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The Benefits of Mineral Makeup

Are mineral products the new staples or just hype?

By Maria Ricapito

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

WebMD Magazine - Feature

Everyone seems to be jumping on the mineral makeup bandwagon. "People think mineral means natural, so they are drawn to it," dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD, says.

Many people find out about mineral makeup when they want to go "green" with their cosmetics. Cosmetic chemist Jim Hammer of Mix Solutions in Uxbridge, Mass., says, "With the current interest in safe, natural, and organic products, the mineral makeup approach is very popular. And the category appears to be continuing to grow."

But switching from conventional makeup isn't for everyone. Is it right for you?

The Ancient History of Mineral Makeup

Mineral makeup got its commercial start in the 1970s, Hammer says, "with some of the really early all-natural makeup products." But, he says, its history is as ancient as the human desire to enhance one's looks.

"Mineral makeup is a return to technologies that have been in use since ancient times," he says. "Many ancient cultures used ground-up natural minerals as a means of applying color to the skin for decoration, camouflage, war paints, etc." Cleopatra's kohl-rimmed eyes are an example. "But the history of mineral makeup no doubt goes back much farther, even to early cave-dwellers."

So who first successfully marketed the concept? One pioneer was Diane Ranger, the cosmetic chemist who founded Bare Escentuals in 1976 and later started Colorescience Pro, another mineral line. She developed her first mineral cosmetics because she felt there was a need and market for natural ingredients and a natural look and feel.

"In 1976, cosmetics firms were required to list ingredients on their products for the first time, and I was shocked at what we were putting on our skin," Ranger, who had grown up wearing heavy traditional makeup, says. "Then I went through my 'hippie girl' phase and discarded makeup along with my bra."

The growing desire for natural cosmetics coincided with the increasing number of women who identified themselves as having sensitive skin. "Add in marketing and media awareness, and an aging baby boomer," Ranger says. "All these matter."

What's in Mineral Makeup?

Minerals such as iron oxides, talc, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide are micronized, or ground and milled, into tiny particles to create makeup.

"Different products micronize to different levels," Ranger says. "A product micronized to six times leaves minerals larger so they go on the skin with light to medium coverage. Products micronized 12 times create fine-sized particles that sit closer together and offer more coverage."

A key difference from conventional makeup is what's not in mineral makeup.

"It generally does not contain the emollient oils and waxes, fragrance, and preservative ingredients found in conventional formulations," Hammer says. "Mineral products are usually preservative-free, and since they have very low odor, they are often also fragrance-free," he says, noting that preservatives and fragrance are often what cause irritation.

To ensure you're buying a quality mineral makeup product, read the label. If it says "mineral-enriched" or if the formulation is liquid or mousse, these products may contain ingredients such as paraben preservatives or dimethicone added for a smooth texture. Items that aren't powders might also contain moisturizers, antioxidant vitamins, or other ingredients for your skin. It's your choice.

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