Q: What are your thoughts on all the mineral makeup in stores? Are these products as natural as companies claim?
A: Ever since I first smeared my face with foundation before a rompin’ party back in Grade 6 and turned a cakey shade of orange, I’ve steered clear of the whole skin-covering scene. Sure, newer versions make women look less like carrot-coloured clowns, but ingredient lists are still far from attractive.
The yearning for clearer-looking skin without the crap found in drug and department store brands has been a bonanza for mineral makeup marketers. For the past few years they’ve been pushing a cleaner, purer, sheerer way to hide imperfections.
And they’re partly right. Mineral-based cosmetics can definitely be more natural if they don’t have all the added chemicals, dyes and preservatives found in conventional beauty tools.
But don’t assume they’re free of dodgy ingredients, no matter what their labels say (especially now that everyone and his uncle is coming out with a mineral makeup line). Keep in mind that the beauty biz is a bit of a Wild West, and no one’s policing terms like “natural” and “pure minerals.”
Many mineral products are chock full of unnecessary synthetics (like dimethicone), artificial fragrances and questionable fillers (like talc). The ones you really want to junk, though, come with that cancer-linked family of preservatives, parabens.
The only way to know for sure is to flip the product over and read the ingredient list yourself. Don’t trust well-meaning cosmetics clerks. Every time I’ve walked into Sephora and asked if they carry any all-natural, paraben-free makeup, they’ve pointed me to the revered Bare Escentuals/bareMinerals brand.
Too bad the line’s Mineral Veil powder contained paraben until the company decided to phase the additive out of the product just this month. (Bare Escentuals says its mineral foundations were always paraben-free, but its lip glosses and such still have synthetics, including parabens). The newest paraben-free versions will say “100 per cent natural” on the front.
Physicians Formula makes a line called Mineral Wear (available in drugstores) that might be touted as talc and fragrance-free, but a peek at the ingredient lists finds those dreaded parabens yet again. Its Organic Wear line of powders and foundations, on the other hand, is a lot purer (up to 25 per cent organic ingredients), but the foundation has talc and it’s not a mineral line.
And just because something’s from the earth doesn’t mean you want to smear it on your face (poison ivy and uranium come to mind). Most mineral makeup brands (yes, including Bare Escentuals) contain a mineral salt called bismuth oxychloride. It may give your face a nice pearly sheen, but it’s also a by-product of lead and ore refining.
Manufacturers are supposed to make sure the ingredient is lead-free, but the FDA allows up to 20 parts per million of lead. It’s a trace amount, but as a reference point, California only allows 5 parts of lead per million in lipstick.
And for many, bismuth oxychloride is a skin irritant. If you get itchy after sweating in your mineral powder, you’re probably having a reaction to it.
Last but certainly not least is the sci-fi processing of some of these minerals. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are often broken down into eensy-weensy particles called microns (1-millionth of a metre) or nanoparticles (a billionth of a metre). In their regular form, they’re actually white pigments that could turn your nose white.
The health and enviro impact of putting such tiny particles into the world is still largely unknown, so many advise staying away. One study in Environmental Science and Technology found inhaling nano-particles of titanium dioxide could cause oxidative stress. Nano-particles have also been found in the lymphatic system within minutes of being dusted on the skin.
One environmental medicine prof quoted in The Green Guide said you’re safe if you stick to particles larger than 7 microns (as they are in Bare Escentuals and Larenim makeup). Some experts say anything nano-free is safe. To find out the levels in other products, call company hotlines.
On the environmental front, mining for anything, including zinc, can be pretty polluting, and titanium dioxide factories have been linked to all sorts of nasty enviro emissions, including dioxins. Still, they’re two of the best natural sunscreens, with the fewest health implications (minus the nano part).
Speaking of sun, just because your mineral makeup contains these ingredients doesn’t make it a great sunscreen replacement.
So what mineral makeup is the cleanest and greenest? You can’t get away from all the enviro issues (you’ll have to go bare skin for that), but if you’re looking for a genuinely pure mineral brand, I’d check out YR Urth (urthminerals.com, available at the Big Carrot). The BC-made products are totally free of talc, parabens, cornstarch, bismuth oxychloride, GMOs, fragrances, nano-particles and more. They’re certified vegan, and the company signed on to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics against toxins in makeup. Miessence (myorganicfamily.com) is an excellent Australian manufacturer of certified organic cosmetics that carries nano-free mineral blushes and powders, sans titanium dioxide even.
U.S.-based Earth’s Beauty (earthsbeauty.com) also makes good nano and cruelty-free mineral face powders and eye shadows with a base of organic/wildcrafted arrowroot powder. Now go powder your nose in peace.
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