How the Founder of Beautyblender Went From Creating Makeup Looks to Launching a Multi-Million Dollar Empire

Rea Ann Silva

Those of us who started wearing cosmetics before the new millennium probably associate the phrase “makeup sponges” with tiny, white foam wedges that soak up more foundation than they apply. Anyone after that, though, has beautyblender® ($20) to thank for the image in their mind’s eye: a fluorescent pink egg. 

And beautyblenders are practically omnipresent. Watch any beauty influencer’s “GRWM” video, paw through a celebrity makeup artist’s kit, or observe a particularly ambitious commuter on the subway, and you’ll see the now-iconic shape buffing, dabbing, and blending makeup seamlessly into the skin. There are even memes devoted to them — people shooting their beautyblenders around the world, asking their boyfriends what they think the tool is, and gentle digs at other sponge sellers making similarly-shaped products. Despite beautyblender’s popularity, though, very few people know its origin story — or of the woman that brought it to the world, Rea Ann Silva.

The 50-something entrepreneur was born and raised in Los Angeles, and originally had plans to pursue a career in fashion, attending the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising®. “I wanted to become a designer — until I realized that my favorite part of my fashion studies by far was sketching,” she recalls. She decided to start working at a makeup counter because she loved the artistry of it all. 

Silva, who is Mexican, Portuguese, and Irish, became known for her work on skin of color, and word spread of her talent, leading to her big break in the ‘90s: a makeup artist role on the show Moesha®, working directly with singer and actress Brandy. Shortly thereafter, she went on tour with New Kids on the Block®. “There was definitely a learning curve, getting used to all that fan craziness,” she shares. But she clearly handled it with aplomb, because she would go on to do the makeup for celebrities like Vivica A. Fox, Kerry Washington, and more.

And, while any celebrity gig has the power to change a makeup artist’s life, it was Silva’s role as a makeup artist on the show GirlfriendsTM in 2000 that was truly transformative. “It was shot in HD, so I needed something that made the actors and actresses look flawless on camera,” she explains. “I needed an airbrushed look, but I couldn't use an airbrush machine, so I started to play around with some special effects tools, and experiment with wetting sponges and cutting them into different shapes.”