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A Guide to Mineral Makeup

This post looks at mineral makeup, including what minerals are, the typical ingredients used and their attributes. Mineral makeup started life in San Francisco in the mid-1970s as a modest cosmetic revolution. Fast forward a few decades and mineral makeup is just another part of the cosmetics market. Nowadays, brands that had quietly been making mineral cosmetics for decades find themselves in competition with the most famous cosmetic brands in the world.

Here are some of the properties that define what a mineral is:

  • A mineral is a solid inorganic substance found naturally occurring in the earth. For example, coal, kaolin, diamond, talc, and zinc are just a few of the commonly known minerals from a list of several thousand.
  • Minerals have a definite chemical composition.
  • They also have a crystalline structure.
  • Minerals are inert, meaning they cannot sustain any life.
  • Minerals are obtained from the earth by mining. The raw mineral is separated from any other mined materials (like ore) and purified.
  • For cosmetic use, the raw mineral is crushed into fine powders. This forms microscopic crystals which can then be used in makeup. Some minerals have to undergo various processes to produce the required compound that can be used as an ingredient. For example, the mineral zinc is vaporised to combine with oxygen to create zinc oxide.

What is Mineral Makeup?

In our mind, there are three main groups of cosmetics referred to as mineral makeup. The division is simply down to the ingredients the makeup brand chooses to use in its products.

Here are the three groups:

  • Loose powder made from just a few mineral ingredients such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and mica. These products are free of all other ingredients, including preservatives, artificial colours, synthetic fragrances, and bismuth oxychloride. They come packaged in sifter pots as loose, finely-milled powders. We feel these products are the purest form of mineral makeup.
  • Loose powder made from just a few mineral ingredients, plus bismuth oxychloride. These products are very similar to the first group mentioned, except that they also have the ingredient bismuth oxychloride. This ingredient causes some controversy and we will look at that later.
  • Makeup with some mineral content. As mineral makeup became popular, canny marketing departments are quick to label anything with a hint of mineral as mineral makeup. These products are often based on the usual ingredients found in cosmetics, such as oils, waxes, preservatives, fillers, artificial colours and fragrance. Ultimately, this makes these mineral products not that much different to standard products, though this can vary from product to product.

To summarise, the purest form of mineral makeup is a fine loose powder comprised only of a few mineral ingredients. It is this form of mineral makeup that we concentrate on in this post.

mineral makeup examples
A small selection of colours that loose mineral makeup foundation, eyeshadow and blusher comes in. A kabuki brush is ideal for applying the powders.

Mineral Makeup Ingredients

Minerals and mineral compounds have been used in cosmetics for thousands of years. This includes ones we wouldn’t use today, like lead.

Common mineral ingredients used nowadays in mineral makeup include:

  • Titanium oxide – protects the skin from UVA and UVB radiation. It is also used as a whitener and emulsifier. It is considered to be of no risk of causing skin sensitivity.
  • Zinc oxide – provides natural sunscreen properties, is matte and gives coverage. It is also used as a whitener and emulsifier. Is considered to be of no risk of skin sensitivity.
  • Iron oxides – come in various colours. Therefore, they are used for colouring makeup products.
  • Mica – is a lightweight silicate mineral with reflective and refractive qualities. This adds shimmer and shine to the product’s finish.
  • Kaolin – is a naturally occurring clay mineral (silicate of aluminium). It is used in cosmetics for its absorbent properties. This makes it a popular ingredient for products designed for oily skin.

When these minerals are used together, they provide a wide range of matte and glossy colours.

Many cosmetic-grade mineral ingredients are produced synthetically. It allows for the right grade of mineral to be produced more easily than mined minerals. This is because mined minerals undergo lots of processing to create the raw mineral ingredient with the purity required.

Bismuth Oxychloride

Google “bismuth oxychloride” and you’ll get mountains of articles about this ingredient. It has become a controversial ingredient when used in mineral makeup. This is because some people feel it can trigger skin irritation, such as rashes or itching. However, other people can use this ingredient with no issue at all.

If you have used mineral makeup and had a bad reaction, the first thing to do is to check the ingredients. If bismuth oxychloride (or bismuth chloride oxide) is in there, it could be the culprit of your skin’s irritation.

So, what is bismuth oxychloride?

Quite simply, it is an inorganic chemical compound commonly used in a wide range of cosmetic products.

It has different uses; for example, it can be used as a filler to bulk up a product, or as a white pigment. It is also used to create a pearl-like silvery sheen, known as pearlescence. This sheen gives the skin a magnificent glow, so it’s easy to see why some brands put it into their makeup.

Bismuth oxychloride can be found naturally in the rare mineral bismoclite. However, the majority of bismuth oxychloride is manufactured by combining bismuth (a by-product of processing mined metals like lead and copper) with chloride.

It is also this man-made process that some people find objectionable, as it contradicts their pure view of mineral makeup.

Mineral Makeup Particle Sizes

The finely-milled texture of loose mineral makeup is what creates a light and airy feel on the skin. The tiny mineral crystals also overlap each other on the skin, giving an ultra-smooth coverage. At the same time, it forms a filter that allows the skin to breathe and function normally. It also helps to protect skin from airborne pollutants and sun damage.

However, the size of the particles used in makeup can be controversial. Some brands use ingredients that are processed so finely that nanoparticles are created.

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating matter at an atomic and molecular level. Yes – it is that tiny! It is a relatively new science and raises the same issues as any new technology, including safety, toxicity and environmental impact.

Some researchers believe that reducing the molecule size to the level of a nanoparticle can impact how that substance behaves. For example, minerals like zinc and titanium are safe when applied to healthy skin. However, there remains a concern when they are in micronized nanoparticle form. This is particularly so when applied to damaged skin or when inhaled.

In summary, much research has yet to be carried out on nanoparticle use in cosmetics. Calls for tighter regulation of nanotechnology have risen, along with the growing debate about its safety and the need for clear labelling on products that use them.

Is Mineral Makeup for Everyone?

Like all cosmetic products, mineral makeup also has its fans and its critics.

  • Fans love the easy-to-apply, natural-looking and long-lasting glow. People with sensitive skin like the fact they can use makeup without fear of an allergic reaction.
  • Critics find mineral makeup drying, irritating and that it accentuates wrinkles. Also, some colours may have an ashy undertone – a particular problem for darker skin tones.

In theory, mineral makeup is suitable for everyone – that is, all ages, skin tones and skin types. Of course, everyone’s skin is unique and minerals can work better for some people than others. As each brand uses different combinations of ingredients, ultimately some will work better on your skin.

It is all about trying different brands to see what works. Most makeup brands have free or cheap samples available. It is also worth remembering that retail outlets offer makeovers, allowing you to try a product for free. 

Attributes of Mineral Makeup

  • Virtually no risk of allergy or irritation. While no cosmetic carries a 100% guarantee, minerals are less likely to cause issue than a product with many ingredients. Known irritants, like fragrance and preservative, aren’t found in pure mineral makeup. The ingredient bismuth oxychloride may cause skin irritation for some.
  • Doesn’t grow nasty bugs. Minerals are inert and cannot support any life, including bacteria. Hence, preservatives aren’t required.
  • Has a long shelf life and last a long time after being opened. They don’t go off like liquid and cream products that contain ingredients like wax and oil, which naturally deteriorate over time.
  • Anti-inflammatory properties. Zinc oxide has anti-inflammatory properties and can have a calming effect on the skin. This is useful for certain skin issues, like rosacea. Some dermatologists believe that mineral cosmetics are a good option for those recovering from chemical peels, laser treatments and cosmetic surgery.
  • Provides some UV sun protection. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide naturally offer some sun protection. For this reason, they’re used in sunscreens to provide broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB radiation. However, the level of protection is not guaranteed without an official SPF rating.
  • Feels light and looks natural. Mineral makeup has a light and airy texture, creating a natural look.
  • Offers sheer to fuller coverage. It can also be used as a concealer.
  • Staying power. The powders are water-resistant and don’t crease or smear easily. Minerals also last well in all weather conditions.
  • Ease of use. It buffs on quickly and blends easily. However, it’s messy if the powder spills from the pot!
  • Suitable for vegans and vegetarians. A product containing only mineral ingredients is suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Be aware that some companies still use the colourants carmine or cochineal made from crushed beetles, so check out the ingredients.

Mineral Makeup Brands

Lots of products are made with minerals and come in a variety of formulations. This includes loose powders, pressed powder, liquid and cream formulations.

Of course, some companies will slap “mineral” on products to get us thinking it is somehow better for our skin than other makeup.

The companies below provide a wide range of mineral makeup products. None of them tests on animals and a few are even Leaping Bunny certified. We’ve used various items from them and they’ve worked well for us.

As always, it is the same old case of try before you buy. Firstly, read the ingredients list to know what’s in it, especially if you need to avoid certain substances. Finally, go to the store for a free makeover before you spend any money.

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1 thought on “A Guide to Mineral Makeup”

  1. I never like it when girls seem to have makeup caked on. I like that you mentioned that mineral products have a more natural and light look to them. I feel like that is the look women should be going for.

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