Just about every major cosmetics line has introduced some version of foundation, blush, or eye shadow using minerals. Why are these products so popular and can they actually be good for your skin?
Whether your skin is sensitive, mature, blemish prone, or you’re just looking for a chemical-free alternative, mineral makeup has its benefits. “Mineral makeup tends to look, feel, and be more natural. Many women report that they love the more flattering appearance of mineral makeup on their faces versus conventional makeup,” says Kirsten Corcoran, founder of Larenim.
Fans report that mineral makes feels weightless but has staying power. Some products can provide natural sun protection and calm irritated skin, while adding a subtle, healthy glow. For those who are active, many mineral products s stand up to water and oil, making these cosmetics a lasting alternative to other cosmetics that streak or dissolve with sweat.
According to Kim Erickson, owner of Everyday Organics and author of Drop Dead Gorgeous, mineral makeup is ideal for problem or mature skin because it refracts light, minimizing the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, discolorations, and blemishes.
Mineral makeup also avoids the common and sometimes toxic ingredients that can clog pores and inflame skin. Manufacturers explain that since minerals are inert, they won’t trigger oil production through bacteria or irritation. But if you apply mineral products—or any makeup—with a dirty brush, you could be spreading bacteria that can cause acne.
The Art of Refining
How does a mineral end up as makeup? Mica, iron oxides, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and sometimes bismuth oxychloride are finely pulverized and then blended to create various colors and effects. Because they are minimally processed, it’s natural to believe these products can be good for the skin. But are they?
Some organizations—including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Royal Society in Britain—are concerned over the way minerals are refined. “Research shows that when some molecules are dramatically reduced in size to the level of a nanoparticle, they can have very different and very toxic properties than that same molecule would have in its conventional size,” says Jane Houlihan, research director of the Environmental Working Group.
Studies suggest that when ingredients reach an ultrafine or nano size, they can possibly lead to respiratory problems when inhaled. Other research shows that nanoparticles may be potentially carcinogenic and may even cross the blood-brain barrier. “Buy from a natural manufacturer you trust. If in doubt, call the company and ask how their minerals are processed,” advises Erickson.
What to Look For
Without set guidelines for mineral makeup, products may contain other, less natural ingredients. Scan the ingredients label before you buy. Generally the fewer ingredients a product contains, the better.
If it’s 100 percent mineral makeup, it should contain no manmade ingredients such as chemical sunscreens, preservatives, synthetic esters, mineral oil, fragrances, or dyes. Be wary of hormone-disrupting parabens or urea-based preservatives that often appear in mass-marketed brands.
For a light-reflecting sparkle, mica is often added. Look for this ingredient if you prefer the illusion of softer and more radiant skin. Mineral makeup avoids the artificial colors found in conventional makeup, instead using natural pigments like ultramarine obtained from limestone.
How to Apply
Mineral makeup naturally minimizes imperfections. Once you learn some techniques, you’ll find it goes on quickly and easily. In fact, mineral foundation should take no longer than 30 seconds to apply. You don’t even need a mirror, she adds.
Although mineral makeup contains naturally occurring sun-protective ingredients including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, apply a sunscreen first. Allow time for it to absorb. This prevents streaking when the minerals are applied.
Since many products tend to be concentrated and richly pigmented, use small amounts and a light hand. “Some women have complained that they can’t get mineral makeup to stick to their skin. Many times it’s because they aren’t using the proper brushes, and the minerals simply won’t transfer properly to their faces,” explains Corcoran. She advises applying foundation in two or three light layers, rather than one.
One of the best application tools is a kabuki brush. Very lightly swirl the brush in a small amount of makeup, and then tap off any excess to avoid wasting product. Erickson advises using a gradual approach. Use gentle, circular motions. Start at the center of the face (the areas of your nose, chin, and forehead). Work outward and downward. “Buffing with the brush will bring out the qualities of the minerals and ensure an even application,” she adds. When applying eye shadow, use the brushes that a company provides for their own line. These applicators have been designed to work specifically with mineral products.
Have fun and experiment. Most mineral makeup is interchangeable. For example, you can use blush on lips or—if it’s a flattering shade—eye shadow on cheeks. As for removing mineral makeup, it’s easy. Your favorite makeup remover or facial cleanser does the job well.
The most popular mineral products are loose powder foundations and blushes. However, mascara and other products are also being developed. Lip tints colored with earth minerals like iron oxides and mica are becoming popular, too. “Some companies are introducing liquid mineral makeup products that contain liposomes, which they claim are used to deliver nutrients like coenzyme Q10 and vitamin C,” says Erickson.
Natural or Not?
Bismuth oxychloride is added to some mineral products and although it’s technically a mineral, it’s not mined from the earth. Instead it’s a byproduct of lead and copper processing.
An inexpensive ingredient, bismuth oxychloride has received mixed reviews. Although many consumers like its pearlescent quality, as well as the fact that it gives a product good staying power, some manufacturers opt to leave it out. It can possibly make skin itchy, and it may also exaggerate imperfections like fine lines. It may also make skin appear greasy as the day goes on. Some even believe that in large amounts it can cause cystic acne. Avoid if you have rosacea or sensitive skin.
Not all mineral makeup is created equal. Always test a product to see if it works for you.