Controversial Photo-Editing App Under Fire For Makeup Removal Feature

The app's creator said his product was not intended to be misogynistic.

A new makeup app is courting controversy all across the web for its ability to remove makeup from pictures or video.

The 99-cent app, called MakeApp, uses artificial intelligence to add or remove makeup on a face in a photo or video.

Some are upset with the makeup removal feature on the app, criticizing the premise as misogynistic.

The program, created by Ashot Gabrelyanov, is troubling for a variety of reasons.

The idea that women layer on foundation and mascara as a way to hide their “true” faces from the opposite sex is a longstanding — and sexist — belief. As Elle Australia pointed out, a 2017 YouGov survey revealed that an astounding 63 percent of men believe that women wear makeup to “trick” them.


While MakeApp hasn’t been explicitly advertised in this way, many have questioned why the makeup removal option exists at all.

Jenna Rosenstein, a senior beauty editor on the Harper’s Bazaar website, is wary of the app and its intentions.

“While I think the technology is quite cool, I don’t love the idea of an app that exists solely to strip women of their makeup without consent,” she told HuffPost.

“Makeup is so often a tool used to curate identity and image — and I for one would never post a selfie on the internet without my battle armor of red lipstick and black eyeliner,” she added. “Stealing a woman’s choice to wear — or not wear — a full face of makeup is problematic. We must ask ourselves: what exactly is the purpose of this app, and what is the male equivalent?”

Gabrelyanov said critics misunderstand the app.

“I want to stress that this was not intended to be a misogynistic product,” he told HuffPost over email.

“We built MakeApp as a fun experiment and released it into the wild a few months ago and unfortunately the media coverage solely focused on the makeup removal function of the app and characterized it as a bunch of ‘tech bros’ trying to hurt women, which is just so far from the truth,” he wrote, mentioning that the company has women on the team.

Another problem users of MakeApp have reported is that the app appears to lighten their skin tone. Several have posted images online showing this effect.

Gabrelynanov claims MakeApp does not lighten skin.

“MakeApp doesn’t lighten skin color. We didn’t receive messages or comments from users describing this bug,” he said. “Our neural network was trained on [a] dataset of people of different skin colors and nationalities.”

Of course, the app doesn’t actually remove makeup from someone’s face — it uses an algorithm to figure out what a person in an uploaded photo or video might look like without it. (That algorithm will sometimes add wrinkles and blemishes to a user’s face, which is something Gabrelynanov told Mashable he’s “hoping to fix.”)

MakeApp’s controversy goes beyond the app itself. Several news sites have pointed out Gabrelynanov’s past as a prominent figure in Russian media. Business Insider characterized Gabrelynanov as a “pro-Russia propagandist.” The outlet also pointed to a 2013 Moscow Times article that said the app creator and his father ran media network LifeNews, which has ties to the Kremlin. In 2015, a Mashable article called Gabrelynanov a “pro-Putin media darling.”

“To my dismay, some of the articles about us take the liberty of characterizing me as a ‘Kremlin Propagandist.’ This is not factual, is really irresponsible journalism and, unfortunately, runs the risk of really damaging my reputation,” he told us.

“While I am proud of the business I built (biggest newsroom in Russia), I eventually stepped down as CEO and left the company (roughly 4 years ago),” Gabrelynanov wrote. “I am not involved in politics and I am not in any way affiliated with the Kremlin, simple as that.”

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