Is Natural Makeup Really Healthier And Prettier? WH Gets The Dirt on the Mineral-Makeup Craze
Is the newest beauty trend really worth it?
By Maria Ricapito
If putting ground-up rocks on your clear skin seems a little unappealing, we're right there with you. Switching from your trusted face powder to one made of minerals extracted from the earth sounds like one of those crunchy trends (crystal deodorant, anyone?) that can't possibly work as well as tried-and-true drugstore staples.
Except that when we talked to women who have tried the stuff — now being sold by everyone from L'Oréal to Neutrogena — lots of them raved. Fans (some of them so un-hippie they'd never heard of quinoa) repeatedly volunteered praise: It feels incredibly light. It won't melt off your face when you're out for a jog. It contains natural sun protection. Add in cosmetic companies' claims that the products can actually calm irritated skin and it all sounds too good to be true. So we set out to dig up the facts: Are the promises of the mineral beauty trend grounded in reality?
A Rock Sample
If you didn't ace Rocks for Jocks, here's a brushup: A mineral is a naturally occurring, inorganic solid. Graphite in pencils is a mineral. So is a diamond. Humans have used minerals to paint their skin for ages: Traces of the pigment red ocher, an iron oxide, have been found in Neanderthal burial sites. Of course, the concept has evolved dramatically since those cave ladies were getting dolled up. Today's products contain a range of minerals, including aluminum, gold, iron oxide, kaolin, magnesium, malachite, mica, silica, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide — all ground up and processed into fine, silky powders.
Okay, slapping on makeup that came from the earth may sound like wearing asphalt, but the powders are lightweight, breathable, and often undetectable — much more comfortable on a hot day than any blacktop highway. "Mineral makeup offers more coverage than alternative commercial options, yet feels light and looks natural," says Ava Shamban, M.D., a dermatologist in Santa Monica, California.
Even though it's got something of a granola rep, mineral makeup isn't limited to muted earth tones. The natural pigments come in a variety of colors worthy of the Painted Desert: You can get green from copper, red from iron, and blue from lapis, for example. And mica can be treated with iron oxide to create an entire range of?translucent pastels.
In fact, mineral makeup is by definition heavily pigmented, so a little goes a long way. That's why Michelle Doan, professional makeup artist and founder of Emani Mineral Cosmetics, applies her powders with a sponge rather than a brush for easier blending. Doan's advice: Begin at the jawline and smooth the pigment up — removing color deposited in the middle of your face is harder if you start with the cheeks or nose. If you're using a brush, swirl it over the powder and then tap to eliminate excess.
Once you have it in place, there's no need to lug an overstuffed makeup bag around for touch-ups. Just as it takes eons for water and wind to wear away rock formations, mineral makeup has staying power. "Mineral powders such as mica, titanium dioxide, bismuth oxychloride, and iron oxides are not dissolvable in water or oil," says Kevin Mendelson, a spokesman for Jane Iredale Skin Care Makeup, one of the pioneer mineral-makeup companies. That makes it a great choice for runners, swimmers, river rafters, and hikers — or just about anyone who doesn't feel like constantly reapplying her cosmetics as the day wears on. "I've found that if I'm wearing mineral makeup, I don't have to touch it up after working out," says dermatologist Lisa Donofrio, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine.
To see how a product stands up to water, Diane Ranger, president and founder of Colorescience and founder of Bare Escentuals Mineral Makeup, suggests applying it to?the back of your hand and running it under water. The water should bead up without smearing the makeup and, when you blot it with a paper towel, nothing should come off. Even better: You don't have to move mountains to remove it — regular cleanser works just as well on minerals as it does on standard cosmetics, Dr. Shamban says.
Grounds for Consideration
One hundred percent mineral makeup — manufactured by such companies as Bare Escentuals, Colorescience, and Dr. Hauschka — contains no manmade ingredients, says Nick Morante, a cosmetics chemist and consultant in Holbrook, New York. That means no chemical sunscreens (such as oxybenzone, PABA, and salicylates), no preservatives (such as DMDM hydantoin, formaldehyde, and parabens), no synthetic esters (chemical compounds that emulsify solids), no mineral oil (a petroleum by-product used as a binder), no fragrances, no dyes,?and no fillers (such as nylon and polymethyl-methacrylate) — all ingredients that can sometimes irritate sensitive skin and cause breakouts.
That said, not all synthetic ingredients are bad. For example, "Mineral oil won't block pores when formulated properly," says dermatologist Bruce Katz, M.D., director of Juva MediSpa in New York City, which carries Jane Iredale's mineral-makeup line. Cornstarch helps turn a loose powder into a pressed one. Oils or shea butter let foundation or lipstick go on smoothly and keep skin hydrated. And some binder is necessary to turn pigments into lipstick. So the only 100 percent mineral makeup comes in powder or liquid form — a limitation not every woman will love. That's why so many manufacturers are adding some nonmineral ingredients to their "mineral" products. If you're bound and determined to avoid all chemicals, make sure to scan the label before you buy.
Super Natural Powers?
Mineral-makeup manufacturers often talk about how their products are better for skin — especially if you're acne prone. Their explanation: Since minerals are inert, they don't support bacteria or cause irritation, both triggers for oil production. "Although I advise cleaning your skin nightly, falling asleep in mineral makeup may actually reduce blemishes," Dr. Shamban says.
Dermatologists don't all agree. "There's really no data proving that minerals are better for your skin," says Leslie Bauman, M.D., a Miami dermatologist and author of The Skin Type Solution. "I feel mineral makeup is overhyped." When it comes to helping acne patients, she says, "I prefer makeup with salicylic acid," such as the Neutrogena Visibly Clear or Proactive lines. And, if you're applying the makeup with a dirty brush or sponge, you're also spreading acne-causing bacteria.
What about the claims that the products offer "long-lasting sun protection" or are "packed with natural sunscreens"? "Most mineral makeups contain titanium dioxide and zinc, both of which are natural sunscreens," Dr. Shamban confirms. The makeup's SPF can range from 7 to 20, but you can't assume the product offers protection unless it clearly says so on the package — with an SPF number. And a dusting of powder here or a dot of concealer there doesn't give you the kind of coverage that sunscreen lotion provides. Regular sunscreen is a must even if you're completely coated in mineral makeup, says Audrey Kunin, M.D., founder of Dermadoctor and a dermatologist in Kansas City, Missouri. But if you tend to skimp on daily SPF or just want extra security against the sun's rays, mineral powder is a great idea. "Mineral makeup provides a physical block," Dr. Donofrio says, "so it's?like wearing clothes."
Should You Switch?
If you absolutely love your current makeup, we're not suggesting you toss it. But if you're looking to eliminate chemicals from your life, you're always forgetting to put on sunscreen, you have easily irritated skin, or you hate touching up your makeup, then minerals may be pay dirt for you. "Purer is always better, particularly if you are prone to sensitivity or skin allergies," Dr.?Kunin says.
Mineral makeup can be easier on your wallet too. While the cost is comparable to that of other cosmetics, you need to use less of it to get the same effect — so your dollar goes further. Score!
But in the end, the best reason to switch is if minerals make you look and feel better. And the only way to find out is to try them. So give one of the new products a test drive. Chances are, you'll feel like you're not wearing a lick of makeup and hear plenty of comments about your healthy glow. "Mineral makeup is the closest I've seen to wearing no makeup," Dr. Katz says. "My patients who use it can't stop telling me how wonderful it is."