First up - what is mineral makeup? Mineral makeup traditionally refers to foundations, eye shadows, blushes and bronzers comprised of crushed minerals taken from the Earth and used in loose, dry, powder form.
In recent years, the range of mineral makeup products has expanded to include pressed powder makeup, cream and liquid foundations, along with lipsticks and mascaras. These formulas may include things like oils, butters and waxes and, unlike the loose powders mentioned above, they require some type of preservative.
Although the popularity of mineral makeup has risen dramatically in recent years - with a multitude of brands flooding the market - it is important to remember one thing: not all mineral makeup is made the same. Not it isn't! When it comes to loose mineral powder foundation, for example, true mineral makeup need only include a few key ingredients.
Image source: iStock
What are the basic ingredients loose powder mineral makeup?
Titanium Dioxide - an inorganic compound used in a range of body care products, including makeup. It provides excellent coverage & helps the make-up adhere to your skin. It also offers sun protection as it reflects the Sun’s rays.
Oxide - an
inorganic oxide used as a colourant and sunscreen agent. It is known to calm
irritated skin & can therefore assist with skin conditions such as rosacea.
It also provides good coverage & offers sun protection.
Mica (Serecite) - a type of highly brittle silicate mineral which, when crushed into tiny particles, refracts light. It is typically used as a colourant. It reduces the appearance of enlarged pores and fine lines.
Iron Oxides - inorganic oxides used to produce beautiful earthy colours. Iron oxides must be purified to a certain quality and grade before they are used in cosmetics.
Tin Oxides - inorganic oxides that are naturally found in mineral form. They are used as colourants.
Ultramarines - mineral-derived blue pigments used to cool down the colour of foundations.
pretty much all you need. Some brands may also include Kaolin Clay which offers
high absorption, great adhesion and a creamy texture. It is often used to
reduce shine on the skin and is popular amongst people with oily skin, although
those with dry skin may find it a little too drying.
Which ‘not-so-nice’ ingredients should you look out for?
Many popular mineral makeup brands found on supermarket and pharmacy shelves contain additional ingredients to those listed above, particularly pressed, liquid and cream formulations. While some of these ingredients may merely be considered cheap but otherwise harmless fillers, other ingredients may not be quite so innocuous. Here’s just a few ingredients to be wary of:
Bismuth Oxychloride - a naturally occurring mineral. However, as it is quite rare, in order to create the large quantities needed by manufacturers, it is also produced as a by-product from refining lead, tin, copper, silver and gold ores, after which it goes through a long refining process. It is listed as a colouring agent and can come in either a pearl or diamond finish and is used in cosmetics to create a shimmery look, give a silky feel and also to help the minerals adhere to the skin – that’s why it’s so popular. However, many people, particularly those with sensitive skin, acne or rosacea, find this heavy ingredient very irritating – probably because its crystalline structure means that the crystals can ‘poke’ at your skin and also clog your pores.
Parabens - preservatives used by the food, pharmaceutical and personal care industry. Common parabens include Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben and Ethylparaben. Parabens have been found to mimic oestrogen and so can act as potential hormone (endocrine) system disruptors. There have been concerns about a possible link to breast cancer. Traditional loose powder mineral makeup should not require preservatives.
Silicones like Dimethicone – these are included to give the makeup a silky feel but are often responsible for clogging the pores and ‘suffocating’ the skin, leading to redness and breakouts.
FD & C Dyes – these colourants have been shown in studies to have a neuro-toxic effect on the brain.
Phthalates - a phthalate is a salt or ester of phthalic acid and is a chemical plasticiser used to soften plastics and make them flexible so they’re not so brittle. It’s almost impossible to avoid phthalates in our modern world. Phthalates can be found in a vast array of products around the home: toys, electronics, insecticides, flooring, furniture, plastic containers - and the list goes on. And evidence shows that they can continuously leach out of products into the air, food or liquid. As binding agents, phthalates are often used in cosmetics to stabilise the fragrance and enhance absorption. So what’s the harm? You’d be hard-pressed to find a major health concern that has not been associated with phthalates – breast cancer, obesity & type II diabetes, neurodevelopmental issues, low IQ, behavioural issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. Phthalates are not required to be listed on the packaging of products.
Talc - a powdered native, hydrous magnesium silicate sometimes containing a small portion of aluminium silicate. Many cosmetics, including foundation and other powders, use talc in their formulations. There has been much debate about talc recently with concerns that some talc can be contaminated with asbestos-like fibres, posing risks for respiratory toxicity and cancer. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, talc should be avoided in powders and other personal care products, unless it is known to be asbestos-free.1
What about Nanoparticles? – These are particles sized between 1 & 100 nanometers. (A nanometre is equal to one-billionth of a metre.) Nanoparticles are most commonly used in titanium dioxide and zinc oxide found in sunscreens but some makeup brands have also been found to use nanoparticle sized titanium dioxide or zinc oxide in their makeup products. There is concern that nano-sized particles in loose or pressed powder products may pose a serious health risk if inhaled. This does not appear to be of concern for liquid or cream formulations where the titanium dioxide or zinc oxide is not aerosolized.
So, when it comes to mineral makeup, as with other cosmetics and personal care products, the important thing is to check the labels. Once you've learnt which ingredients are best avoided, it's easy to scrutinise and compare those pesky ingredients lists.
1 As for the safety of talc in personal care products in general, there have been a few high–profile court cases in the US in recent years. These specifically relate to the use of talc in women's hygiene – but that’s a topic for another day.
Note: Neither Naturally Safe Cosmetics nor the author are health professionals. Any information or advice in this article is of a general nature only and not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For medical advice regarding your own personal circumstances, we recommend you contact your GP or other healthcare professional.