A brief history
Natural minerals have been used to apply colour to the skin as far back as Ancient Eqypt. Not only did ancient beauties such as Cleopatra use kohl to darken their eyes, but minerals were also used on the face as camouflage and war paint.
Fast-forward to the 1970s, when mineral make-up became a commercial product with brands such as Bare Escentuals, launched in 1976 by cosmetic chemist Diane Ranger in response to new laws requiring all ingredients to be listed on products. Nearly four decades later the number of brands offering mineral make-up is in the hundreds, with sales of mineral make-up products close to $1 billion worldwide each year.
What’s in mineral make-up?
In the simplest terms, mineral make-up is just the pigment portion of a standard foundation. The difference is that foundations in a cream, lotion or stick form contain these pigments along with a cream or wax ‘carrier’ base. The minerals themselves are typically a combination of minerals such as mica, zinc oxide and titanium oxide. The main advantage of mineral make-up over other make-up is the lack of oils, waxes, creams and preservatives needed to formulate traditional foundations. Because many of these are known skin irritants, many dermatologists recommend mineral make-up for clients with sensitive, acne-prone skin or those with rosacea or eczema.
To create mineral make-up, minerals are micronised, or ground and milled into tiny particles.
The level at which minerals are micronised affects the coverage. A product micronised to six times leaves minerals larger so they go on the skin with light to medium coverage. Products micronised 12 times create fine particles that sit closer together and offer more coverage.
There are a handful of ingredients that show up time and again on most mineral make-up products:
Also known as: talcum.
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral which is mined. Talc, in its natural unmilled form is made up of very thin sheets compressed one on top of the other. Once milled, the sheets break up into millions of tiny plates that easily glide over one another, giving talc its soft, slippery feel.
Cosmetic talc is good at absorbing moisture and is also a good filler, so it is used in face and body powders to fill the tiny nooks and crannies on the skin surface, creating a soft, even feel. Cosmetic talc functions as a very good base material for colour cosmetics.
There are many grades of talc, each of which is categorised according to levels of purity. At the top of this purity scale is cosmetic grade talc. Only talc which meets very high levels of quality and purity is permitted for use in cosmetics.
Cosmetic talc is prepared by milling talc from mines specifically selected for the high quality and purity of the talc seams. In addition, the mined talc is repeatedly checked for purity before being classified as cosmetic grade.
Over the years, the safety of talc has sometimes been questioned through reports in the media. One of the most common claims is that talc use increases the risk of ovarian cancer. This in spite of no causal link between cosmetic talc and cancer ever having being shown. Even so, a number of rumours can be found circulating the internet making similar, unjustified claims that are not supported by the existing body of scientific evidence. At the 1994 US FDA and ISRTP workshop, participants agreed that there was no evidence to conclude that talc is capable of reaching the ovaries.
Sometimes negative attention is given to cosmetic talc because of confusion over the difference between talc and asbestos. It is true that they are both hydrated magnesium silicates, but diamonds and barbeque charcoal briquettes are both made of carbon and no one would think they were the same. One vitally important difference between talc and asbestos is in their crystal structure. While talc is made up of tiny flat plates, asbestos is formed as thin fibers. It is this characteristic fibrous structure that contributes to asbestos’s potentially harmful effects. Talc particles do not share this characteristic.
Selective mining, testing and the application of rigorous quality standards ensure cosmetic talc is free of asbestos fibers or any other fibre. Cosmetic manufacturers only source talc from reputable suppliers with strict testing controls.
For clients wishing to avoid it, there are talc-free mineral make-up options.
Also known as: ZnO.
As well as being a common ingredient in sunscreens, zinc oxide is found in mineral make-up as much for its healing properties as its sun protection factor. FDA-approved as a skin protectant, zinc oxide is also a common active ingredient in creams and products designed to treat skin where the skin’s barrier has been compromised, such as nappy rash or minor wounds.
Also known as: CI 77891.
Titanium dioxide gives whiteness to mineral make-up and it helps to increase the opacity and coverage. Titanium dioxide also absorbs, reflects, or scatters light (including ultraviolet radiation in light), which can help protect products from deterioration.
Titanium dioxide is a mineral that is present in our natural environment. It is milled, or can be synthesised, to produce particles on the micro-scale, or smaller on the nano-scale. Nano-titanium dioxide also exists in nature. Not only does it protect the skin from UV light extremely well, the nano-form also has the added benefits in the formulation of being easier to spread and also appearing transparent – so reducing whiteness.
Titanium dioxide begins life as natural titanium, which then undergoes an extraction and purification process in the lab. Natural titanium is contaminated with unwanted chemicals such as mercury and lead, which must be removed before it is pure enough to be used for any cosmetic product.
Sun protection factor
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, both commonly found in mineral make-up, are known to protect skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. Because of this, many mineral make-up products claim to offer sun protection, however it is unlikely that the level of sun protection factor in any one mineral make-up product will offer enough protection to use on its own if you are spending hours in the sun.
Also known as: Glimmer, Kaliglimmer, Muskovit, CI 77019.
A mineral silicate used as pigment in most mineral make-ups (and many traditional make-up products as well) to add a luminescent shine, absorb excess oils and give the product a consistent texture. Mica comprises a group of crystallised minerals that naturally occur in thin, separated sheets, and comes in a variety of colours.
Mica remains one of the key ingredients used in the make-up and nail polish put on faces and fingers every day. It’s an ingredient used not only to add shine to the make-up but to absorb excess oils and give it a consistent texture.
The mica debate:
India accounts for 60 percent of global mica production today, and as the industry grows at a rapid rate so do concerns about the country’s mica supply chains. Australian newspaper The Age reported that child labour is endemic in India’s mica mining business and 86 percent of the country’s mica exports in 2010-2011 were unregulated. As a result of uncertainty regarding the supply chain, several large cosmetics firms are working in partnership with NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Campaign) to create ‘child-friendly villages’ in mica-sourcing Indian communities, helping to reduce the level of child labour in these areas.
In 2009, German pharmaceutical and chemicals company Merck KGaA, which supplies mica to cosmetics brands around the world, was accused of using children to mine mica in India.
The pharmaceutical giant says that since 2011 it has implemented a ‘’mica tracking system’’ and a ‘’two-pronged approach’’ to ensure it has full control of its supply chain. ‘’Therefore, we are able to guarantee that no children are involved in mica sourcing and processing,’’ spokesman Gerhard Lerch says.
While the industry is making moves towards stronger regulation of mica sourcing, there are still some suppliers turning a blind eye. Although the answer is not to remove mica from mineral make-up altogether, there is a lot that brands can do to ensure their mica supply chain is ethical. Asking your mineral make-up supplier about theirs is a good place to start.
Also known as: Synthetic pearl
Bismuth oxychloride is manufactured by combining bismuth, a by-product of lead and copper metal refining, with chloride (a compound from chlorine), and water. Its use in cosmetics is due to its distinct shimmery, pearlescent appearance and its fine grayish-white powder texture that adheres well to skin.
Bismuth oxychloride has been the focus of media attention recently due to its potential to cause skin irritation and acne flare-ups in some women. Although there have been calls to eliminate this ingredient from mineral make-up altogether, experts say that only a tiny minority of people with highly sensitive skin will react to bismuth oxychloride. That said, there are a number of companies that offer mineral make-up products with no bismuth oxychloride.
Naturally occurring bismuth is chemically similar to arsenic, which leads some cosmetic companies to scaremonger about the toxicity of bismuth oxychloride, however it is an irrelevant comparison. Bismuth oxychloride has been rigorously tested for its safety as a cosmetic ingredient, however its use in a mineral make-up renders a product’s ‘natural’ claim untrue.
Common mineral make-up ingredients such as zinc have an anti-irritant effect, but it is more likely that mineral make-up doesn’t further exacerbate acne through clogging pores rather than being able to claim to treat it.
The flourishing market for mineral make-up is great for our industry as it offers salons and clients an alternative to traditional cosmetics. Without potentially irritating ingredients such as oils, waxes, fragrance and preservatives, mineral make-up is a great option for clients with sensitive skin or skin prone to flare ups, or just for clients wanting a simpler approach to make-up.