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Airbrush Makeup History

When we hear the word “airbrush” we often associate it with cosmetic makeups. It is also often referenced to movie and magazine cover shoots. But did you know that an airbrush was invented to be used for painting? So, how does an airbrush work back in the day? Don’t worry; we won’t bore you with the full story–just enough to satisfy your curiosity.


The first airbrush system was invented by Abner Peeler in 1879 and was called a “paint distributor.” Many improved patents later and we have the modern airbrush gun. Facial makeup was first used in an airbrush gun in the late 1950’s when the makeup artists of the film Ben Hur used it on the actors to make them look tanned as needed in the movie projection.


Airbrush makeup is a makeup application method using an airbrush system. This is somewhat similar to how body spray tan is applied but with precision control as it is normally used on the face. It can also be used for the body.

Airbrush makeup techniques can be used to apply natural-looking makeup to full face makeup and will last up to 12 hours or more. It is best used for photo and video shoots, but it looks great in person as well.


Airbrush makeup comes in six different formulas:

Water based: Finely ground pigments dissipated in water.

Polymer-water-based: A mix of water, polymers and pigment, when airbrushed on the skin the polymer dries leaving a continuous coating on the skin.

Polymer-SD40-alcohol based: Instead of using water like the polymer-water-based formula, it uses alcohol which assists with drying of the makeup on the skin.

Alcohol based: Also called “temporary airbrush inks” alcohol based formulas are generally used when creating fake tattoos.

Silicone-based: Uses silicone for longer lasting wear and without fading. Silicone-based can be thinned with certain types of formula additives, for lighter coverage.

Most makeup artists prefer the silicon-based versus the water based formulas; however, both options are very popular. Oftentimes, water based airbrush foundation, like water based liquid foundation, tends to melt off especially when tears are shed… Also, water based liquid foundation doesn’t stand up as well to sweat.

Silicon molecules are bigger than your pores and also bigger than water molecules, so a silicon-based makeup foundation will sit on top of your skin and not melt into it. A silicon-based airbrush application deposits a thin layer of silicon foundation, which lasts longer than liquid foundation and slightly absorbs oil making your skin look matter longer.


Airbrush makeup will last longer than regular makeup and Airbrush makeup is characterized by its unique ‘globular’ application technique. The makeup is dispersed as an extremely fine mist through the airbrush gun. Millions of tiny little dots are created on the skin and when connected and layered together, create somewhat of a net over the entire face. This makes airbrush makeup to be a thin, light layer on the skin that is barely noticeable to the wearer. In addition, airbrush makeup is quick and sanitary; nothing but air and makeup touch the face.


Airbrush makeup is becoming a trend for a variety of reasons. It is lightweight and doesn’t feel sticky and messy. It doesn’t wear off easily and gives you a smooth and shine-free finish that’s quite difficult to achieve with traditional brushes and sponges. And it lasts for up to 12 hours or more!

These are also among the reasons why professional makeup artists, as well as photographers and videographers, swear by it. However, using it and understanding how does an airbrush work may take some getting used to, but with just enough practice, one will eventually get the hang of it.

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