Let’s face it, minerals can make you gorgeous. From ancient tribes painting their faces for religious ceremonies to Cleopatra’s iconic eyes, humans have been decorating themselves with minerals for time immemorial. Today, mineral-based cosmetics are more popular than ever as women move toward healthier, less toxic beauty. And both large and small cosmetic companies are cashing in on this growing trend.
Touted as a natural way to perfect your skin, the companies that create these highly pigmented pots of powder claim that their products are safe enough for sensitive skin, won’t clog your pores and—according to one manufacturer—pure enough to sleep in. But is mineral makeup really all it’s cracked up to be?
Mineral makeup is made up of finely milled blends of minerals and pigments in an array of feather-light hues and effects. One staple in nearly all mineral formulations is titanium dioxide, a natural broad-spectrum sunscreen. Zinc oxide is another naturally occurring sunscreen often used in mineral makeup. While both of these minerals help protect against harmful UV radiation and are considered inert, non-toxic ingredients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Royal Society in Britain have expressed concern because some cosmetic manufacturers refine these minerals into ultrafine or “nano” particle size. Although some research shows these miniscule minerals to be safe, the Environmental Working Group notes that other studies have linked inhaled nanoparticles to respiratory problems and possibly even cancer.
Other common ingredients include natural iron oxides and ultramarine pigments derived from limestone containing the blue mineral lazurite to add color to the makeup. Sericite is a lightweight, translucent mineral that gives mineral makeup its silky texture. Sparkle in a variety of colors comes from natural mica. Because mica reflects light, it creates a soft-focus effect which gives the illusion of smoother, more radiant skin.
But not all mineral makeup offers 100 percent pure minerals from the earth. The type of minerals and additives can vary widely, so it’s wise to check the ingredient label before you buy. Avoid products—especially loose powders—that contain talc, a common filler that can dry skin and may cause respiratory problems. Bismuth oxychloride, a pearlizing agent, is another ingredient to nix because it can cause itching and rash. Hormone-disrupting parabens, urea-based preservatives, and synthetic fragrances can also be found in many mass-marketed liquid mineral cosmetics. A good rule of thumb is to choose mineral products containing as few ingredients as possible. If you do see additional ingredients listed on the label, make sure they are botanical additives or nutrients like chamomile, green tea, or coenzyme Q10.
When you apply mineral makeup remember that less is more. Because the powders are so richly pigmented, start by applying the smallest amount possible and buffing it in until it all but disappears. Continue to build the color and the coverage until you achieve a smooth even look.
If you are using loose mineral makeup, sprinkle a small amount into the cap of the container and swirl your brush into the powder to thoroughly coast the bristles. If you’re using a compact, use the brush directly on the pressed powder. You can also opt for liquid minerals (again, check the label for additives) for a creamy, more traditional product that can be applied with either fingers, a cosmetic sponge, or a foundation brush. Whichever form you choose, use a natural sunscreen and moisturizer before applying your makeup and make sure they are fully absorbed to prevent streaking. While using mineral makeup may take some practice, once you’ve perfected your technique you’ll find that it offers good coverage that lasts for hours.