Is Mineral Makeup Better for Your Skin?

Cleopatra was 2,000 years ahead of her time. Mineral makeup, once used by ancient Egyptians, is now the hottest trend in cosmetics. But is it really healthier for your skin?

The concept of mineral makeup is brilliant in its simplicity.

  • Take natural minerals (which are pretty colors).
  • Pulverize them.
  • Package them in cute containers with brushes.
  • Market them as being so good for your skin that “you can sleep with it.”
  • Charge $50 for 0.005 cents worth of iron oxide.

While I work on developing Benabio’s Beryllonite Bronzer, let’s take a look at the claims that companies make:

  1. Mineral makeup contains only natural ingredients.
  2. Mineral makeup will have beneficial affects for your skin.

With regard to the first claim, there is no regulation for what constitutes a mineral makeup. Don’t be fooled by makeups labeled as “all natural minerals.” A company can put artificial fillers, preservatives, or dyes in a makeup, and so long as it contains minerals, they can claim it is mineral makeup.

The FDA does not check to see if the product contains natural minerals; it only monitors the makeup to ensure it is not harmful. There is no requirement for a company to validate claims that its makeup is natural.

Some minerals, such as bismouth oxychloride are actually not natural, but are manufactured (yup, that means artificial); yet, they are often included in natural mineral makeups.

Since mineral makeups usually are powders, they usually do not have the preservatives which are needed for cream or liquid makeups. This might be beneficial since these preservatives can cause irritations or allergies.

With regard to the second claim, there is no published evidence that mineral makeup has health benefits for your skin. Claims that makeups nourish your skin are unsubstantiated and unlikely. Because the minerals in makeup do not penetrate your skin, they cannot have any effect. Imagine it like this: if the minerals were beach sand, your skin would be a sponge. If you dusted some beach sand on the sponge there is no way that sand would penetrate to get to the other side.  It just sits on the surface. If you read carefully, many companies claim their makeup nourishes the skin but also claim that it won’t clog your pores. If the makeup won’t even get into huge pores on your skin, how could it possibly penetrate through skin?

The other thing to consider is that not all minerals are healthy. For example, asbestos, a natural occurring mineral, is carcinogenic and increases your risk of mesothelioma cancer. Talc, which is similar to asbestos, has also been scrutinized for possibly contributing to ovarian cancer and lung disease. Because of inhalation risks, we discourage parents from using talc on babies.

Last, mineral makeup might increase your risk of developing an allergy to metals, such as gold. Though typically unusual, allergy to gold has become more common since mineral makeups have become more popular.

Companies also claim that mineral makeup is a good sunscreen. It’s true that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are often found in mineral makeup, are good physical sunscreens. However, because they’re a powder, they do not adhere to the skin and are easily brushed off. As a result, your actual ultraviolet light sun protection is less uniform and less effective than it would be with a cream.

Mineral makeup might be a great cosmetic — many women love products such as Bare Escentuals and others. They like the look and feel of these products. If you do too, then by all means use them.

If you don’t use mineral makeup, however, then don’t worry, you’re not missing anything.

Post written by Jeffrey Benabio, MD. You might also like:

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Photo credit: Craig Elliot

31 thoughts on “Is Mineral Makeup Better for Your Skin?

  1. There are also a lot of reports of bismouth oxychloride causing cystic acne. I’ve found a few different brands to be too rough on the sensitive parts of my skin.

  2. No mineral makeup is 100% natural. For example, iron oxides must be purified in a lab, as the naturally occuring version contains heavy metals that are toxic without purification. Technically, that makes it synthetic, but it is a naturally derived ingredient.

    A responsible mineral makeup company will mention that both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide block UVA and UVB rays, and are very effective in doing so. But since the actual sunscreen protection varies widely depending on the percentage of both of these ingredients, as well as the application by the end user (one layer provides far less protection than someone who applies several layers), you are limited to describing the properties of the ingredients. Have you ever applied titanium dioxide or zinc oxide powder onto your skin, rubbed it in, and run it under water? It doesn’t rinse off very easily without rubbing it under water or washing with soap. Since you are not a woman, I assume it is a safe assumption that you’ve never applied mineral makeup. It is “buffed” onto your skin, or applied using a damp brush to meld the powders to your skin. They do not “brush off”, or none of us would have any makeup left on our faces after 5 minutes.

    As far as clogging pores, etc, it will vary by ingredients. Many of the larger, well known companies will use silicone derivitaves or parabens in their products as these are inexpensive fillers to bulk up products and give them a nice texture without any useful benefit (other than as a preservative). These CAN clog your pores, but ingredients that are not absorbed by the skin cannot – such as mica, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide (the most common ingredients in mineral makeup).

    I have been unable to find any peer-reviewed articles that tie mineral makeup to increased allergies to gold. An article from the Washington Post that cites no source is not credible to me. Not only that, but all I could find was a reference that mineral makeup can abrade jewelry, increasing the release of gold particles onto the skin and the risk of contact dermatitis. The average woman does not apply makeup to her neckline, ear lobes, or hands, where one would be wearing jewelry. Please correct me if I am wrong, but one would also have to assume this is related to lower carat gold (ie 10K). Jewelry allergies/reactions can come from a multitude of reasons, some of which are listed here: http://www.skincare-news.com/articles.php?ArtID=511.

  3. Hi Dr. Benabio,
    I just came across your blog about mineral makeup and I totally agree with you on all your points. I’m a former Physical Therapist and 7 years ago I started making mineral based makeup in a cream form because of the same concern I had about relying on powder mineral cosmetics for sunscreen in facial cosmetics. Also your point about mineral makeup not penetrating the skin should help people understand that the claims about minerals “nourishing” the skin are just marketing tactics unsupported by good research. Mineral makeup in the dry form is great for applying over the top of a well formulated cream mineral sunscreen but if women rely upon a little dusting of it they are risking some serious sun damage. Thanks for the good information about mineral makeup.

  4. Excellent article; you bring up many valid points on mineral makeups and the fact that there is much that is misunderstood. Good job!

  5. Interesting post! Thank you for debunking the “sleep in the makeup” hysteria. Mineral makeup can be quite lovely, but some folks sure think it’s a miracle it can’t possibly be!

    I also was interested to see the comment that mentioned that bismuth oxychloride may contribute to cystic acne. Now that I see that, I am thinking back to the raging cystic acne nightmares of my time with Bare Escentuals. Hmmm….

    I also have a sensitivity to bismuth oxychloride that makes me shiny and itchy – not an uncommon complaint for users of products that include this salt in large quantities.

  6. I use mineral makeup. It works for me because it helps me to control the horrible oily skin I’ve had all my life. I had the most dreadful acne that left scars on my light-skinned African-American skin that was embarrassing and ugly. I started using powder makeup because liquid makeup did nothing for my oily skin. Yes, I know that not everything in mineral makeups are not pure; however, they usually contain less ingredients and no perservitives. I know about the bismuth, but I am not allergic to it. I always use a moisturizer with SPF 30 for UV protection. It’s not perfect, for instance, Bare Minerals has no color that matches the gold undertones in my skin. I should use medium tan but it has a cool/neutral base that doesn’t match. I use another makeup from a different company that matches. I’m waiting for BE to make a shade that matches my skin because I like their makeup the best.

  7. This is fine post and the mineral cosmetic products are the better for skin and these also contain best ingredients for the skin like calciums and other vitamins necessary for the skin .

  8. Hi,

    I came across your blog after searching online for blogs posted by dermatologists. The existence of such blogs dawned on me when I read a comment posted on http://www.TruthInAging.com, another cosmetic/skin beauty blog that I found online. It seems very interesting and helpful with the product reviews that are posted daily. You might want to check it out.

    On another one, I wanted to know your opinion on Bellapierre and Micabella make-up. It has become quite popular and sold in kiosks at the mall. I couldn’t find the ingredients in the mineral make-up online. I was wondering if these brands are safe and trustworthy? They claim to contain 100 % natural ingredients whereas Bare Minerals has 2% of chemicals in their products. I was wondering if this is true, or which product is the safer one to use. I noticed that the dust/powder is more likely to enter the nostrils through application, is this unsafe over time? Thank you!

  9. great post.
    one should never sleep in any cosmetic.
    i am very allergic to bismuth oxychloride and recently have taken the plunge into a “green” & vegan lifestyle. i really love afterglow’s line of mineral cosmetics because it is fun & fabulous but doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin. they also use certified organic ingredients like grape seed extract, and jojoba, whenever possible.

    –lauren

  10. Very interesting… Dont you just love the way these cosmetic companies claim you can sleep with Bismuth Oxychloride on your face??

  11. Larenim (Mineral spelled backwards) contains no Bismuth oxychloride: a by-product of lead; responsible for enlarging pores. One will likely discover this after a couple of years of using makeup that contains bismuth (maybe sooner.) Larenim goes on like silk and has a great color selection: C (cool), N (neutral) & W (warm: about 75% of the US population falls under this family of colors with yellow undertones.) For the T-zone area (& a great primer under color), we love “Dusk til Dawn” treatment which contains Kaolin clay (to absorb excess oil), Zinc (which naturally brightens,) & Green Tea (infusing the skin with anti-oxidants all day) That’s it…Just the good stuff!

  12. @Robyn About; Silicone
    Silicone has lots of useful qualities;

    1. Good electrical insulation. Because silicone can be formulated to be electrically insulative or conductive, it is suitable for a wide range of electrical applications.
    2. Thermal stability (constancy of properties over a wide operating range of ?100 to 250 °C).
    3. Though not a hydrophobe, the ability to repel water and form watertight seals.
    4. Excellent resistance to oxygen, ozone and UV light (sunlight). This has led to widespread use in the construction industry (e.g. coatings, fire protection, glazing seals), and automotive industry (external gaskets, external trim).
    5. Non-stick.
    6. Low chemical reactivity.
    7. Low toxicity, but does not support microbiological growth.
    8. High gas permeability: at room temperature (25 °C) the permeability of silicone rubber for gases like oxygen is approximately 400 times that of butyl rubber, making silicone useful for medical applications (though precluding it from applications where gas-tight seals are necessary).
    - Wikipedia

    The skin has very good of layer with the silicone if the skin is dehydrated.
    It holds the water on the skin to grease the skin and hold the damp inside, and its breathe.
    The silicone is to big for the skin så the products are safe.
    the skin. I mean it is a better choice than products with oil in it, because the oil isn´t breathe.
    They have a wonderful character to protect the skin. It protect the skin from humidify, dust, pollution, it is like sunprotector, and it dont go in the skin.

    :)

  13. Dr. Benabio- I recently discovered your blog and after reading this article, immediately researched the ingredients in my Laura Mercier Mineral Makeup- please let me know if these ingredients are safe as I have allergies and asthma: Active Ingredient – Zinc Oxide. Ingredient: Pearl Powder. May Contain (+/-): Mica (CI 77019), Bismuth Oxychloride (CI 77163), Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Iron Oxides (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499). Thank you for your many insightful posts.

    • @katia
      I am sorry, I could not say which ingredients would be right for you. If you have concerns, then I recommend you bring the makeup to your physician and ask for his or her input. Thank you for the compliment.

  14. I wear make up very rarely, but decided to give minerals a try because many women in my age bracket insisted it looked natural and would not cause skin damage

    I must be one of the rare birds in the population who cannot use this kind of product – my skin gets very irritated on the following day, and I tried 4 or 5 different brands, they all do the same. Red spots, that turn into small zits, every single time.

  15. is it true that bareminerals crystallize and cut your skin, eventually making your pores larger? a makeup artist told me this..though i wasn’t sure how valid it was

    • I have heard this about the ingredient bismuth oxychloride, which is crystalline in structure. The argument is that the pointed edges can make microscopic abrasions and irritate the skin. Having said that, as the Dr. mentioned, this wouldn’t have an effect on the size of your pores, though it could be the source of Sally’s irritation (I’d also posit the guess that if Sally is sensitive, the “buffing” motion suggested for application by mineral makeup companies could cause further irritation- I know it has for me!)

  16. Dr. Benabio,

    I have sensitive eyes. I have been trying to find an undereye concealer but most cause a reaction after 4-5 hours. It’s a discomfort with some itchiness and irritation. I recently tried Jane Iredale which I thought was going to work– I seemed to be tolerating it better than some of the others — but didn’t.

    Is there anything you can recommend? Some department store lines have not worked. Some drug store brands haven’t worked. I haven’t tried everything and am wondering if it might be the form it’s in. Should I avoid creams and look for a liquid. Could it be interacting with my undereye cream?

    Thank you for any suggestions you may have.

  17. I have been using Bare Minerals for 4 years and I can say that my skin is clearer (I suffered terribly from acne during my teens, twenties, and well into my late 30′s, though less so of course). I also get comments (incredibly, after my acne nightmare…) that my skin is lovely and glowing! I do moisturize first (Olay Regenerist)AND use Clinique’s Pore Minimizer around my nose and on my chin, as I’ve found that mineral makeup can actually magnify pores instead of having the opposite effect which I believe BM claims. But other than that, I am totally happy with my Bare Minerals base. I also use their Warmth All-Over Face Color, which is much sheerer than a bronzer but gives a nice bronzy glow, and the Rare Minerals Blemish Therapy if I do have a breakout (much less frequently now, partly due to age- I’ll be 47 next week- and I believe partly due to the Bare Minerals). I guess I don’t have allergies to any of the potential irritants mentioned, so I think I’m lucky. I don’t think I’d ever wear liquid or cream base again. Any time I’ve tried- like for a special event or in a pinch- it feels so heavy and greasy and as if my skin is being smothered. So I guess I’m a mineral makeup convert!

  18. I have used Bare Minerals about 4 yrs ago and it made my face break out ( i have combination skin with enlarged pores). It ended up in the trash can.

  19. Dr. Benabio,

    what about the articles found in pubmed, that show strong indications of titanium oxide nano and micro particles being possible carcinogenic when inhaled? What is your personal opinion on that? Are larger particles safe?

  20. Would you say that these statements are true with regards to Jane Iredale Make-up? Which claims to have no fillers, no talc, no preservatives, no thylates and no other known carcinogens? It also claims to have hylaraunic acid, green tea extract, UVA/UVB protection, etc. All beneficial to the skin.

    • Emily,

      While the ingredients you listed are certainly beneficial to the skin, they’re in no way exclusive to mineral makeup.

      As far as SPF goes, please consider that in the case of mineral makeup (or any other powder sunscreen), you’d have to wear about 1.2 grams on your face to get the SPF stated on the product’s label. To put that in perspective, you’d have to use about 1/6th of an ENTIRE JAR of your average mineral makeup every time you apply to get the correct coverage. The average woman applies only 0.085 grams at a time, so you’d have to put on 14 times the normal amount! Ick!

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