How natural is mineral makeup? |

How natural is mineral makeup?

Photo by: Gerard Girbes Berges (2002)

Mineral based makeup is all the rage right now.  It seems like every major makeup brand is coming out with their own version of it.  There are many claims about how great it is for your skin because it is an all “natural” product, it is healthy for your skin, it is so great you can sleep in it, etc.  I am a geologist and product-junky so I have done my fair share of research on the topic and thought I would share some general information on just now natural your mineral makeup is.

What do they mean “minerals”?  Minerals are the building blocks for rocks.  They are the various colors you see making up granite or the faint sparkles you see in a marble statue.  Minerals are made up of chemical elements.  Unlike pharmaceutical “minerals” you would take in your morning supplement like zinc or potassium, geologic minerals are usually a combination of chemical elements like iron and oxygen coming together to form the mineral hematite – often used as a red or yellow pigments in makeup labeled to contain “iron oxide.”  The point here is that you are not spreading a nutritious supplement all over your face when you use mineral makeup.  The makeup consists of weathered rock while your vitamins are probably made by chemical extractions from those geologic minerals.  So why not just use dirt?  The minerals used in cosmetics have been cleaned of microorganisms, you will not have such luck if you try to find your own in the field, sorry.

Minerals have been used for centuries for pigments. From early cave paintings to Cleopatra’s smokey eye. I love the idea of going back to basics with make up and using what is naturally available. The most common type of mineral makeup seems to be foundation, concealers, and face powders.  These neutral earthy shades make perfect sense and work well.  Minerals come in such an amazing variety of colors you give nothing up by switching to all mineral makeup, from eye shadows to blush or bronzer, to lipstick.  The mineral rutile provides a bright white clay labeled as titanium dioxide that allows for fun pastel shades or highlights with the added bonus of natural sun protection.  The mineral mica provides a beautiful shimmer to mineral products so you don’t even have to give up your glamorous glimmer.

You should, however, be aware of what type of minerals you are putting on your skin as not all geologic minerals are beneficial or even safe for contact with your skin.  Just because something says “mineral” does not automatically mean good for you.  Mineral oil, the main ingredient in baby oil containing dangerous hydrocarbons, has been found to be alarmingly unsafe for babies.  In recent years there has been a problem with babies actually breathing in, or aspirating, some of the oil.  This essentially coats the lungs with oil blocking the absorption of oxygen and leading to chemical pneumonia and potential death.  This problem was addressed with child safety caps on the bottles, however, the best solution is to use plant based oils instead as they do not contain hydrocarbons.

Another baby product that has safety concerns is talc, as in talcum powder, or baby powder.  Talc has fallen in and out of favor in the cosmetics industry as well so I generally avoid it even though it is deemed safe by the FDA.  It is a not-so-distant relative of asbestos and has been shown to cause pulmonary problems, a risk of ovarian cancer, cancer in animal testing, and lung disease with overexposure.  This is important because talc is still a common mineral used in baby powder, body powder, as well as in mineral makeup so be on the look out.   If you insist on using it, take precaution not to breathe it in as the fine particles breathed into the lungs appear to be the dominant trouble makers.

Apart from the minerals themselves, all mineral makeup is not created equally!  The type of minerals being used is important so learn how to read labels and be an informed consumer.  The main thing you want to be on the look out for is the non-minerals lurking in those “pure” products. This is what will determine how “natural” your mineral makeup really is. What purpose is that ingredient serving? How is it made, etc. Most minerals will either be listed as a clay, mica, or end in these common ways, “ite” as in kaolinite a common clay used in cosmetics, “oxide” as in iron oxide or hematite as stated above, “dioxide” as in titanium dioxide or rutile as stated above.  If you aren’t sure ask the company representative for the product, if they don’t know or can’t find out you know you have a problem.

If you are trying to be more “green” you want to keep an eye out for animal byproducts, such as lanolin commonly found in mineral makeup, that supports factory farming.  By doing this you not only avoid the cruelty to animals but also destruction of the environment.  Also by avoiding animal byproducts you can save yourself some potential allergins or irritants and protect yourself from some considerable gross-factor.  Carmine, a red dye used in most cosmetics, for example, causes serious allergies as it is made from ground up bugs. Isn’t that what every girl wants on her lips? Ick.

Jim FrazierClick here for a full list of cosmetics and bath and body product ingredients to avoid. The most common no-no ingredient to be found in mineral makeup are the nasty synthetic preservatives like parabens found in nearly all of them.  Parabens can build up in your system, they have been found in cancerous breast tissue, and they can lead to annoying to severe allergies.  Even the grandmother of mineral makeups, Bare Minerals, has parabens in all products other than their foundation powder.  If you cannot pronounce it and you recognize it is not a mineral name, you probably don’t want to put it on your skin.

When you can find a mineral makeup that is purely made up of minerals you have hit the jack pot! Jump on it, buy it up, slather it all over your skin.  While it is unlikely to be nutritious for your skin, it is beneficial as it has most likely replaced the synthetic chemical elixir you were previously using. Again, the main thing you want to be on the look out for is the non-minerals. This is what will determine how “natural” your mineral makeup really is.

Click here for an informative report on mineral makeup from NPR

Click here to look up the ingredients and safety analysis for your favorite product or ingredients

Note from editor: To read more about natural skin care check out Tracy’s blog at

17 Responses

  1. Tori Says:

    Wow! Thats really informative! I would have never known… somedays I toy with the idea of never wearing make up again :/

  2. Tracy Perkins Says:

    This comment was e-mailed to me so I thought I would respond for the benefit of anyone reading this:

    “I am SO glad you posted the blog about mineral makeup. I was actually trying to find out if Bare Escentuals used parabens, but had a hard time finding ingredient info. Very disappointing. Have you heard anything negative about Jane Iredale? Definitely more expensive, but I’m curious.” -Meredith

    I looked into Jane Iredale products and do not see any parabens listed, however, they do use carmine – the squashed up bugs to give red color that have a high incidence of allergic reaction. Polyethylene can be found in many of their products which acts as an irritant, allergen, and a source of toxicity. They also use “gold” which sounds fancy and nice, however, it is classified as a highly hazardous cosmetic colorant. It has been linked to cancer in high doses in animal testing and to problems of toxicity in human blood and the renal system.

  3. Jen Says:

    The author might want to clarify the statement that plant-based oils do not contain hydrocarbons. I assume that the author means “dangerous hydrocarbons” here, although what comprises dangerous hydrocarbons should be specified. As a chemist, I can assure you that plant based oils do indeed contain hydrocarbons because all oils, both natural and synthetic, are long-chained fatty acids and are hence, by definition, hydrocarbons. For that matter, all life is comprised of hydrocarbons.

  4. Tracy Says:

    Thanks for your request for clarification, Jen, I apologize for being vague. Here is a bit more info from eMedicine, Author: Randy J Goldstein, MD, FACEP, FAAP, Medical Director, Emergency Department, Las Palmas Medical Center, El Paso, Texas

    “Exposure to hydrocarbons is common in modern society. Hydrocarbons are easily accessible in products such as gasoline, turpentine, furniture polish, household cleansers, propellants, kerosene, and other fuels. Although hydrocarbons include all compounds composed predominantly of carbon and hydrogen, the compounds of interest are derived from petroleum and wood. Most of the dangerous hydrocarbons are derived from petroleum distillates and include aliphatic (straight-chain) hydrocarbons and aromatic (benzene-containing) hydrocarbons. Other hydrocarbons such as pine oil and turpentine are derived from wood.

    Types of exposure include accidental ingestion, intentional recreational abuse, accidental inhalation, and dermal exposure or oral ingestion in a suicide attempt. The highest rates of morbidity and mortality result from accidental ingestion by children younger than 5 years. Aspiration pneumonitis is the most common complication of hydrocarbon ingestion, followed by central nervous system (CNS) and cardiovascular complications.”

    Read more:

  5. emily j Says:

    This is really informative. Would be great if someone where to analyze what’s in most of the mineral makeups out there. We really recommend afterglow makeup that test’s well with sensitive skin.


  6. Eliana Says:

    Hey Tracy, LOVED this article! Tahnk you for sharing knowledge! Linked it at my blog since Mineral Makeup is all the rage now here in Brazil. As a biologist, I’ve been trying to inform girls here that not all mineral makeup is “natural” and they should at least look into the product info before buying it!!!

  7. Gerard Girbes Says:

    Thanks for using one image from my photography portfolio for your entry.

  8. KK Says:

    Hi, that’s great but what I really want to know is where they get the minerals, are they mined in a conscientious way?I heard that a lot of the minerals that get dug up with gold gets used in make up?I’m having trouble finding any of this info so any help would be greatly appreciated.Cheers

  9. natural mole & wart removal Says:

    I assume that the author means “dangerous hydrocarbons” here, although what comprises dangerous hydrocarbons should be specified. I would respond for the benefit of anyone reading this I really want to know is where they get the minerals, are they mined in a conscientious way?

  10. kathleen Says:

    Try this site. Better prices, all natural Basic Mineral Powder Foundations. The Green Tea Cleanser is very nice because it nourishes the skin. It doens’t feel like any soap is used but my skin looks much cleaner, removes black and white heads and makes my skin feel soft. Try the toner and astringent if you have acne, it finishes getting all the dirt and oils off. They have a really super liquie make up with oils, it is much better I think than the mineral powders, but that is my opinion. Their mineral powders I think were better than BareMinerals, none of the bad stuff you named here appears on their labels. The Mineral Foundaiton is listed as:
    titantium dioxide, zinc oxide, mica and iron oxide. But they have an EnhancedMineral Powder I have not tried as I said I prefer the liquid make up, it made my face flawless and no dryness at all but it didn’t make me break out.

  11. Eco-Girls’ Night out this Thursday! | Says:

    [...] How Natural Is Mineral Makeup? [...]

  12. mineral makeup addict Says:

    I use LA Minerals, and find it’s very good for my acne prone sensitive skin. A lot of store brands are just using iron oxide pigments, which is like 1-3% of the product, yet they claim their product is “made with pure minerals.” Sure it’s true, but deceptive! Great article, Thanks!

  13. kira Says:

    We are doing a report in our geography class on how the cosmetics industry uses minerals in makeup. Our teacher asks us: “why study geography?”

    Could you help us???

  14. arrika Says:

    we r doing a report in our geoghraphy class and we chose how minerals in makeup relates to geography could u help me figuer this out …. thanks

  15. maddie Says:

    we are doing a report for geography and how cosmetic industries use minerals in makeup? can you please help us A.S.A.P? THANKS:)

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  17. Mac Says:

    Hi my friend! I want to say that this post is awesome, great written and come with approximately all vital
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