Mineral Makeup – Fact vs Fiction
There’s a lot of marketing hype surrounding the benefits of mineral makeup. Is it really good for you, or are the claims just too good to be true?
It’s time to separate fact from fiction.
Let me be VERY clear – I am not a mineral makeup hater. As a matter of fact, Jane Iredale has been a friend for over 15 years and I’ve consulted on her mineral makeup brand.
I do have a HUGE problem with dishonest marketing and politically motivated special interest groups (like EWG) who…
- Promote misleading and/or incorrect information as fact.
- Use fear and deception to scare consumers away from safe cosmetic ingredients.
- Neglect to cite clinical data to validate their outrageous claims.
I think it’s time we cut through this bullsh*t and learn some realities about mineral makeup, ok?
Mineral makeup is different than regular makeup because it’s made of minerals.
Insoluble mineral pigments give color cosmetics…COLOR. Mineral pigments are used to create realistic skin-tones for foundations and concealers by blending variations of Red, Yellow and Black Iron Oxides, Ultramarine Blue and Titanium Dioxide (White). Zinc Oxide is sometimes added to the Titanium Dioxide for SPF protection…but more about Zinc Oxide a little later.
If mineral makeup delineates itself by the literal definition of its ingredients, then EVERY foundation and concealer on the market could be classified as mineral makeup. An interesting factoid mineral makeup companies conveniently omit from marketing and advertising.
So we’ve proven mineral makeup is NOT different by merit of it’s mineral content, because ALL complexion makeup is made from mineral pigments.
Mineral makeup uses all-natural ingredients, so it’s non-irritating and much safer for your skin.
Mineral pigments provide no special health benefits and can cause the same problems as other makeup ingredients, especially when they have a particle size small enough to enter and clog human pores. So mineral makeup is not automatically safer. Some mineral makeup companies spin fairy tales about their safety by claiming their formulations are free of “classic irritants” such as fragrances, synthetic dyes, and preservatives. Truth is, many mineral makeup companies are less concerned with your skin safety, and more concerned with their bottom line ($$$). They use lower quality (less pure) ingredients and even add some that are proven skin irritants.
Makeup that’s good for you? Let’s take a closer look.
Many mass produced consumer mineral makeups use an inexpensive substitute for pulverized pearl to give their product a skin-like glow. This ingredient is Bismuth Oxychloride (BO).
Bismuth Oxychloride is actually a synthesized by-product of lead and copper, mixed with chloride and water. Because it is made from a combination of minerals, marketing people get away with calling it natural. Problem is, it’s a known skin irritant, that can cause itching and/or rashes.
The reason people react to bismuth oxychloride is its unique crystalline structure. The jagged crystals can “poke” at skin and get stuck in the pores, where the sharper “spokes” cause irritation and damage as the powder foundation is rubbed or buffed into skin. It’s also been shown to exacerbate cystic acne on certain skin types. This is not a skin-friendly ingredient, and should be avoided if you already have acne, rosacea or sensitive skin.
Dirty Little Secret
While you “swirl, tap and buff” one of the most popular mineral makeups on the planet, you’re grinding Bismuth Oxychloride into your skin.
Mica (found in EVERY mineral makeup) is a group of silicate minerals that are widely distributed in different types of rock. Because Mica comes from the earth it may contain trace amounts of heavy metals. The levels of heavy metals in Mica are regulated by the FDA, and the small amounts that may eventually be in cosmetic do not pose a risk to human health.
BUT if the crystals are not ground/milled finely enough (150µm or less), they will cause topical abrasion to the skin during makeup application. So, while you’re busy swirling, tapping and buffing that mineral makeup into your skin, you’re actually creating microscopic incisions all over your face, making it vulnerable to possible infection and environmental damage. This is especially problematic for anyone with tender or delicate skin.
Zinc oxide is an inorganic compound derived from the mineral zincite. Most cosmetic grade zinc oxide is produced from synthetically grown zincite crystals. I admit, zinc oxide does have health benefits, but it’s still not natural. It provides minor relief from skin irritation and is used in diaper rash ointments and calamine lotions. It is also the key ingredient in physical sunblocks, one of the most famous being Zinka Nosecoat.
Most mineral makeups combine titanium dioxide (white pigment) and zinc oxide to create UVA/UVB protection (SPF). The opacity of the two ingredients, combined with the highly reflective quality of the zinc oxide, create a physical sunblock (not sunscreen, which is chemical), effectively “bouncing” UVA/UVB rays off of the skin.
Possible Drawback – When applied at moderate to full coverage, the zinc/titanium combo that creates the physical sunblock (SPF) causes many mineral makeups to reflect light back in flash photography (the same way it reflects UVA/UVB rays). This “strobing” effect giving skin a white-ish or unflattering grey cast in photographs.
A mineral’s purity is determined by where it is mined and hinges on what other trace elements are present at that location. Inexpensive minerals mined in some geographic locations may contain high levels of trace elements, like heavy metals that are NOT skin friendly or healthy.
Mineral makeup is great for sun protection.
It is totally reckless for mineral makeup companies to lead people into believing they’ll get sufficient UVA/UVB protection from a color cosmetic…ALONE.
We’ve already discussed how a mixture of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in high enough percentages creates a physical UVA/UVB sunblock. But mineral makeup is not a substitute for actual UVA/UVB protection, which should be applied at the skincare level. I’m quite aware that some brands of mineral makeup have FDA approved ratings of 20 SPF or higher and advertise recommendations by the Skin Cancer Foundation. However, to achieve actual sun-blocking protection, the makeup must be applied in a continuous, opaque layer to all exposed areas of the face, neck and ears. Doesn’t applying a layer that thick negate the purpose of mineral makeup…which is to appear “natural” looking?
Mineral makeup is so pure, you can sleep in it.
Most dermatologists cringe at the thought of patients sleeping in any kind of makeup. Dr. Dennis Gross, a NYC dermatologist and creator of MD Skincare, said in an interview, “One of the biggest mistakes women make is going to sleep with their makeup on.”
Sleeping in your mineral makeup not only can create acne breakouts, but that “healthy” makeup can become impacted in pores, making them appear larger. We all know how pretty crater sized pores are…NOT!
Mineral makeup is great for every skin-type.
Mineral makeup, though it absorbs oil, will “grab” and create a paste-like mess in very oily areas. People with acne might appreciate that mineral makeup has less irritating ingredients. But to get the coverage they need, the makeup has to be applied in multiple layers, and the result ends up looking as unnatural and caked on as any other type of makeup.
Dry/dehydrated skin is not well served either, as mineral makeup will grab just as easily on a dry patch as an oily one. Mineral makeup also settles in and accentuates fine lines VERY easily (can I hear a “hell to the no” from those of us over a certain age). The claim that mineral makeup is hydrating is “just ludicrous,” says Ms. Begoun. The very nature of the powdered ingredients makes them absorb not only oil but critical moisture that every skin-type needs to retain.
As you can see, deceptive marketing and carefully worded claims can lead us to believe that mineral makeup is “better”. Truth be told, while mineral makeup may sometimes have less irritating ingredients, it’s NOT automatically the best choice.
If you’re a consumer, I’m not saying don’t try mineral makeup. It’s one of MANY choices and might be the perfect fit for you. I’m simply pointing out that modern cosmetic technology provides MANY makeup formulas that offer excellent safety and performance attributes.
PRO PERSPECTIVE: Pro makeup artists often contact me with questions about using mineral makeup for photography.
Honestly, I have yet to find a high SPF mineral makeup that doesn’t appear slightly whiter or lighter when used in flash photography.
With the amazing selection of foundation/concealers designed specifically for professional use, I don’t see a compelling reason to carry high SFP mineral makeup in your makeup kit. But I’m not the pro makeup police, so use what works for you.