Judy Zegarelli, Creator Of Lipstick That Changes Color In Contact With pH, Dies Of Pancreatic Cancer At 76

Judy Zegarelli, product developer and founder of contract manufacturer Cosmetic Group USA, died on May 14 from pancreatic cancer. She was 76. 

“Judy was an absolute legend on the West Coast,” says Kim Wileman, founder of makeup brand No Makeup Makeup. “I remember the first time I met her. She showed me her vast collection of beauty archives that she developed through the years. I was in awe of her personal style and glamour. She was one of a kind.”

A former hairstylist from Pittsburgh who transitioned to cosmetics upon relocating to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, Zegarelli is characterized as a trendsetter by friends and colleagues. She created Chameleon, a line of lipsticks that changed color in reaction to the pH of wearers’ skin. Chameleon was sold through magazine inserts in Elle, Glamour and Cosmopolitan as well as at retailers like Fred Segal. A diffusion line called Hot Lips was subsequently stocked by Sally Beauty, Rite Aid and CVS. 

Chameleon’s active ingredient, red 23, has become an industry staple and was used in Smashbox’s O-Glow Intuitive Cheek Color, which Zegarelli developed for the brand in 2007. Other brands such as Dior, Tarte, Winky Lux, Lipstick Queen and Youthforia subsequently included it in their products. 

“All of us stood on the shoulders of someone else,” says Andrea Chuchvara, CEO of Cosmetic Group USA. “So, it was her really thinking about, why hasn’t anyone ever thought of doing a translucent green lipstick that turns pink on your lips? So, she worked on that and they marketed it as Chameleon. ‘Why hasn’t anyone ever…’ was her life’s tagline.” 

Product developer Judy Zegarelli’s 1982 lipstick line, Chameleon, spawned leagues of color-changing makeup launches, including Smashbox’s 2007 release O-Glow Intuitive Cheek Color. Zegarelli produced the liquid blush, which changed from a clear gel to a rosy pink once applied to the skin. Smashbox has since discontinued O-Glow.

Proceeds from Chameleon helped Zegarelli and her longtime business partner Al Booth purchase the manufacturer that produced color-changing lipstick and together they opened Cosmetic Group USA in Los Angeles in 1984. The now 110,000-square-foot manufacturer boasts a database of more than 4,000 formulations for skincare and makeup products. Over the years, it’s made cosmetics for brands such as L’Oreal, Maybelline, Avon, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Physician’s Formula, Stila, Smashbox and Victoria Jackson Cosmetics.

Launched by celebrity makeup artist Victoria Jackson in 1986, Victoria Jackson Cosmetics was a hit in infomercials and on QVC out of the gate. The brand sold $1 million worth of cosmetics in its first week of being on television and has generated over $1 billion in sales throughout its existence. Zegarelli conceptualized the brand at inception, when it featured three all-in-one face, cheek, eye and lip kits in peach, pink and red that were color-coordinated according to hair shade. 

“It was a big time for department stores, and everybody bought everything in a brick and mortar store,” says Chuchvara. “QVC at the time or any kind of direct-to-consumer channel was considered downmarket. Nobody bought from there unless the product was really cheap or not good quality. It also competed with department stores, so a lot of brands wouldn’t sell there.”

Every young product developer wanted to be Judy.”

The success of Victoria Jackson Cosmetics fueled Cosmetic Group USA’s sales in the early 1990s. Its revenue more than doubled to $8 million between 1991 and 1992, although it dove to $6.6 million a year later after a contract with Mattel to produce children’s makeup was terminated. The company went public in the summer of 1994, netting $1.7 million in its initial offering.

Zegarelli sold the business in 1997 to start a professional haircare line named Zegarelli with her hairstylist brother-in-law Arnold that later closed. Under new ownership, Cosmetic Group USA was rebranded as The Color Factory, and its sales steadily declined from 1997 to 2004. Zegarelli bought the company back in 2004 with the assistance of Chuchvara, who was introduced to Zegarelli through Bill Guthy, founder of direct-sales company Guthy-Renker and Jackson’s husband. 

Zegarelli sold the business again in 2012 to Mitchell Family Investments, a family office that became a minority investor in The Color Factory in 2005. A year later, The Color Factory became Cosmetic Group USA once again. Zegarelli continued with the company as founder and creative director before retiring in 2020.

The success of celebrity makeup artist Victoria Jackson’s namesake cosmetics line propelled the sales of Judy Zegarelli’s contract manufacturing company, Cosmetic Group USA, in the early 1990s.

Between 2012 and 2020, Cosmetic Group USA’s sales increased 5X. However, pandemic-related challenges cut into its revenue between 2021 and 2022, when business dipped 100%. 

To Chuchvara, Zegarelli’s legacy is immersed in creativity, passion and mentorship. “If you study product development, the best place to start is at a contract manufacturer because you learn everything there and then go onto a brand,” she says. “Many of the people that she mentored now populate our industry as high-level executives in the product development arena.”

She adds, “I think every young product developer wanted to be Judy. Old-school product developers were more risk takers than they can be now because regulation takes on a different life in the marketplace.”

Zegarelli’s daughter Dayna Zegarelli, president and co-founder of Moxy Max Management, says, “My mother was the most inspiring person I’ve ever known. She was immensely creative, passionate, supportive, unique, fun-loving and dedicated to beauty and products. She greatly admired Coco Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld and Peter Phillips. She continues to inspire me every day, teaching me how to navigate being a woman in business.”