Mineral Makeup: Help or Hype?

by July 9, 2012
filed under Style

Many of us think of ‘natural’ and ‘makeup’ as opposites. But it wasn’t always this way. Over 2000 years ago, Cleopatra was believed to have used minerals for cosmetics from eye shadow to lip colour. Much later, makeup became made up of mostly chemicals. Recently, the pendulum seems to have swung back the other way. With the recent explosion of mineral makeup as a beauty trend, cosmetic companies have tried to reconnect these contrasting words and sell modern women the idea that ‘natural makeup,’ is better for our skin.

So far, the pitch seems to be working. According to NPD, a market research group, over $200 million in mineral makeup was sold in the United States in 2010—about 6 percent of total cosmetic sales. That number is expected to grow. Mineral makeup began as powder foundation made with ‘natural’ minerals, but the category has expanded into other products such as eye shadow and blush. The question is whether mineral makeup is help or hype.

What Mineral Makeup Is and Isn’t

In many ways, mineral makeup is much like ‘regular’ makeup. Perry Romanowski, who wrote 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, says, “All makeup is mineral makeup. You’ll find the same mineral ingredients – titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, mica and iron oxides – in conventional products.”

The value of mineral makeup is really less about what’s in it and more about what isn’t. Many leading mineral makeup brands omit harsh ingredients such as talc, dyes, alcohol, fragrances and preservatives that can irritate skin. As a result, some dermatologists recommend mineral makeup to women with sensitive skin or conditions such as rosacea and eczema. Mineral makeup also doesn’t contain mineral oil, so it won’t clog the pores, making it better for acne-prone skin than many other products.

Help or Hype?

In truth, it’s a little both.

Mineral makeup has some skin benefits. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are sun blockers, so mineral makeup will provide some sun protection, but it’s not a substitute for a proper sunscreen. These ingredients are also found in regular makeup. Zinc oxide also has anti-inflammatory properties. Since mineral makeup generally contains more of this ingredient, it can help calm skin that is irritated from other products.

But mineral makeup is not miracle makeup. The minerals can’t penetrate your skin, so claims that they are nourishing are iffy. Because mineral makeup is mostly similar to regular makeup, for most women one is really no better than the other. Mineral makeup won’t do any harm, though, so there’s no reason not to try it; some women simply prefer its texture and consistency to that of liquid makeup.

For women with sensitive skin or oily, acne-prone skin, mineral makeup does seem to have some helpful properties, so it might be worth a try.

When Choosing Mineral Makeup

If you choose mineral makeup, here are a few points to ponder.


Dr. Brooke Jackson, a Chicago dermatologist, recommends women look for mineral makeup products with the fewest ingredients. “The longer the list of ingredients, the bigger the opportunity to get yourself in trouble.”

As mineral makeup products have multiplied in the market, some cosmetics companies have re-introduced previously excluded ingredients, so check for dyes and perfumes on the label. One final note: Bismuth oxychloride, which gives makeup a pearly finish, may cause irritation and acne flare-ups in women with sensitive skin. Some companies eliminate it from their makeup, while others do not. Again, check the label to be sure.


As with all makeup, mineral makeup is available at various price points. Some dermatologists recommend expensive products, but many drugstore brands feature mineral makeup products. Here are some high-end products available in North America — and some economical alternatives:

At Sephora online:
Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Mineral Makeup $38.00
Clinique Superbalanced Powder Makeup SPF 15 $34.50
Laura Mercier Mineral Finishing Powder $32.00

At London Drugs:
Prestige Skin Loving Minerals Mineral Powder Foundation $14.99
L’oreal True Match Naturale Soft Focus Mineral Finish $9.59
Lavera Mineral Compact Powder $8.39

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