Is mineral makeup safer? How dangerous is regular makeup?


If you’re a woman who wears makeup, you’ve likely noticed over the past couple of decades the emergence of mineral makeup.

Perhaps not by mistake, the rise of mineral-based makeup seemed to coincide with a growing trend among forward-thinking women to question and scrutinize what they’re putting on their skin and hair.

You see, lotion isn’t just lotion. Shampoo isn’t just shampoo. All of our personal care products are complex formulas that contain 15, 20, sometimes 30 or more ingredients—some of which you recognize (like aloe or coconut oil) and others that you can’t pronounce, much less understand what they’re for.

The same can be said of every single product and cosmetic you use on a daily basis, from gel, mousse, serum, and hairspray, to mascara, blush, foundation, lipstick, and mascara, to deodorant and nail polish and beyond. In fact, by the time you’re done getting ready in the morning, you’ve likely applied hundreds of chemicals onto your skin, hair, and nails.

There’s no need to worry though, because all of these products are thoroughly tested and deemed safe by the government, right?

Unfortunately, no.

The beauty industry is largely unregulated. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plays a huge role in regulating our food supply and what medications get approved, it has no authority over cosmetics and personal care products. It doesn’t require beauty companies to conduct safety tests, and it doesn’t review or approve/reject most of the ingredients included in formulations. The FDA only gets involved if a product is considered a medication.

Furthermore, with the exception of a few prohibited substances, cosmetic companies can use any ingredient they want—again, without government oversight. The cosmetics industry is essentially responsible for policing itself—and you can imagine how that turns out…

There is a panel that reviews ingredients, but to date, it has only deemed 11 unsafe—and this doesn’t amount to a ban, just a “recommendation to not use.” In stark contrast, the European Union (which consists of 28 countries) has banned more than 1,300 compounds from cosmetics due to evidence that they could potentially lead to cancer, genetic mutations, birth defects, infertility, neurological issues, and other health complaints.

Over the past several years, consumers have become familiar with some of the more damaging ingredients commonly found in cosmetics and other personal care products. Parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol, and sulfates are a few of the top offenders—so much so that a lot of well-known shampoos and soaps now boast “no parabens” or “no sulfates” on their bottles.

Obviously, savvy consumers have demanded change—and the beauty industry has been forced to comply. We’re seeing a move in the right direction…slow as it may be. We’re also seeing new variations of products with marketing taglines such as “all-natural,” “organic,” and “safe.” Which brings me back to mineral makeup…

Is Mineral Makeup Safer?

For a long time, liquid foundation was the main makeup option to even out skin tone and cover up blemishes. Its origins date all the way back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, who wore sometimes-lethal blends of white lead and mercury to achieve extremely pale skin tone. (It represented privilege and higher class.)

Foundation formulas have obviously become safer in the centuries that have followed, but still, questionable ingredients remain. Propylene glycol, talc, aluminum starch, sodium chloride, benzyl alcohol…these are just some of the problematic ingredients in one major cosmetic brand’s liquid foundation.

Mineral makeup provides an alternative to liquid foundations. It feels lighter on the skin, and it even has some pretty impressive benefits. Mineral makeup sits on top of the skin rather than soaking in, which helps reduce the risk of clogged pores, breakouts, and other irritation. Many women find it to be much more gentle and soothing than traditional liquid foundation, which is great for skin that is sensitive or suffers from acne, rosacea, or dermatitis. Mineral makeup also creates a barrier on the skin, offering a layer of sun protection.

However, it’s important to note that not all mineral makeup is created equal. A little bit of digging is necessary to discover the truth about some mineral makeup brands.

Remember, no outside entities regulate what the cosmetic industry does and advertises. So, many mineral makeup brands may claim to be natural and even organic, when they’re far from it. In fact, a product can be labeled “all-natural mineral makeup” yet only contain 1-2% actual minerals, and the rest synthetic fillers.

What sets true mineral makeup apart is not just what it contains, but what it doesn’t contain. The fewer ingredients it has, the more natural it is, the better it is for your skin—and the safer it is for your health.

High-quality mineral makeup is made primarily of iron oxide, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, mica, or magnesium. If you really want to minimize your exposure to unnecessary and potentially harmful chemicals, find a brand that contains mainly these ingredients and few (or no) other fillers. Ingredients such as parfum/fragrance, waxes, synthetic oils, dyes, preservatives (parabens), etc. are cheap fillers that may irritate your skin and expose you to the very compounds you’re trying to avoid in the first place.

Bottom line: Yes, mineral makeup can be a safer alternative. Just make sure you check the ingredient list and read up on the manufacturer. A good place to research cosmetics and personal care products that are safer and contain fewer harmful ingredients is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.



Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: July 17, 2018