Mineral Makeup = Marketing Madness

By Paula Begoun
The Cosmetics Cop

When all is said and done, after you’ve cut through the hype, misleading information, and lies, mineral makeup is truly nothing more then powder (though now most companies are calling every product they make “mineral” regardless of what it is). It is not revolutionary, safe, or unique in any way. By any name, technically speaking, mineral makeup is simply a type of powder foundation. If you apply a light layer it serves as a finishing powder. Apply a little more and it works more like a layer of foundation providing light to medium (and, depending on the product, nearly full) coverage. In essence, mineral makeup is merely loose or pressed powder created from a blend of “powdery” substances. The hype behind it being different or special for skin is just that: hype.

It Isn't All Natural

Ironically the original lines to launch “mineral” makeup were about as natural as polyester. Companies like Youngblood, Bare Escentuals,and Jane Iredale used bismuth oxychloride as the main “mineral” ingredient, yet bismuth oxychloride is not found in nature! Bismuth oxychloride is manufactured by combining bismuth, a by-product of lead and copper metal refining (dregs of smelting if you will) mixed with chloride (a compound from chlorine), and water. Its use in cosmetics is due to its distinct shimmery, pearlescent appearance and its fine white powder texture that adheres well to skin. That doesn’t make it bad for skin, it just makes the marketing claims utterly false and ludicrous.

On the downside, bismuth oxychloride is heavier than talc and can look cakey on skin. For some people, the bismuth and chloride combination can be irritating. All the claims revolving around how mineral makeups are better for skin or are somehow equivalent to skin care is nothing more than clever marketing.

What about the other ingredients in mineral makeups? There are several that show up regularly in most of them, including such mineral lines as Monave, Larenim, Baresense, Sheer Cover by Leeza Gibbons, gloMinerals, Purminerals, Emani, Colorflo, Youngblood, Skin Alison Raffaele, Aromaleigh, Colorscience, Neutrogena, L’Oreal, Jane Iredale, Bare Escentuals, and Everyday Minerals.

For more information about ingredients used in mineral makeup click here.

Application: Pore Perfect or Poor Performer?

Most mineral makeups are capable of providing opaque coverage (this can be blended to within light to medium coverage range), yet the claim is they do so while looking extremely natural, like a second skin or better than your own skin, which appears to be the case in pictures and on TV infomercials (and just like every other makeup application created for advertising).

In real life, that is not what you will actually see. These powders (most of which are tricky to blend because they tend to “grab” onto skin and don’t glide very well once they touch your skin) can be applied sheer, but the very nature of their ingredients results in a textured application that can look powdery and “made-up” on the skin. This is especially true if you have any dry patches on the skin because these mineral powders—many of which claim to be moisturizing which is just ludicrous given the properties of all powder materials, which are absorbent not moisturizing—exacerbate dryness and flaking.

For those with oily skin, mineral makeup can pool in pores and look thick and layered just like any powder can. Generally speaking, mineral makeup is best for normal to slightly oily skin (meaning no signs of dryness and little to no problem oily areas).

Mineral Makeup as Skin Care?

There is no research anywhere proving that mineral makeup is inherently better for skin than other types of foundation. Most of the skin care attributes ascribed to mineral makeup is distantly linked to research about zinc oxide. But zinc oxide is a standard ingredient in lots of sunscreens and is not unique to mineral makeup.

While zinc oxide does have healing properties for skin (it is FDA-approved as a skin protectant, and a common active ingredient in diaper rash ointments), those healing properties have to do with skin whose barrier has been compromised, such as wounds, ulcers, or rashes. In those cases, zinc oxide can facilitate healing (Source: Wound Repair and Regeneration, January/February 2007, pages 2–16). But those studies used pure zinc oxide, the test didn’t include products that also contain other ingredients, such as mica or bismuth oxychloride, or have anything to do with healthy, intact skin.
Mineral makeup is often recommended for those with rosacea but because rosacea is a fickle skin disorder that can be made worse by powders (the granular composition of any powder can be an irritant) it isn’t a slam dunk.

Mineral makeup can work well as a sunscreen as long as the product itself is rated with an SPF 15 or greater, and greater is better, and you can wear it over a moisturizer with sunscreen to get more protection. As is true for any product with an SPF rating, in order to get the right amount of thorough protection, liberal application is essential, which means a sheer light layer of mineral makeup won’t work for protecting your skin from the sun.

Love it or Leave It

If you’re currently using mineral makeup and love the results, that’s great. The goal of this article is to present the positive and negative points of this type of makeup, and to allow my readers to make an informed decision as whether or not it’s the right type of foundation for them. Once the hype is debunked, you may want to consider a foundation that is less messy or less drying, or less iridescent, or less cakey, which are all part of the problems you can encounter with mineral makeup.