How M.A.C collaborated with a tetrachromat to create a lipstick range of pure hues

How M.A.C collaborated with a tetrachromat to create a lipstick range of pure hues

Girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Text: Renée Batchelor

M.A.C teams up with Maureen Seaburg — a unique individual who can detect up to 100 million colours with her naked eyes — to develop a line of 24 lipsticks

Did you know that the average person can detect 1 million colours? That seems like a lot, especially when you consider that many people — especially men – are colour blind. But there are among us women with exceptional colour-discerning ability, like Maureen Seaburg, who can identify up to 100 million colours with her naked eye. M.A.C worked with Seaburg to create Liptensity, a stunning collection of 24 lipsticks.

These 'pure' shades try to stay as true to their intended colours as possible, with Seaburg working with technicians to remove any extraneous undertones that her eyes could detect. For example, the shade Habanero is an intense orange-red, while Double Fudge is a dark brown. Because the shades are so 'true' and are created with High-Frequency Tetrachromatic Pigments technology, they look the same when swatched and worn on different skin tones. Find out more about the creation of the lipsticks with Seaberg below.

How do you describe the experience of tetrachromacy to people who cannot experience it, which is almost everyone? What happens when you look at a rainbow?
Tetrachromacy is a type of super-vision. A rainbow is well beyond ROYGBIV to me. There's teal in there rose and apricot. There are many more colours in nature than in the human-made, "trichromatic" world — I see other colour values within solid colours.

How did you feel when your ability was scientifically confirmed?
In 2013, I stumbled on a Radiolab podcast about tetrachromacy, in which they interviewed a woman who had many of the same behaviours as me. I quickly sought DNA testing. It was a relief to find out there was nothing wrong and that it is an advantageous mutation. By the way, you really need DNA testing for this — the online 'tests' are bogus.

Do you feel a kinship with other tetrachromats, due to your shared experiences?I have been in touch with four other American women — there are just a handful of us identified so far. They're each really bright and creative. We hope to meet in person soon.

There is a theory that tetrachromacy is the next stage in human evolution — what are your thoughts on that? Your doctor said, "We will all be tetrachromats one day..."
They know the first full-colour seer was a female primate, and it's still women today leaping to tetrachromacy, because right now it requires two X chromosomes. Tetrachromacy could, in the distant future, spread to the entire population like full-colour vision once did.

What was your relationship with makeup growing up, and how do you think tetrachromacy affected that?
From an early age I loved to experiment with makeup. I admit to being a matchy-matchy girl, and if I couldn't find the right lipstick or eye shadow for a new outfit at the counters, I would mix them myself!

What drew you to collaborating with M.A.C?
The company I most admired for its diversity, philanthropy and having the most expertise with colour was M.A.C. I composed an email to legendary creative director James Gager, who has said that all of his collaborators "are like strange aunts and uncles coming home." I hoped I was strange enough.

How was the experience of developing the new Lipsticks?
The Process Tech Lab was a very special "secret garden" that few people get to experience. I was amazed by the complexity of the operation, which was like a gourmet kitchen for cosmetics. I learned a lot from my M.A.C colleagues who very congenially guided me through the craft of making lipstick.

What made you choose one option over another?
The absolute purity and saturation of the colour mattered most to me. I see colours that other people cannot, but I was not trying to skew the products in invisible directions. Rather, I used my tetrachromatic vision to focus on, for example, a Bordeaux that had too much orange, or a pink that was not cool or blue enough, and tried to pull the shades back to their centres.

Do you feel the line-up has covered the spectrum of lipstick shades?
I think there is something for everyone but of course, as someone who can see as many as 100 million colours as opposed to the normal one million, I would be happy if we could build on the initial 24 shades into the outer reaches of the spectrum. To me, M·A·C has always had the most articulated palette in the industry. To apply tetrachromatic vision to this already rich tradition just shows they'll keep pushing boundaries. I really like that.

So, is this makeup for the next stage in human evolution?
One of the leading researchers in this field says that one of the necessary components in "functional" tetrachromacy is a lifelong exposure to colour. Conceivably, paying close attention to your lipstick shades could train you as a super-seer! I urge everyone to do just that. As someone once said — colour is a mystery we all swim in, yet it is so ubiquitous it becomes invisible. Don't let colour be invisible to you. Stop. Look. Enjoy.

What is next for you?
A top vision researcher has teamed up with two engineers to use Kepler space telescope optics — the technology is scalable — to have a look in my eyes. Just as Kepler finds earth-like planets, she says there is a universe to discover in me, too.

$39 each. Available at M.A.C counters and stores from 7 October