with a
light touch. Dior Vernis in 108 Ivoire in one coat adds the perfect creamy
shine to my nails. For my lips, Chanel Rouge Coco Shine in 54 Boy adds just
enough sheen and smoothness.

On the left, I am wearing entirely matte makeup on my skin
and eyes with bare lips. On the right, I’ve applied the luminous products above
to give my face openness, roundness, and glow.

Now for the rest of the day, I’m
going to walk around smirking that I’ve tricked the light into falling onto my
face wherever I go.