NEW YORK — If a new Max Factor foundation performs as promised, women could become more at ease when selecting their makeup shade.

In January, the Procter & Gamble brand will introduce Colour Adapt makeup, a new liquid foundation that claims to adjust to variations in a woman’s skin tone. The makeup is designed to allow a woman’s natural appearance to show through while also helping consumers minimize errors in shade selection.

And according to sources, there are several similar products to follow. Cover Girl is said to be introducing an item called True Blend, L’Oréal’s offering is True Match and Revlon is restaging New Complexion and launching an Almay item.

Retailers have been hoping for a dash of excitement to spark the sagging facial makeup category, where sales have fallen 5 percent to about $202.6 million since last year, excluding Wal-Mart.

Max Factor makeup artist Sarah Monzani, who won an Oscar for makeup on the film Quest for Fire, said it is not unusual for her to use three different foundation shades on an actor to achieve a realistic look. For instance, “a warm shade may be used on cheeks, a golden color on the forehead and a pale tone on the chin.” Uneven distribution of melanin and hemoglobin in the skin is said to cause the shade variations. With Colour Adapt, said Monzani, she needs only one.

“Our skin tone is what makes us unique,” commented Anne Martin, vice president, global cosmetics at P&G. Traditional foundation typically creates a mask effect on skin, to which women then apply blush and other color cosmetics to “re-create our various skin tones,” she said. Tinted moisturizers are another alternative, yet do not provide sufficient coverage to camouflage imperfections.

Martin insists Max Factor’s new foundation delivers in four key areas. Colour Adapt, she said, “personalizes color, provides great coverage, applies smoothly and blends easily and feels great on skin.”

Available in nine shades, Colour Adapt is priced $10.95 and will be supported with a multifaceted campaign including TV, print and sampling. The promotional program will take a “holistic” approach, said Rick Sheppard, marketing director for the Max Factor brand. Sources predict first-year retail sales of Colour Adapt could reach between $15 million and $20 million, with an estimated promotional budget starting at $14 million that could triple through the year as Max Factor adds additional items to the franchise, according to industry sources.Martin said Colour Adapt could become the brand’s best-selling foundation. “Based on customer discussions, it will be bigger than originally expected,” she noted.

The patent-pending formula contains microscopic particles that adapt to underlying skin tones and molecules called “elastomers” are used to give the foundation a silky look and feel, according to P&G. The blend contains the same level of pigments of typical full coverage makeups — 9.7 percent.

P&G research found that women generally select a shade that “covers imperfections” but results in flattening contours that give a face dimension. Max Factor marketers claim that Colour Adapt adjusts to 95 percent of a woman’s skin tones, versus a mere 23 percent for a full-coverage foundation.

After suffering shrinking sales in the late Nineties, the Max Factor brand has been making a comeback in large part due to the success of its longwearing lipcolor, Lipfinity. It extended the franchise in 2001 with Facefinity and Lashfinity. This year it introduced Stretch and Separate mascara.

According to IRI, sales of Max Factor rose 5.6 percent to $82.8 million for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 10, excluding Wal-Mart. Unit sales climbed even faster — at 7.6 percent for the period.

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