The inspiring reason this chemist is teaching girls about the science behind makeup.
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Maybelline New York Beauty & Beyond

For most of her life, Balanda Atis has had trouble finding a foundation that matches her skin tone. And she's far from the only woman of color to have this problem.

Growing up in a Haitian community in East Orange, New Jersey, she often heard women in her community voice their frustrations over it. There simply weren't enough specific foundation colors out there for non-white women, so they'd end up using shades that didn't really suit their skin tone.

Even after Atis started working in makeup development at L'Oréal over 18 years ago, this skin tone issue remained prevalent. It actually wasn't until 2011 that their foundation line got the diversity makeover it needed. And that's largely thanks to her.


Atis working in the lab. All photos via Upworthy.

Back in 2006, Atis began the challenging task of fixing the diversity gap in the brand's foundation line.

Their research and development team had just shared a slew of new foundations that were meant to do just that, but when Atis tried them, she told her department head that she still couldn't find her skin tone match. So he turned to her and said, "fix it."

With that, Atis began traveling all over the country collecting data on the wide spectrum of skin tones out there.

Atis and two colleagues ending up doing a lot of their reconnaissance work during their time off on nights and weekends — mostly because it had become a labor of love. As a result, it took several years to collect all the information they needed to start creating more shades. However, in retrospect, the effort was more than worth it.

She wasn't just working to correct an issue at L'Oréal — deepening and expanding foundation shade range has been an industry-wide challenge for decades.

"What drove us on those 12-hour days was knowing that we were solving a problem for women," Atis says.

Atis and a colleague testing foundation pigments.

For example, they learned that adding ultramarine blue, a less widely used color, to certain shades created deep, pure foundation colors that maintained their vibrancy. Previously, darker foundation colors tended to look flat and dull on skin.

When Atis presented their revolutionary findings, L'Oréal put her on the task of developing multi-cultural beauty products full-time as part of a new lab dedicated exclusively to this work. That lead to the creation of more than 30 new foundation shades, which were implemented across L'Oréal in 2011. Needless to say, her involvement was a total game changer.

Several of L'Oréal's brands have since utilized her research including Maybelline, Dermablend, L'Oréal Paris and Lancome.

Moreover, with more women of color becoming the faces of beauty brands, the industry is making it clear that representation matters to them. And thanks to chemistry pioneers like Atis, their image can be accurately enhanced.

That said, Atis and her team are always working to expand the L'Oréal library of shades for women of color. But Atis also has another important focus.  

Today, as head of the Multicultural Beauty Lab at L'Oréal, Atis is showing girls how they too can make a huge difference in the world using science.

Together with her chemistry team, Atis explains to these avid students how they mix and create new foundations, taking into consideration factors like texture and the way light affects different pigments. The hope is that they're inspiring these chemistry enthusiasts to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math fields).

The benefits of this learning program are two-fold for L'Oréal — they're infusing the STEM world with much-needed diversity and possibly increasing the pool of beauty chemists who see what's lacking in the makeup department.

Atis teaches young women about the chemistry behind making foundations.

"I think it's really important for young girls to learn about STEM, and the opportunities are so big," explains Shauna-Kaye Scotland, senior chemist at L'Oréal. "They need to know that they exist."

The experience seems to do just as much good for the scientists themselves.

"I realized the little bit I was able to share really has a huge impact on them and their future," Atis says.

There's so much possibility that comes with learning the science behind how things are made. As long as women like Atis keep opening the door to interested young women, there's no telling how diverse the spectrum of new women scientists will become.

Learn more about Atis' work with the Multicultural Beauty Lab here:

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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