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.”
What she was developing was the earliest beautyblender prototype — and she was clearly onto something good, because they started “going missing” on set. Without any investor help and within three and a half years, Silva developed and launched the final version of her sponge, the one you know today. The egg shape ensures artists can get to the hardest-to-reach areas of the face (the inner corners of the eye, next to the nose). The sponge itself is latex-free, so all beauty lovers can use it safely. And the signature pink color? That was a happy accident: Silva’s lab chose the shade at random, but it made her so happy that she decided to keep it. The brand now produces its sponges in a rainbow of colors — often in limited-edition, collectable variations — ranging from yellow and purple to black and pink swirl.
Today, approximately 17 sponges are sold every minute worldwide, and beautyblender is projected to make $215 million dollars in 2019 alone. Plus, the brand has expanded to include a 40-shade foundation range, blenders in different sizes for concealer and blush application, and even brushes. Silva says she never could have anticipated her success when she first started tinkering with sponges. “I created beautyblender to make my day-to-day job easier,” she says. “It was when the other makeup artists and talent on set started taking them that I realized people really want and need this.”
She’s inspired a whole new generation to push boundaries, including her 33-year-old daughter (and “CEO in training”) Erica, 18-year-old son Cruz, and “glam baby” (granddaughter) Irie. Here, in this interview for SpotlyteTM, Silva shares what she really thinks about the beautyblender dupes out there, her stance on medical aesthetics treatments, a typical day for her, and more. Read on to get deeper insight into the entrepreneur’s life.
Spotlyte: How did you pick the name for your company?
Rea Ann Silva: I find that my most creative time is at night, when I’m winding down before I go to sleep. There was one particular night I’d done everything: I knew the shape, color, usages, and how I wanted to position the product. I didn’t know what to call it, but I knew it was a blender. It blended makeup and beauty — it made you look beautiful. So, I decided to keep it simple and just put the two together.
Spotlyte: One of the amazing characteristics of the beautyblender is how it makes skin appear so smooth. What are your tricks for keeping your skin looking smooth?
RS: Make sure your skin is properly prepped through skincare and primers. That will make all the difference! Then, of course, always apply your foundation with a wet beautyblender: it will melt the product into your skin by pressing it with pores [of the sponge] that mimic the pores of the skin. This evens out the texture for a gorgeous, natural look.
Spotlyte: How often do you actually clean your beautyblender? What are your tips?
RS: I have my moments when I wait days to wash my beautyblenders, but I’ve gotten into a great routine of washing them before every use. I have to wet it beforehand anyway, so I might as well cleanse in the process! If I’m feeling extra lazy, I add our liquid cleanser to a bowl of water and let them soak overnight (it’s great for tough stains).
Spotlyte: How long should someone use/keep their beautyblender before moving on to a new one?
RS: It depends how often you use it, and how much wear and tear there is on the sponge. Our usual rule of thumb is to change out every three months, but if you aren’t wearing makeup every day, I would say up to five months is fine for a replenishment.
Spotlyte: What are the most unexpected uses you’ve heard of someone using their beautyblender for? Any tips for cutting it up and creating looks that way?
RS: Some of my nail artist friends love using our micro mini to create an ombre look on the nail. I wouldn’t recommend cutting up a precious beautyblender, but I have seen people cut the sponge to stamp a pigment onto the face.
Spotlyte: What do you think of people using unusual items (like actual hard-boiled eggs) as dupes? Are you flattered by the imitation?
RS: When I saw people applying makeup with a tomato and egg, that was crazy to me. [But] when it comes down to it, I always say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Without dupes, sponges wouldn't be a category!
Spotlyte: Where do you hope to take the brand next? You have such a unique vision.
RS: We are all about innovation and solving a need in the beauty industry. In the next few months, you will be seeing some new launches in the complexion category that will be a game changer, to both the professional makeup artist and the everyday consumer.
Spotlyte: What does a typical day look like for you?
RS: Everywhere around the world, it doesn’t matter where I am, I somehow always wake up at 7 a.m.! I start every morning by taking my thyroid medication — I have to get it out of the way, because I can’t eat for an hour after — then do some stretching or look at emails, depending on where I am. Once I have my coffee, I go workout. This whole process takes about two hours.
Once I’m back, I check my phone and look at emails. My office is 10 minutes away from [where I] workout, which is so convenient. At the office, I will take my weekly calls, and, in between, schedule some more upcoming meetings. Sometimes, I will have to bring a change of clothes to the office and go to meetings. On occasion, my glam baby (granddaughter) will stop by and we will hangout for bit. Once I get home, I have dinner around 7 p.m., hang with my man, and download the day. We will either go in the jacuzzi or watch Netflix®. My guilty pleasure is reality TV.
Spotlyte: Your daughter is referred to as the “CEO in training” — what do you hope you’ve passed on to her as a businesswoman and as a mother?
RS: I hope she’s learned tenacity. I was told “no” so many times, but kept going. She’ll face different struggles and opportunities, but I hope she’s learned how to push past the obstacles. But, more importantly, I also hope she knows how to say no when she needs to. We are so often taught to say yes to everything, but sometimes you also need to say no and do what is best for you, your company, your mental health — whatever it might be.
Spotlyte: What is your philosophy when it comes to anti-aging?
RS: My goal, based on my experience as a makeup artist who has seen the plethora of different philosophies with celebrities, is to age gracefully with the most high-quality help you can get. Don’t go looking for discounts when it comes to your anti-aging solution. Anyone who’s giving you discounts doesn’t have clients for a reason. Either they’re new or their techniques do not render natural results. My philosophy is do what makes you feel good and look good, but have somebody that is truly honest on your team.
Spotlyte: What concerns do you have about your skin? Have they changed over time?
RS: My concerns have changed. They are now more in line with tightening and texture. Earlier in my life, it was more about clarity and evenness of skin tone.
Spotlyte: What skincare products do you currently use in your morning and evening routines?
RS: I haven’t changed since 1970 — I’m a creature of habit! I believe if you find something that works, stick with it. I still try everything, and I am fortunate to be gifted many skincare products. There’s a lot of good out there, but I always come back to my favorites.
I love to double-cleanse. I tend to start cleansing my skin with an oil-based cleanser, either Sulwhasoo® or Tatcha®. I produce a good amount of oil and I don’t like to feel it on my face after I cleanse, so then I use the Special Cleansing Gel from Dermalogica®. It’s super gentle and I have sensitive skin. As my toner, I use the La Prairie® balancing lotion — I actually pour it into my hands and pat it all over my neck, face, and decollete. Whatever is left, I put on my hands and elbows. That tends to absorb into my skin pretty quickly.
I then use the SK-II® GenOptics®, and I squeeze probably way too much product out of the dropper and pat it all over. I don’t avoid my eye area like everyone tells me to. I let that sink in, and then I use the most expensive moisturizer from Sulwhasoo on my neck and face. Right now, I love their eye cream, too. I use all these products both morning and evening.
Spotlyte: What is your stance on injectables?
RS: “Hell yeah.” However, this is not a discounted activity. You need to go somewhere where someone is going to look at you realistically and just make minor [changes]. I go once a year, twice a year, if necessary.
Spotlyte: What have you tried?
RS: I do filler and injectable wrinkle reducer. I see Nurse Jamie. She is excellent at achieving subtle results.
Editor’s note: Injectable wrinkle reducers temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face, including the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet; they should not be used more frequently than every three months. Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, both injectable wrinkle reducers and injectable fillers have potential risks and side effects. Talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. And learn more now by chatting with a trained aesthetic specialist
Spotlyte: When do you feel your most beautiful?
RS: In full hair and makeup!
Spotlyte: When you have time for self-care, what do you do?
RS: Hands down, a Korean spa. I steam, boil, rub, and scrub. With the occasional slap around.
Allergan® may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this article.