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It Isn't All Natural
Ironically the original lines to launch "mineral" makeup were about as natural as polyester. Companies like Bare Escentuals and Jane Iredale used bismuth oxychloride as the main "mineral" ingredient, yet bismuth oxychloride is not found in nature! Bismuth oxychloride is manufactured by combining bismuth, a by-product of lead and copper metal refining mixed with chloride (a compound from chlorine), and water. Its use in cosmetics is due to its distinct shimmery, pearlescent appearance and its fine white powder texture that adheres well to skin. That doesn't make it bad for skin, it just makes the marketing claims false.
On the downside, bismuth oxychloride is heavier than talc and can look cakey on skin. For some people, the bismuth and chloride combination can be irritating. All the claims revolving around how mineral makeups are better for skin or are somehow equivalent to skin care is nothing more than clever marketing. They are not supported by published research, nor is there any research proving regular liquid (or other types of) foundations are inferior to mineral makeup.
For detailed reviews of mineral makeup from several different brands visit Beautypedia.
Application: Pore Perfect or Poor Performer?
Most mineral makeups are capable of providing opaque coverage (this can be blended to within light to medium coverage range), yet the claim is they do so while looking extremely natural, like a second skin or better than your own skin, which appears to be the case in pictures and on TV infomercials (and just like every other makeup application created for advertising).
In real life, that is not what you will actually see. These powders (most of which are tricky to blend because they tend to "grab" onto skin and don't glide very well once they touch your skin) can be applied sheer, but the very nature of their ingredients results in a textured application that can look powdery and "made-up". This is especially true if you have any dry patches on the skin because these mineral powders—many of which claim to be moisturizing which is just ludicrous given the properties of all powder materials, which are absorbent not moisturizing—exacerbate dryness and flaking.
For those with oily skin, mineral makeup can eventually pool in pores and look thick and layered just like any powder can. Generally speaking, mineral makeup is best for normal to slightly oily skin (meaning no signs of dryness and little to no problem oily areas). It is not preferred for breakout-prone skin, nor does it look amazing over wrinkled skin.
Mineral Makeup as Skin Care?
There is no research anywhere proving that mineral makeup is inherently better for skin than other types of foundation. Most of the skin care attributes ascribed to mineral makeup are distantly linked to research about zinc oxide. But zinc oxide is a standard ingredient in lots of sunscreens (and some liquid foundations or tinted moisturizers) and is not unique to mineral makeup.
While zinc oxide does have healing properties for skin (it is FDA-approved as a skin protectant, and a common active ingredient in diaper rash ointments), those healing properties have to do with skin whose barrier has been compromised, such as wounds, ulcers, or rashes. In those cases, zinc oxide can facilitate healing (Source: Wound Repair and Regeneration, January/February 2007, pages 2–16). But those studies used pure zinc oxide, the test didn't include products that also contain other ingredients, such as mica or bismuth oxychloride, or have anything to do with healthy, intact skin.
Mineral makeup is often recommended for those with rosacea but because rosacea is a fickle skin disorder that can be made worse by powders (the granular composition of any powder can be an irritant) it isn't a slam dunk.
Mineral makeup can work well as a sunscreen as long as the product itself is rated with an SPF 25 or greater, and greater is better, and you can wear it over a moisturizer with sunscreen to get more protection. As is true for any product with an SPF rating, in order to get the right amount of thorough protection, liberal application is essential, which means a sheer light layer of mineral makeup won't work for protecting your skin from the sun.
Love it or Leave It
If you're currently using mineral makeup and love the results, that's great. The goal of this article is to present the positive and negative points of this type of makeup, and to allow you to make an informed decision as whether or not it's the right type of foundation for you. Once the hype is debunked, you may want to consider a foundation that is less messy or less drying, or less iridescent, or less cakey, which are all part of the problems you can encounter with mineral makeup. But if you're using a mineral makeup now and love the results (and aren't experiencing any problems) by all means stick with it!
Mineral Makeup Ingredients
The ingredients below are those commonly used in mineral makeup. Keep reading for an explanation of their effect and usefulness.
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide: These serve as the sunscreen in many mineral makeups. At the same time, they provide enhanced coverage and a matte finish. Keep in mind that even when these proven mineral sunscreens are listed in the formula, it is still imperative to check that one or both of them are listed as active ingredients and the product is rated with an SPF 25 or greater. Simply having titanium dioxide or zinc oxide in the formula is not a guarantee of sun protection. Without an SPF rating resulting from FDA-mandated sunscreen tests, you won't know just how much protection you're getting, and that's dangerous for the health of your skin.
Although these two minerals are ideal sunscreen agents for those with sensitive skin or conditions such as rosacea, their occlusive nature can contribute to clogged pores. This isn't new information, yet it doesn't stop companies selling mineral makeup from advertising their product as being ideal for those suffering from acne or breakouts, with some companies actually stating their mineral makeup helps cure it (an absolute falsehood with no published research proving otherwise)!
Mineral makeup powders often contain a 25% concentration of titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. Liquid foundations or lotions with SPF 25 using only titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as the sunscreen active ingredients tend to contain a much smaller concentration of these pigments. The amount of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in mineral makeups create the coverage and opaque quality of the powder, allowing more coverage than the usual talc-based powders. However, if you have determined that liquid foundations with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide exacerbate your breakouts, it is quite possible that a mineral makeup containing an even larger concentration of those ingredients will have the same, if not a more pronounced, effect.
What is true is when mineral makeup companies speak of the non-irritating nature of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Neither is known for causing an irritant response or sensitizing reaction on skin (Sources: Cosmetics & Toiletries, October 2003, pages 73–78; and Cutis, September 2004, pages 13–16 and 32–34).
Bismuth oxychloride: This is the common thread that shows up in almost every mineral makeup product being sold. It's a grayish-white, inorganic powder with a natural metallic shine. The binding properties of bismuth oxychloride are what give the mineral makeups containing it their smoothness and texture. Its thicker texture demands more careful application, which is why most mineral makeup companies recommend special flat-cut, dense powder brushes to work the product into the skin. This method of application also provides considerable coverage and helps ensure longer wear.
Bismuth in and of itself seldom occurs in nature. Instead, it is manufactured synthetically. The International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook, Eleventh Edition, 2006, lists bismuth oxychloride as a synthetic.
Actually, bismuth is chemically similar to arsenic. That is more shocking than significant, but that kind of fact is similar to what mineral makeup companies use to make you scared of the ingredients in other powders not deemed "mineral makeup." Just like cosmetic grade mineral oil is not related to the crude petroleum from which it originates, neither is bismuth oxychloride identical to bismuth and therefore, the arsenic association is irrelevant. Rest assured that the bismuth oxychloride used in cosmetics is indeed non-toxic. This is just a good example of how skewed a company's definition of "natural" can be, and how they can twist factual information to make other cosmetic company ingredients sound harmful.
Unlike titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, bismuth oxychloride can cause slight skin irritation (Source: www.sciencelab.com/xMSDS-Bismuth_oxychloride-9923103). Although talc has the same potential for slight irritation, bismuth oxychloride is more likely to cause an allergic contact dermatitis due to its pearlescent nature (Source: www.emedicine.com/derm/topic502.htm). This is more of a concern when bismuth oxychloride is the main ingredient in a cosmetic, as it is for many mineral makeups.
Mica: is a mineral silicate with a crystalline shine. It is used as pigment in most mineral makeups (as well as in many eyeshadows, blushes, and powders in general) to add a luminescent shine to the product's finish. Mica comprises a group of crystallized minerals that naturally occur in thin, separated sheets. It is available in a variety of colors from pale green to black, and is also available colorless. Compared to bismuth oxychloride, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide, mica has a nearly weightless and noticeably silky texture. Some women–particularly those with oily skin–may not like the shine mica imparts because it makes oily areas look shinier. And for those with noticeable wrinkles it can make skin look more wrinkled than it really is. In the long run this is only an esthetic issue which makes mica a benign addition to any makeup, "mineral" or otherwise.
Talc: Many mineral makeups contain talc while others malign it as an evil, cancer-causing substance. The truth is that talc is a mineral and completely natural. Companies selling mineral makeup often speak of the talc used in other pressed and loose powders as being harmful and carcinogenic, but the research doesn't support this hysteria in the least. Although there is epidemiological evidence that frequent use of pure talc over the female genital area may increase the risk of ovarian cancer, this evidence does not prove a direct link. Further research has shown this epidemiological evidence to be questionable. A comprehensive review of several studies in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (August 2002, pages 40–50) stated that "Talc is not genotoxic, [and] is not carcinogenic when injected into ovaries of rats. There is no credible evidence of a cancer risk from inhalation of cosmetic talc by humans." None of the research about the use of talc is related to the way women use makeup. There is no indication anywhere that there is any risk for the face when using products that contain talc. What is more significant is that there is no research showing that many other ingredients used in mineral makeup don't pose their own risks. Just because research hasn't been done on those ingredients they don't get a free pass.
Dismissing talc as a cheap, inelegant, less desirable, filler material is inaccurate because talc serves as the essential backbone for a number of the most luxurious-feeling powders from dozens of lines ranging from L'Oreal to Chanel. The best among those powders have a softness and virtually seamless finish on the skin that most mineral makeup lines should envy. The higher grades of talc are not "filler" materials, they are essential to creating a powder's gossamer texture and skin-like finish. And you'll be pleased to know that many cosmetic lines use high grades of talc.
Additional sources for the information on talc: International Journal of Cancer, November 2004, pages 458–464; and Anticancer Research, March–April 2003, pages 1,955–1,960.