How Sheena Yaitanes of Kosas is leading the charge of good-for-your-skin cosmetics


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Photo: Sheena Yaitanes

Makeup has traditionally involved an extensive, several-step routine with an end goal of achieving a “flawless,” well-made-up face, with all blemishes, freckles, and marks completely covered. But now, as everyone’s obsession with skin care continues to rise, it’s influencing your makeup products: Makeup shelves are increasingly stacked with pigmented products that give you color as they feed your skin the same types of ingredients you’ll find in a serum. If you zoom out for a bird’s eye view, you’ll see that Sheena Yaitanes, founder of Kosas, has been a major force in this movement.

Yaitanes—who’s been crowned one of our 2020 Changemakers—couldn’t understand why people had multi-step skin-care routines, but piled on makeup that didn’t have the same nourishing benefits. “We’ve all become really knowledgeable and well-versed [in ingredients], and have amazing skin-care routines that create a really even canvas and beautiful skin,” she says. As a chemist with a background in art, Yaitanes set out to create makeup that doubled as something that works for your skin as you wear it. Because… why should half of your routine feed your skin while the other half just sits on top of it? “I can’t bring myself to put something on my skin that would harm it, and further to that, I think it should be helping it. Because that’s a 12-hour to 15-hour opportunity to be nourishing our skin,” she says.

“[Wearing makeup is] a 12-hour to 15-hour opportunity to be nourishing our skin.”

When Kosas launched in 2015, Yaitanes started with eight lipsticks, made to match all different skin tones, and all containing a long list of lip-hydrating and repairing ingredients (think mango seed butter, rosehip oil, and green tea seed oil). This was years before Rihanna’s Fenty Effect, which sparked the makeup industry to pay more attention to formulating for all skin tones… proving that Kosas was on the money with understanding that she had to formulate for diverse customers, well before the mass market jumped on board. “People were coming up to me and saying, ‘oh my gosh, these nude-ish pink lipsticks actually work on me, you guys have finally nailed it!’” says Yaitanes. “I have a strong knowledge base of how color should be, and flesh tones are very complicated and a mixture of many different colors. I didn’t even realize other companies weren’t doing the same thing [with shade diversity].”

Fast forward to today, and Kosas has a wide range of already cult-favorite, makeup-skin-care-hybrid products, from its cream blush-bronzer duo to the editor-approved Tinted Face Oil ($42), all of which adhere to the brand’s core emphasis on easy makeup with smart, diversely-flattering hues and skin-friendly formulas. Mirroring the line’s lightning-quick rise to mass popularity (plenty of celebs regularly don Kosas products on the red carpet) has been the makeup industry’s now staple habit of borrowing skin-care product ingredients for its palettes and foundations. In a recent global cosmetics report done by Technavio, the “rising emphasis on health and wellness in cosmetic formulations and increasing consolidation in the global cosmetic ingredients market are some major factors that will boost market growth,” according to a senior analyst looking ahead from 2019 to 2023.

If you browse makeup shelves, you’ll see that even the biggest names in cosmetics are touting skin-boosting ingredients on their bottles: CoverGirl’s new Clean Fresh line, Lancome, and Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost makeup collection are just a few examples that highlight star ingredients like hyaluronic acid and aloe vera. It makes sense, considering the coinciding boom of both the skin-care and wellness markets. According to research done by the Global Wellness Institute, the global beauty industry is the largest wellness sector, and it’s worth $1.1 trillion (it was $999 billion in 2015). So the conflation of skin-care and makeup ingredients is, essentially, inevitable, and this is something that Yaitanes intuitively understood.

“Our products have to be the best possible performing makeup, but also skin care.”

“Our products have to be the best possible performing makeup, but also skin care,” says Yaitanes. “And for us to do that, we really have to deep dive with research and development, creating every single formula from scratch and using the best ingredients that we possibly can. Like an under-eye concealer needs to be an eye cream as well. If you’re putting it on your blemishes, it has to be a treatment, but also melt into your skin and provide coverage that’s dewy and radiant.” Through Kosas, she’s setting a standard for the industry: to formulate with high standards, and with skin’s health in mind.

“My goal with Kosas has always been is that putting on makeup shouldn’t impede your life. You put it on and you feel great and look great, and it’s working for your skin as you go about the rest of your day,” says Yaitanes. “We’re creating makeup for skin-care freaks.” Thankfully for us—a population that’s focused on nourishing not only our bodies but our skin—the future of makeup is only going to get friendlier to our faces.

If you’re not into a full-on face of makeup, consider one of these foundation alternatives that provide coverage while feeding your skin. And if you’ve ever wondered if foundation is bad for skin, here’s the answer, once and for all. 

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