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The Lowdown on Mineral Makeup

Can these popular beauty products live up to the hype?

By Shelley Levitt

Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD

WebMD Feature

Mineral makeup is popular, but is it worth the price? Top makeup artists and skincare specialists sound off on whether mineral makeup deserves its kudos.

"I love it," Kerry Herta says. Herta earned a 2011 Emmy nomination for her work on the daytime soap All My Children. "I use a mineral foundation myself. It’s so natural looking it’s like a second skin. And on hot humid summer days it wears better than traditional liquid makeup."

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Tasha Reiko Brown of the Style Network’s How Do I Look is not as big a fan. "I find it collects in fine lines and pores and accentuates dry flaky areas," she says. "If you’re a woman of color, it can be very difficult to find a shade that’s a good match for your skin."

Women often differ over their choice of makeup products. What's hype and what's reality?

Mineral Makeup: Hype and Reality

Bare Escentuals started what it dubbed "The Mineral Revolution" when it launched its loose powder foundations in the mid-1970s. Then competing brands came out with new products, claiming that mineral makeup was more "natural" than conventional makeup.

Perry Romanowsksi, author of Can You Get Hooked on Lip Balm? Top Cosmetic Scientists Answer Your Questions About the Lotions, Potions and Other Beauty Products You Use Every Day, doesn’t see it as a revolution. "All makeup is mineral makeup," he says. "You’ll find the same mineral ingredients -- titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, mica, and iron oxides -- in conventional products."

Mineral makeup ingredients aren’t simply mined, pulverized, and poured into compacts. "I’d like someone to show me a zinc oxide mine," cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson says. "It doesn’t exist. Zinc oxide is synthesized in the lab."

Titanium dioxide, another mineral makeup mainstay, starts out with natural titanium. But it also undergoes an extraction and purification process in the lab. That's a good thing. "There isn’t any natural source of titanium that’s pure enough to be used in cosmetics," Romanowski says. "It’s all contaminated with things like mercury and lead."

What's Not in Mineral Makeup

What makes mineral makeup different from traditional makeup isn't the ingredients it contains but what’s left out. 

For many leading brands, the list of left out ingredients includes preservatives, parabens, mineral oil, chemical dyes, and fragrance. Many dermatologists recommend mineral makeup based on the fact that these left out ingredients are possible skin irritants.

"I’m very bullish on mineral makeup," New York dermatologist Neal Schultz, MD says. "It’s much less likely to cause a reaction in women with sensitive skin. And because it doesn’t contain oil, it won’t aggravate acne-prone skin."

Chicago dermatologist Brooke Jackson, MD, who uses mineral makeup herself, recommends it to her patients with rosacea and eczema. She also suggests it to women with sensitive skin. "Women in their 30s and 40s will come in and say they have bathroom counters filled with products that have caused reactions because of one ingredient or another," Jackson says. "When they try mineral products, many are finally able to wear makeup for the first time in their lives."

Brush Up on Beauty

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