- The definition of mineral makeup is not cut and dry
- How are earth’s minerals turned into makeup? Does that still make them “natural?”
- What are the best types of mineral makeup? They should:
- Not all mineral makeup is created equal: do your research before picking one that’s right for you!
There’s been a lot of hype about mineral makeup, with a lot of claims being made by magazines and web articles. Some of it is true, while some of it is questionable. The problem, as we see it, is that when an article touts the benefits of “mineral makeup,” it doesn’t always distinguish between high quality mineral makeup, and low-quality mineral makeup.
As a result, there can be a misconception that all cosmetics labelled as being made with “minerals” are somehow better, or good for you. This is not always the case, as we’ll see below.
So, what is mineral makeup, and why should you only use certain kinds of it? Allow us to explain!
The definition of mineral makeup is not cut and dry
Mineral makeup is a very encompassing term. If we were to start splitting hairs, we’d see that nearly all makeup has minerals in it. This is how makeup colourants get their colour (i.e. through minerals). So, using these fantastic ingredients, even if they are ‘natural,’ is nothing new.
Common minerals used in makeup include:
- Zinc oxide (for white opaqueness and light reflection)
- Titanium dioxide (a white colour)
- Iron oxide (in red, yellow and black)
- Ultramarines (such as ultramarine blue)
- Carmine (a red colour)
- Chromium oxide, or chromium hydroxide green (a green colour)
- Bronze powder (a brown colour, which may be labelled as a copper)
- Silica (for moisture, texture and oil absorption)
- Mica* (for shine)
- Pulverized pearl (also for shine)
*Mica can be ethically-sourced. According to their website, Colorescience® uses safely-mined and tested mica.
Zinc oxide is often used in calamine lotions and diaper creams, as a skin soother. It is also often combined with titanium dioxide to make mineral sunscreen (also known as sunblock, since it reflects light, instead of absorbing it the way chemical sunscreens do).
See more on our blog:
So, these ingredients are not foreign in our lives, in other areas.
However, when a brand claims it is selling you “mineral makeup” it’s not just about the minerals. It’s more about the ingredients that are not used in their formulations. Most notably, high-quality mineral makeup will not contain:
- Drying alcohols
- Synthetic fragrances and perfumes
- Preservatives (like parabens)
- Chemical (synthetic) dyes
- Red and yellow dyes derived from coal tar
- Bulking agents and fillers
- Pore clogging ingredients (like oil or wax)
- Petroleum-based ingredients (like phthalates)
And possibly more.
The above ingredients are not necessarily dangerous to human health (when used responsibly). However, they are known irritants for some people. So, when it comes to acneic skin, sensitive skin, or skin that has undergone a cosmetic procedure, it’s important to avoid applying these altogether.
Sometimes, people try a product and randomly get a dermal reaction, even though they don’t have sensitive skin. Their friends may not get that reaction. So, their ‘random’ sensitivity is likely due to a type of chemical noted above, which is hard to account for in all cases. To avoid that risk altogether, mineral makeup is a safer alternative.
These added ingredients in many cosmetics are also what cause them to ‘sink in’ to the skin’s pores. This is where the irritation can happen, not to mention the clogging that leads to acne. In powder form, good mineral makeup simply ‘sits’ on top of the skin’s surface. It still ‘sticks’ for coverage, but it doesn’t ‘sink in.’
Since minerals are generally inert (meaning, not chemically reactive), they don’t grow bacteria (when dry). This avoids the need to add unnecessary preservatives (though, preservatives of some sort are still needed, for shelf life).
But here’s the confusing part: some “mineral makeup” brands actually use the above types of added ingredients in their formulas. But, since they do technically use minerals, they can label their packages with the words, “mineral makeup.”
Also, technically, items like aluminum powder are also derived from minerals, and used as colourants in makeup. They are listed as safe for cosmetics by the FDA. However, you may not find them in “mineral makeup” because of their assumed dangers to health. On the other hand, an ingredient like beet root extract is not a mineral, but it is a so-called, ‘natural’ colourant, and you may or may not find it in “mineral makeup.”
So, the definition of mineral makeup is not cut and dry. But, there is still more to know about this subject before becoming afraid of every ingredient in every cosmetic brand you hold dear!
How are earth’s minerals turned into makeup? Does that still make them “natural?”
In makeup, the above-named mineral ingredients are ground into a very fine powder. This process is called micronization. Their pigments remain, of course, which is what gives the powder its staying colour.
Further, since their combinations and densities can be altered in a lab, they can be formulated into many shades, too. The finer the powder, the more coverage it offers.
Now, it’s important to note that these types of ingredients only start by being mined from the earth. So, yes, they are ‘natural’ in that sense.
However, when they are mined, they come with a combination of other minerals. Not all of those other minerals are great for our health. For that reason, they need to be formulated in a lab, through synthetic processes. This is to purify them, and to control their shades (for consistency).
For example, titanium may be mined from rock that also contains mercury and lead (the latter two are not good!). To turn it into pure titanium dioxide, chemists and their lab coats must be involved! (We’re joking about the lab coats).
In another example, bismuth oxychloride has been used in place of pulverized pearl by multiple mineral makeup brands. It is synthesized by combining bismuth, oxygen and chlorine, and derived from copper and lead in their metal refining processes.
Bismuth oxychloride is probably the most commonly complained about ingredient in beauty ‘buzz.’ That’s because it has been known to cause sensitivity in a small percentage of people (it has sharper edges than pearl, so it can irritate the skin when used densely). However, it is safe when used in small amounts, such as in makeup products. The FDA has approved it as a colourant in cosmetics.
Why are we telling you all this? Because, as an informed consumer, you should know that ‘natural’ is not always better for you. And, even the term ‘natural’ on cosmetic labels can be misleading.
Once a natural substance is processed in a lab, it causes one to ask: “is it still natural?” And if not, then, “is it really bad?” The answer is: not always. Sometimes, it’s good, and sometimes it’s bad. And other times, truly ‘natural’ is dangerous.
What are the best types of mineral makeup?
A good mineral makeup brand will know the difference between what’s natural and good, versus what’s natural and not good. They’ll also know the difference between synthetic and good, versus synthetic and not good.
As you may have noticed, we sell Colorescience® products at our skin clinic (and in our online shop, here). We love it, for reasons explained on this page. This brand was created by the industry’s pioneer in mineral makeup, Diane Ranger. Her story is a long one, but we’ll say this: she knows what she’s talking about!
Learn about Diane and how mineral makeup became so popular in the first place, at the following link:
Of course, there are plenty of other mineral makeup brands out there. So how do you pick one that’s right for you?
In our opinion, a high-quality mineral makeup line should:
Pass the ‘float’ test
When using a powdered mineral makeup product, it should not sink into, nor blend with water. Minerals should be so light that they ‘sit’ on top of water. See the video and images below for a demonstration:
Not contain certain ingredients
Above, we’ve listed ingredients that most ‘good’ mineral makeup brands don’t use. In addition, you also want to look for some ‘highlight’ labels, such as:
Oil-free and non-comedogenic
Any makeup you use should be labelled as oil-free and non-comedogenic. This is because some people can get acne specifically from using makeup. It is called acne cosmetica. For example, coconut oil is ‘natural,’ and even ‘vegan’ and ‘clean.’ But, it can also be very clogging to pores.
You’ll notice that on our list of ‘no-nos,’ we added fragrance. But hey, what’s wrong with a nice-smelling product, right?
Sometimes, makeup ingredients need to be masked with fragrance, to make them tolerable for consumer use. Or, companies add fragrance and perfume simply because we all love whiffing in a good scent. We have to admit, it is lovely to smell nice things!
The problem is, fragrance is a known irritant to some people’s skin (especially if it is sensitive). Fragrances don’t have to be synthetic to create this problem (though, most of the time, that seems to be the case). Essential oils technically count as being a fragrance, too. So, if you have sensitive skin, don’t be fooled by how ‘natural’ they are! They include popular skin care ingredients like rose, ylang-ylang, lavender, and others.
However, note that sometimes, you’ll see plant extracts in mineral makeup, which are not irritating, even though they may have a smell. In fact, botanical extracts and oils can even be beneficial for skin. So, whether or not an ingredient originated from a plant, or has a pleasant smell, is not the sole decider of whether or not it’s an irritant!
For example, daucus carota sativa (carrot) seed oil comes from a botanical source, and is used in Colorescience® makeup. However, it is deemed beneficial for skin, since it can be antibacterial and antifungal. In another example, imperata cylindrica root extract is a plant-based moisturizer, used in Colorescience® foundations.
We will be transparent in stating that it’s true some Colorescience® products use essential oils. These include citronellol, fusanus spicatus wood oil, cananga odorata flower oil (ylang-ylang) and others. If you experience reactions to essential oils, you should not use products that contain these ingredients.
The company does claim to avoid all synthetic fragrances, however. Synthetic fragrances are of concern for those who are weary of mystery chemicals, parabens and phthalates, which are in many of these nice-smelling concoctions.
Try unscented Colorescience® products from our shop:
- All Calm™ Clinical Redness Corrector SPF 50 by Colorescience® (Tinted)
- Total Eye® 3-in-1 Renewal Therapy SPF 35 by Colorescience® (Eye Circle & Wrinkle Treatment)
- Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ Body Shield SPF 50 w/ EnviroScreen®
- Hydrating Cleansing Cloths by Colorescience® (Biodegradable Makeup Removal Face Wipes)
Some types of alcohol are very drying on the skin, which can worsen acne, rosacea or post-procedure skin.
However, not all ingredients with the word “alcohol” in them are necessarily drying alcohols. Some can even be hydrating, like cetearyl (cetyl) alcohol and stearyl alcohol.
So, when a product claims to be “alcohol-free,” it is usually referring to the drying alcohols.
Talc has long been used to absorb excess moisture in cosmetic products. For example, it can be found in baby-powder. However, as you may know, talc has come under criticism, and has spurred lawsuits recently. That’s because impure talc can contain asbestos, which is carcinogenic.
For that reason, mineral makeup companies have begun using talc alternatives. These act to regulate moisture in their products, so as not to clog up your skin.
Modern alternatives to talc can include:
- Boron nitride
- Rice powder
- Oat powder
- Silk powder
- Corn starch
- Kaolin (clay)
- Bismuth oxychloride
And many others.
Continue research in formulation
There have been claims by some that mineral makeup is drying, heavy and cakey. This may have been the case in the ‘olden days,’ when it first came onto the market. However, in modern times, research and experimentation has made mineral makeup better and better. It’s also now available in liquid form, and not just powder form.
Not only that, high-quality mineral makeup can actually help acne and rosacea, because it can absorb excess oil, and reduce inflammation. It can also contain ‘good’ added ingredients such as antioxidants, humectants, emollients and conditioners. These help to further benefit the skin, without clogging it.
Mineral makeup can also now be tested for SPF ratings. Though, you should still use a sunblock underneath your mineral makeup. Don’t rely on it as your only form of UV protection. Also, be sure to reapply every two hours. The Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ Brush-on Shield SPF 50 makes this extra easy, since it is a sunscreen in powder form, which can go over makeup.
In short, a good mineral makeup brand will keep up-to-date with the latest research and innovation in skin care. Their products should provide more and more benefits over time.
Still provide excellent coverage without excess use
When a makeup product provides sheer coverage, it is not meant to be applied excessively, nor rubbed in too much. The brushing motion can be irritating to your skin.
So, if you’re looking for ‘camouflage-style’ coverage, a well-made mineral makeup product should give you a dense application, without the need to layer it on. You shouldn’t feel like you’re trying to get it to ‘stick’ with ‘hard’ blending.
This dense coverage can be hard to come by in some mineral makeup products, simply because they have not been innovative. They still go on as sheer powder, and may not ‘stick’ for as long as you need them to.
Not all mineral makeup is created equal: do your research before picking one that’s right for you!
As we’ve seen above, the term “mineral makeup” can mean different things to different formulators. It’s easy to use that label, without using only minerals, and still be technically accurate. This is why it’s important for consumers to know the difference between high quality mineral makeup and low quality mineral makeup.
Not only that, the idea that ‘natural’ is always better is a false one. Many good mineral makeup brands use ingredients that were made, or extracted, in a lab. This is for consumer safety. Plus, some substances found in nature are not always good for our skin.
High quality mineral makeup will usually not include common known irritants. They will also continue to innovate with their product lines. Good mineral makeup should go on easily, and feel great on the skin, without clogging pores.