By Contributing Editor Andrea Fox

Mineral make-up is very popular because it is lighter than liquid make-up, and because some brands are free of parabens, silicones, dyes, preservatives, fragrances, and other synthetics, they heavily advertise the improved health aspects of their lines over conventional products.

The sheen and the coverage mineral make-up provides gives many women confidence—some think daily deposits actually improve the skin’s appearance over time! It is true that titanium dioxide and iron oxide do have anti-inflammatory properties that can help with rosacea and acne. These ingredients do not clog pores, minimizing acne, and offer sun protection properties.

Others however, have tried mineral make-up and discovered it was drying and irritating to their skin, or set in fine lines thereby accentuating them. Who to believe? Is it just hype, or are there real mineral makeup benefits?

Dr. Oz put some kaibosh on the mineral craze (everyone’s got them from Avon to Physician’s Formula) when his show discussed how loose minerals may pose health risks. For example, mica is a skin irritant and titanium dioxide is a lung irritant. There are also questions about mineral quantities, and if they pose a threat through inhalation as we dust our faces with them. When bound with ingredients like shea butter, beeswax, and castor or essential oils, minerals pose reduced threat of inhalation, but there is still the skin irritation factor.

Two of the most important characteristics regarding the safety of mineral makeup are particle size and particle shape. Nanoparticles, molecules greatly reduced in size to provide smoother, longer lasting finishes, change the natural minerals’ properties and can make them more toxic. When inhaled they can go straight into the blood stream along with the oxygen we breathe, or be taken into the skin through abrasions. There are articles online that suggest blowing your nose after applying mineral make-up, but there is no scientific evidence that this practice really hedges any bets on the amount of microparticles that make through your nose and it into your body. (Also, for those that desperately love their mineral make-up and want a solution that neutralizes the inhalation factor, please note that putting petroleum jelly in your nostrils to try and trap particles can be dangerous if and when petroleum migrates into your lungs with breathing, not to mention, it’s a paraben!)

With regard to particle shape, a jagged shape is more natural, but can cause micro-tears. By coating the particles with silicones, manufacturers create particles with a smoother, rounder shape.

When Shopping for Mineral Products:

Look for brands that divulge all ingredients and do not claim proprietary blends.

Be wary of organic mineral make-up. By nature, the minerals are inorganic (think science class!) and many manufacturers will add organics to achieve a U.S. Department of Agriculture organics label. With the “contains organic” label, which means the product is composed of at least 75% organic ingredients but less than 100%, the product could contain minerals, organically-derived ingredients, and synthetics. As of yet, there are no regulations or Federal Trade Commission standards for advertising purity in mineral products.
Be sure your product is free of bismuth oxychloride, which is used as a binder and gives mineral make-up a pearl finish. It’s not actually found in the Earth’s crust, it’s a byproduct of metals processing production, and it’s an irritant that causes rashes and can exacerbate cystic acne.

Determine particle size, especially for loose mineral make-up.

If you have rosacea, acne, or sensitive skin beware of mica or sericite (finer mica). Even though some companies coat mica with silicones to round out the edges to avoid the risk of micro-tears in skin, the ingredient itself can still causing itching. Some note heightened irritation after perspiring.

Advice on Mineral Make-up Use:

With mineral makeup, research the ingredients and particle size and just like the old adage “when in doubt, throw it out,” stay away from secret blends.

Second, I recommend using mineral makeup in moderation, as health risks to skin and body are based on accumulation. Healthy beauty is natural, and adding a daily layer of minerals to your face could eventually dry, irritate, and as fine particulates like mica and titanium dioxide accumulate in skin, make your face a surface of “skin + minerals.” Also, be careful not to overuse enigmatic mineral eyeliners in this very sensitive area.

To check the hazard of your mineral make-up, and any other make-up product, search the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database.

The bottom line for me is that the ability to achieve great, vibrant colors that do not smear, last, and feel great without synthetic chemicals is an amazing attribute of mineral formulations and makes them a superior choice for those times when your vanity craves that va-voom factor. Personally, Alima Pure’s Black Violet eyeliner makes my light brown eyes appear practically luminescent, and it’s great to know I can depend on a purer product when captivating an audience is my priority!