Mineral Makeup: Key Ingredients

by Paula Begoun
The Cosmetics Cop

This article wouldn’t be complete without a listing of the major mineral makeup brands and their key products. The following link includes reviews for all the major “mineral” makeup product lines. Each review sums up the pros and cons of each company’s products along with notes on which ones I have found to be a cut above the rest when compared to the competition in this category.

For the following product reviews click here:


These ingredients include the following along with an explanation of their effect and usefulness.

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide: The presence of titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide often serves as the sunscreen in many mineral makeups. At the same time, these ingredients provide enhanced coverage and a matte finish. Keep in mind that even when these proven mineral sunscreens are listed in the formula, it is still imperative to check that one or both of them are listed as active ingredients and the product is rated with an SPF 15 or greater. Simply having titanium dioxide or zinc oxide in the formula is not a guarantee of sun protection. Without an SPF rating resulting from FDA-mandated sunscreen tests, you won’t know just how much protection you’re getting, and that’s dangerous for the health of your skin.

Although these two minerals are ideal sunscreen agents for those with sensitive skin (zinc oxide is the primary ingredient found in diaper rash ointments) or conditions such as rosacea, their occlusive nature can contribute to clogged pores. This isn’t new information, yet it doesn’t stop companies selling mineral makeup from advertising their product as being ideal for those suffering from acne or breakouts, with some companies actually stating their mineral makeup helps cure it (an absolute falsehood with no published research showing this to be true)!

Mineral makeup powders often contain a 25% concentration of titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. Liquid foundations or lotions with SPF 15 using only titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as the sunscreen active ingredients tend to contain a much smaller concentration of these pigments. The amount of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in mineral makeups create the coverage and opaque quality of the powder, allowing more coverage than the usual talc-based powders. However, if you have determined that liquid foundations with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide exacerbate your breakouts, it is quite possible that a mineral makeup containing an even larger concentration of those ingredients will have the same, if not a more pronounced, effect.

What is true is when mineral makeup companies speak of the non-irritating nature of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Neither is known for causing an irritant response or sensitizing reaction on skin (Sources: Cosmetics & Toiletries, October 2003, pages 73–78; and Cutis, September 2004, pages 13–16 and 32–34).

Bismuth oxychloride: A little more information about this ingredient is warranted because it is the common thread that shows up in almost every mineral makeup product being sold. It’s a grayish-white, inorganic powder with a natural metallic shine. The binding properties of bismuth oxychloride are what give the mineral makeups containing it their smoothness and texture. Its thicker texture demands more careful application, which is why most mineral makeup companies recommend special flat-cut, dense powder brushes to work the product into the skin. This method of application also provides considerable coverage and helps ensure longer wear.

Bismuth in and of itself seldom occurs in nature. Instead, it is manufactured synthetically. The International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook, Eleventh Edition, 2006, lists bismuth oxychloride as a synthetic. So much for mineral makeup being the natural solution to applying foundation and creating a flawless face!

Actually, bismuth is chemically similar to arsenic. That is more shocking than significant, but that kind of fact is similar to what mineral makeup companies use to make you scared of the ingredients in other powders not deemed “mineral makeup.” Just like cosmetic grade mineral oil is not related to the crude petroleum from which it originates, neither is bismuth oxychloride identical to bismuth and therefore, the arsenic association is irrelevant. So the bismuth oxychloride used in cosmetics is indeed non-toxic. This is just a good example of how skewed a company’s definition of “natural” can be, and how they can twist factual information to make other cosmetic company ingredients sound harmful.

Unlike titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, bismuth oxychloride can cause slight skin irritation (Source: www.sciencelab.com/xMSDS-Bismuth_oxychloride-9923103). Although talc has the same potential for slight irritation, bismuth oxychloride is more likely to cause an allergic contact dermatitis due to its pearlescent nature (Source: www.emedicine.com/derm/topic502.htm ). This is more of a concern when bismuth oxychloride is the main ingredient in a cosmetic, as it is for many mineral makeups.

Mica: is a mineral silicate with a crystalline shine. It is used as pigment in most mineral makeups (as well as in many eyeshadows, blushes, and powders in general) to add a luminescent shine to the product’s finish. Mica comprises a group of crystallized minerals that naturally occur in thin, separated sheets. It is available in a variety of colors from pale green to black, and is also available colorless. Compared to bismuth oxychloride, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide, mica has a nearly weightless and noticeably silky texture. Some women–particularly those with oily skin–may not like the shine mica imparts because it makes oily areas look shinier. And for those with noticeable wrinkles it can make skin look more wrinkled than it really is. In the long run this is only an esthetic issue which makes mica a benign addition to any makeup, “mineral” or otherwise.

Talc: Many mineral makeups do use talc while others malign it as an evil, cancer causing substance. The truth is that talc is a mineral and completely natural. Companies selling mineral makeup often speak of the talc used in other pressed and loose powders as being harmful and carcinogenic, but the research doesn’t support this hysteria in the least. Although there is epidemiological evidence that frequent use of pure talc over the female genital area may increase the risk of ovarian cancer, this evidence does not prove a direct link. Further research has shown this epidemiological evidence to be questionable. A comprehensive review of several studies in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (August 2002, pages 40–50) stated that “Talc is not genotoxic, [and] is not carcinogenic when injected into ovaries of rats. There is no credible evidence of a cancer risk from inhalation of cosmetic talc by humans.” None of the research about the use of talc is related to the way women use makeup. There is no indication anywhere that there is any risk for the face when using products that contain talc. What is more significant is that there is no research showing that many other ingredients used in mineral makeup don’t pose their own risks. Because research hasn’t been done on those ingredients they don’t get a free pass.

Dismissing talc as a cheap, inelegant, less desirable, filler material is inaccurate because talc serves as the essential backbone for a number of the most luxurious-feeling powders from dozens of lines ranging from L’Oreal to Chanel. The best among those powders have a softness and virtually seamless finish on the skin that most mineral makeup lines should envy. The higher grades of talc are not “filler” materials, they are essential to creating a powder’s gossamer texture and skin-like finish.

Additional sources for the information on talc: International Journal of Cancer, November 2004, pages 458–464; and Anticancer Research, March–April 2003, pages 1,955–1,960.



Bare Escentuals
Bare Minerals Foundation SPF 15 ($25)
Pros: Broad-spectrum sun protection from 25% titanium dioxide; mica-based formula has a lighter texture than those
based on bismuth oxychloride; Plenty of good shades for fair to medium skin tones; widely available at Sephora stores or the company’s own boutiques.
Cons: Shiny finish that appears sparkling on skin; can look heavy and be more difficult to blend than standard talc-based powder foundations; absorbent nature of the titanium dioxide and bismuth oxychloride can make skin feel uncomfortably dry by the end of the day; may pool into pores and change color on persons with very oily skin or oily areas; shades for dark skin tones are available but the titanium dioxide content causes them to appear or turn ash.

Rare Minerals Skin Revival Treatment ($60)
Pros: Very absorbent for those with oily skin; available in a small but good range of shades plus a colorless option; mica base has a lighter texture than mineral powders with bismuth oxychloride as the main ingredient.
Cons: Expensive; no proof that the Jurassic Virgin Soil (the company’s fancy claim for what amounts to dirt) can improve skin in the prodigious manner claimed; can cause dryness due to the absorbent nature of almost all of the ingredients; as a nighttime treatment, this is akin to wearing makeup to bed, which is never a good idea.

Multi-Tasking Minerals
Pros: Less shiny finish compared to the bareMinerals Foundation SPF 15 above; the Summer Bisque and Honey Bisque shades have 20% zinc oxide as an active ingredient, rating SPF 20; may be used as eyeshadow base or concealer.
Cons: Same as listed above for the bareMinerals Foundation SPF 15.

Retractable Foundation Brush SPF 20 ($55; $36 for refills)
Pros: Blends smoothly, has less drag on skin than many other mineral foundations; includes a built-in, goat hair brush for convenient application with minimal mess; uses additional cosmetic pigments for a greater array of skin-realistic colors; proven to be water-resistant (as is most mineral makeup but Colorscience did the appropriate FDA-sanctioned testing to make this claim); uses titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as active ingredients.
Cons: Same as most mineral makeups: can look thick or heavy on skin, has a dry finish, and imparts shine, which isn’t the best for those with oily skin; the darker shades, while strongly pigmented, tend to leave a silvery-white sheen that can look a bit ashen; definitely a mineral makeup to sample because many of the shades for fair to medium skin tend to turn slightly pink or peach.

GloLoose Base ($37)
Pros: A finely-milled, silky powder that blends beautifully and has a lighter texture than most mineral makeups; soft matte finish with subtle, non-sparkling glow; provides medium coverage while allowing natural skin tone to show through, resulting in a mineral makeup that looks more natural; several neutral shades for fair to medium skin tones; one to try if you have normal to dry skin.
Cons: Does not list active ingredients so no SPF rating (though it does contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide); no shades for dark skin tones; avoid the Beige shades–all are too pink; application can be messy.

Glopressed Base ($39)
Pros: Less messy than the GloLoose version; great silky texture that applies well; provides a soft, non-sparkling glow with a finish that feels matte; beautiful shade range that includes non-ashen options for dark skin tones.
Cons: No sunscreen; overdoing application can result in a powdery appearance that emphasizes lines.

Be Pure Mineral Makeup ($6.99)
Pros: Silky texture blends well; relatively easy to apply thanks to built-in soft sponge applicator; small but good selection of neutral shades; minimal shine.
Cons: No sunscreen; may be too sheer for some; removing sponge to apply product with a brush or different sponge results in a thick, chalky-looking finish; bismuth oxychloride can make this feel uncomfortably dry over time.

Be Pure Mineral Powder ($6.99)
Pros: Lightweight, almost airy texture looks attractive on skin and blends well; subtle shine; not as drying as many mineral makeups.
Cons: No sunscreen; component falls apart almost immediately; brush feels terrible on skin; cap cannot be replaced after use without causing the brush to splay; bronze shade can look ashen.

Jane Iredale
Amazing Base Loose Minerals SPF 20 ($42)
Pros: Uses titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as active ingredients; finish is absorbent while looking lighter than most other loose mineral makeups; beautiful range of shades.
Cons: Colors demand careful testing as many go on either lighter or darker than they appear; can look heavier and be more difficult to blend than standard talc-based powder foundations; absorbent nature of the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can make skin feel uncomfortably dry by the end of the day; may pool into pores and change color on persons with very oily skin or oily areas.

PurePressed Base Mineral Foundation SPF 20 ($49.50)
Pros: Convenient, less messy application than loose mineral makeup; strong matte finish without an overly thick appearance; sunscreen is a blend of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide; gorgeous shade range that includes non-ashy options for dark skin tones.
Cons: Not the best for those with normal to dry skin due to its very absorbent nature; does not look good over pronounced wrinkles.

Laura Mercier
Mineral Powder SPF 15 ($35)
Pros: Excellent sun protection with 20% zinc oxide; enviably silky texture from finely-milled ingredients; finishes matte with a subtle, not sparkling, glow; blends better than any mineral makeup I have tested; thoughtful packaging makes this loose powder foundation less messy to apply and transport; every shade is recommended.
Cons: Same potential drawbacks as most mineral makeup; can look and feel too dry over dry or flaky skin; can look thick and eventually pool into large pores on very oily areas; limited shade selection compared to lines such as Jane Iredale or gloMinerals.

Bare Naturale Powdered Mineral Foundation SPF 19 ($15.25)
Pros: Features titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as active ingredients; uses talc and a lower amount of bismuth oxychloride for a less shiny finish which is a nice change from the typical iridescence found in most “mineral” makeups; built-in, dense brush is well-suited for applying this type of makeup and helps minimize mess.
Cons: Not nearly as lightweight as the magazine ads imply; the amount of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide lends a heavy, opaque finish that is difficult to soften (and applying this sheer negates its sun protection).

Loose Mineral Foundation ($19.50; $2.50 for sample-size jars)
Pros: Offers samples of every shade for a nominal fee; very absorbent finish keeps oil in check for hours; full coverage for serious discolorations; minimal shine on the light to medium shades.
Cons: So concentrated that even a sheer application produces opaque coverage that looks dry and chalky; difficult to blend; brags about its full-spectrum sunscreen but does not list active ingredients nor an SPF rating; shades darken or lighten when applied, which makes finding the best match more of a challenge (and the female shade names offer zero help); the darker shades have a strong shimmer finish that makes the face look too glow-y.

Mineral Sheers Mineral Powder Foundation ($11.99)
Pros: Packaging includes a built-in brush which makes for minimal mess; application method allows for sheer coverage; layers well for additional coverage; small but good selection of shades.
 Despite the convenience, the included brush isn’t nearly as nice as brushes sold separately with the softness and density needed to apply this type of product; no sunscreen; tends to make oily areas look flaky and flat before the end of the day; no shades for dark skin tones unless you want lots of sparkles.

Mineral Sheers Powder Foundation SPF 20 ($12.99)
Pros: Has a beautifully smooth texture with a soft matte finish; provides broad-spectrum sun protection; significantly less messy than loose mineral makeup; inexpensive; coverage is on the sheer side; mostly great shades
Cons: None unless you’re shopping for a powder foundation that provides more than sheer to light coverage; OK, there are no shades for very dark skin tones.

the supernatural powder airbrushed canvas SPF 15 ($35)
Pros: Sunscreen active is zinc oxide; built-in sponge applicator makes for a convenient, minimally messy application; sponge may be removed and washed to keep it sanitary; long-wearing matte finish suitable for keeping very oily skin in check; sheer to light coverage.
Cons: Contains more bismuth oxychloride than most mineral makeups, thus can be more drying to skin; finish is more sparkling than shiny, which isn’t the best for daytime wear; attempting to build meaningful coverage results in a heavy look that doesn’t wear as well over dry or oily areas.

4-in-1 Pressed Mineral Makeup SPF 15 ($24.50)
Pros: Sole active ingredient is titanium dioxide; mica- and boron nitride-based formula is dry but unusually silky; smooth application that blends better than most mineral makeup; soft glow finish makes skin look dimensional rather than sparkly; shades for fair to dark skin; sheer to medium coverage that doesn’t look thick; good for all but very dry skin; doubles as a setting powder over liquid foundation.
Cons: Despite the name, this product more closely resembles a really good pressed powder than a standard mineral foundation; can still look and feel slightly dry and will exaggerate dry patches of skin.

Sheer Cover
Pressed Mineral Foundation SPF 12 ($29.95)
Pros: Beautifully soft, silky texture blends better than most mineral makeup, be it pressed or loose; sheer to medium coverage whose finish feels matte but leaves a soft glow; does not look thick or powdery; small but outstanding shade selection.
Cons: Formula is closer to a pressed powder foundation, though that’s a plus for some; would be better if sunscreen was rated SPF 15 or greater; no shades for very dark skin.

Mineral Foundation ($29.95)
Pros: Finely-milled powder makes the drying minerals (titanium dioxide and bismuth oxychloride) apply less opaquely; natural matte (in feel) finish that remains absorbent without being chalky; mostly neutral shades (avoid Almond and Nude).
Cons: No active ingredients listed, thus no SPF rating; despite the finely-milled texture it can still be overly drying and turn color over oily areas; very sparkly finish; powder brushes that accompany the Sheer Cover Intro Kit are inferior.

Skin Alison Raffaele
Mineral Powder Foundation ($29.50)
Pros: Very simple formula is suitable for sensitive or rosacea-afflicted skin; mica base contributes to a lighter-than usual texture; sheer to medium coverage, with zinc oxide supplying some opacity and a dry finish; very neutral shade range.
Cons: No sunscreen actives listed, no SPF rating; can be too drying for normal to dry skin; slightly shiny finish may not please those with oily skin; the darkest shade looks ash; no shades for very dark skin.

Urban Decay
Surreal Skin Mineral Makeup ($29)
Pros: Built-in sponge applicator minimizes mess and allows for quick application; otherwise, shares the same positive traits as the Bare Escentuals bareMinerals Foundation SPF 15 above, minus the sunscreen; small shade selection but all of them are good.
Cons: Same as Bare Escentuals bareMinerals Foundation SPF 15 above; no active ingredients listed, thus no SPF rating.

Mineral Cosmetics Natural Mineral Foundation ($38)
Pros: Same as Bare Escentuals bareMinerals SPF 15 Foundation above, minus the sunscreen.
Cons: Same as Bare Escentuals bareMinerals SPF 15 Foundation above except Youngblood did better with their darker shades; no active sunscreen ingredients so no SPF rating, despite the main ingredient being titanium dioxide.

Youngblood Mineral Cosmetics Mineral Compact Foundation ($41)
Pros: Dry texture has a lightweight but very absorbent matte (in feel) finish for oily to very oily skin (assuming you don’t mind a slightly shiny look); provides sheer coverage that doesn’t look pasty; almost every shade is neutral (avoid Rose Beige) and has options for fair to tan skin tones.
Cons: Powder contains rice starch, which may contribute to blemishes because food-based ingredients can feed the bacteria that cause acne; not recommended for anyone with any degree of dry skin.