Kryolan Craze: A Glimpse Inside San Francisco’s Cosmetic Candyland


Kryolan's headquarters, an industrial makeup factory right in the heart of San Francisco's Tenderloin district, is not the first image conjured when you think of a beauty wonderland. But there it stands; a rugged, reclaimed warehouse on 9th and Mission, Kryolan’s west coast flagship since 1987, and one of the Bay Area’s hidden makeup meccas. San Francisco’s creative elite stop by Kryolan year-round for everything from parade drag and Halloween hag to special effects and fantasy workshops. With Beautylish HQ only a mile away, we were long-overdue for a field trip.

A household beauty name in Europe for almost 70 years, the Berlin-born and based company provides performers, artists, and makeup addicts with high-quality ingredients and pure pigments in more nuances and textures than you can dream of. German chemist Arnold Langer originally started the brand making body care products for post-WWII Berliners, but soon transitioned to cosmetics to appease the growing avant-garde theater scene in eastern Europe—himself a fan of the artistry. AQUACOLOR, the glycerine-based, water-activated cake and his first product, soon grew to a cult following for its ease of use and comfort on actors’ skin. To this day, the formula remains exactly the same.

Zoom into the present, and Kryolan now dominates the theater, performance, and television industries with a global presence in over 85 countries, with official makeup sponsorships for RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Miss Universe pageant to their credit. Over time, the company has developed over 30,000+ formulations for every kind of makeup effect imaginable (they never throw away a formula). The same shelves that stock Technicolor cakes and pans house faux gore galore: blood, wigs, and even fake vomit. And at 92 years old, Langer still comes into work four times a week.

While most of the R &D and manufacturing is done back in Berlin, Kryolan makes some of their best-sellers (like AQUACOLOR and DERMACOLOR) in-house right here in SF—insert utter jubilation on our end.

Okay—nix the Wonka reference; should’ve known these Berliners mean business. The factory upstairs is a no-nonsense cosmetic powerhouse (no photos allowed, sorry!). On one side of the floor, heavy machinery micronize and press pigments. The rest of the space reads like a library, stacked with utilitarian aisles of makeup and effects; a cosmetic taxonomy even Dewey himself would be proud of. If only we could check every product out.

Don’t fret—the creative, artistic side of the brand creeps back out in the showroom, where you get to have the fun with the final product. Palettes, paints, glitters—the showroom is an exhibition of expression. We stayed for hours, playing till our hands were completely splattered and streaked with pigment.

Kryolan Cosmetics, 134 9th Street, San Francisco, 415.863.9684;

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