Archeologists have found that Bronze Age women used a bright green paste of copper minerals, making “minerals” the oldest form of makeup in the world. Today, mineral makeup is reentering the marketplace as one of the hottest trends in cosmetics.
Minerals are mined from the ground and, when crushed, become a silky powder containing compounds such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, bismuth oxychloride and iron oxides.
Mineral makeup is usually marketed as loose powder in jars, but is also sold in pressed or liquid form. Currently, there are no set regulations for what constitutes a “mineral” makeup; therefore, any product containing minerals as a primary ingredient can be marketed as mineral makeup (even if it also has other, less natural ingredients. In addition, mineral pigments are not organic, because by FDA standards, organic products must be derived directly from plants or animals.
While some mineral makeup formulas avoid synthetics (like paraben preservatives and other fillers), there are others with minerals plus fillers, colors, binders, oils, fragrances, preservatives, and chemicals that can irritate skin.
Skin Deep pairs ingredients in more than 42,000 products against 50 definitive toxicity and regulatory databases, making it the largest integrated data resource of its kind. Why did a small nonprofit take on such a big project? Because the FDA doesn’t require companies to test their own products for safety. But, even natural things can be potentially harmful. When some molecules are dramatically reduced in size to the level of a nanoparticle, they can have different and more irritating properties than these molecules would have in their conventional size, especially when applied to damaged skin, or when inhaled.
Those who love pure mineral makeup cite a number of benefits. Minerals are gentle, won’t cause breakouts or clog pores. As the skin warms the minerals, they liquefy slightly to form a sheer, luminous, natural finish that feels light on the face. They allow skin to “breathe,” making them ideal for those with sensitive skin or skin conditions, and even for those who have had laser or surgical procedures. They are water-resistant, making them longer lasting in cosmetics, and they can have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antioxidant properties. Due mostly to the high content of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (two ingredients commonly found in sun screens) mineral makeup can offer some SPF protection.
Detractors say that mineral makeup can be hard to apply and can be drying and accentuate wrinkles. To get a good result, minerals require a different application technique than traditional powders. Color is layered and buffed on the face, usually with a fan or duster brush. Mineral makeup generally refers to foundation, but minerals can also be created as primer, powder, bronzer, blush, eye shadow, liner, and lip products, offering an ancient and yet thoroughly modern way to apply color to one’s face.
*Skin Deep, a safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products created by The Environmental Working Group, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization whose goal is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment, offers an online Cosmetic Safety Database called “Skin Deep” about pairing ingredients in more than 42,000 products against 50 definitive toxicity and regulatory databases.