It was created in 1937 as an answer to the problem the previously used makeups presented when color film came into play—though fine for black and white film, they were garish and harsh in Technicolor. In fact, these products took on whatever color the actor was wearing—green, red, blue—as the makeup reflected whatever was near it. Max Factor’s glorious invention, a dry cake applied with a moistened sponge—looked wonderful natural and realistic, both on screen and off, and was an instant hit. And so, despite a name that conjures up images of thickly applied, garish makeup (the name merely described the form the product came in—a cake in a pan), we had a foundation that provided a lovely, natural coverage, and was comfortable to wear to boot!
Sadly, Max Factor is no longer sold in the US; I had never really used their foundations, as I couldn’t find a color match, but several years ago I did test drive it for a short stint and found it to be a lovely product. Luckily, water-activated cake makeup is still made by a number of “pro” brands, including Ben Nye and Kryolan. Being that these products are designed for use by professionals, the color ranges for both are quite immense—truly, there will be a match for everyone in either line!
I use the first product, Ben Nye Color Cake, in the shade Bisque. Though appearing quite dark and yellow in the pan, when applied it is actually a soft cream shade (a cool, pink-based alternate shade would be Geisha). It provides wonderful coverage, is very long wearing, and dries to a smooth, matte finish—a very vintage look, in fact. I also find it to be a very comfortable product to wear, especially with oilier skin and on hot days—this is one product that doesn’t feel heavy and greasy (a horrid feeling, especially when you know your makeup is sliding off your face as you walk from your car to the office in the hot summer sun.) The color chart is reasonably straightforward as well—the skintone shades are arranged from lightest to darkest—though it is best if you can test this product out in person. Just remember that the shade will appear quite a bit darker in the pan than it will on your skin, so don’t go too light!
The second product in my kit is Kryolan’s Cake Make-up, a nearly identical product to Ben Nye’s. I find Kryolan’s offering to be a bit creamier and moister feeling on the skin (though again, it dries to a soft matte finish), and it also is fragranced with a very vintage, powdery scent. Though I find the fragrance to be very mild, more sensitive noses may not like it. Kryolan’s color chart leaves much to be desired as well; the numbered shades are not neatly ordered from light to dark, and it’s quite confusing to order this one online. My original choice was TV White—a perfect match for me in the TV Paintstick, but in the cake makeup the shade is exactly as the name describes: a bright, faintly pink-tinged white--not at all a natural skin tone! I then ordered the shade Natural 1, figuring it would be a yellow-toned soft beige. My guess was right on the money, though unfortunately it’s about a shade too dark for me. At any rate, it is possible to mix the shades to adjust the color (though of course, the process isn’t as convenient as it would be to mix to liquid products. Ah well, sometimes a little extra effort is worth it!)
Now, on to application: one applies cake makeup with a dampened sponge (a hydra sponge or sea sponge work well, though a foam foundation wedge or disk will do the trick too.) Simply moisten the sponge, squeeze out the excess liquid, and then swirl it in pan. Then, apply it to your face using a light stippling motion, following by buffing in the foundation with a dry sponge. This gives the skin a lovely airbrushed quality; you can also finish with a very light dusting of loose powder to further set the makeup.
Well, there you have it—a very thorough review on cake makeup! Both the Ben Nye and Kryolan makeups are under $10, and a pan will last approximately forever, so both are an excellent investment if you can find a color match and master application!