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The Lowdown on Mineral Makeup

Can these popular beauty products live up to the hype?

Skin Care Benefits

Mineral makeup won’t replace of your moisturizer, acne cream, or anti-aging serum potions. But it does offer some skin care benefits.

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are both physical sun blocks, so an even application of mineral makeup provides some sun protection. "It’s sufficient for those days when you’re just running a few errands outside," Jackson says. "But if you’re going to be spending hours outdoors on a sunny day, choose a sunscreen with an SPF 45."

Zinc oxide is also an FDA-approved skin protectant. "It has some anti-inflammatory properties, so you’ll see it in products like diaper-rash ointment," Wilson says. "Since mineral makeup contains a higher percentage of zinc oxide than traditional makeup, it can be useful in calming irritated skin."

Possible Risks?

Some people have been concerned that mineral makeup is micronized into ultra-small particles called nanoparticles that can penetrate the skin’s barrier and trigger potentially harmful reactions.

However, Romanowski says, "if the particles were actually the size of nanoparticles they’d be useless in makeup because they’d become transparent and wouldn’t offer any coverage."

Some media reports have advised women to scan labels for bismuth oxychloride, the ingredient that gives makeup its pearly finish. It’s been said to cause skin irritation and acne flare-ups, leading some mineral makeup companies to eliminate it from their formulas.

Jackson says that only a very small minority of people with highly sensitive skin will find themselves irritated by the ingredient. "These are women who react to so many ingredients that they’ll probably want to have their dermatologist perform skin patch tests to identify what might possibly cause a reaction," she says. "For the vast majority of women, bismuth oxychloride is perfectly safe."

Blurred Line

Mineral makeup has gone far beyond its beginnings as a loose powder foundation. Today, you can find blush, bronzer, eye shadow, lipstick, and even liquid foundations presented as mineral products.

A funny thing has happened as mineral makeup has gained popularity. Cosmetics companies have added back the ingredients they omitted when they first introduced mineral products. After reading the list of 12 ingredients in a so-called "mineral eye shadow" from a drugstore brand, Wilson laughs. "If you hadn’t told me that was the ingredients list of a mineral product, I would have said it was just your run-of-the-mill eye shadow."

Wilson says it’s impossible for mineral makeup companies to create a liquid foundation with a pared-down ingredients list. Microbes thrive in water, so liquid formulations must include some kind of preservative, she says. Without it, contaminated products can lead to skin infections.

The bottom line? If you have sensitive skin, you might want to try loose mineral powder foundation. Look for products with the shortest ingredients list. With a longer list of ingredients, there's more chance that your skin will react to something, Jackson points out.

Mineral makeup is also an option for people who don't have sensitive skin. Just keep your expectations in check. "No one product, including mineral foundation, is going to correct problems like large pores and uneven pigmentation," Herta says. "To address those concerns you need primer, concealer, and the right skin care regimen."

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