In today’s health- and wellness-conscious society, more and more people are taking a closer look not just at the food that they eat, but also the products that they put on their skin. This movement has made many people adamant about avoiding makeups that contain unnecessary chemicals in favor of more “natural” alternatives.
The quest for natural beauty products has led to a renewed interest in mineral makeup, which has a long and storied history. The first mineral makeups can be traced back thousands of years to ancient civilizations that ground up minerals to apply to their faces as decoration—think Cleopatra’s kohl-based eyeliner (1). But, for all intents and purposes, mineral makeup as it exists today first became commercially available in the 1970s.
Now, mineral makeup seems to be everywhere, available from high-end makeup counters and drugstores alike. But what is mineral makeup, and how is it different from all of the other types of makeup out there?
What Exactly Is Mineral Makeup?
Mineral makeup is typically composed of minerals like iron oxides, talc, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that have been ground into a fine powder. The fineness of the powder varies, depending on the type of makeup and the coverage it is meant to offer. The coarser the particles, the lighter the coverage.
Mineral makeup may encompass anything from foundation to setting powder to eyeshadows and bronzers. Some liquid makeups are also now including minerals for their perceived skincare benefits.
“Mineral makeup is similar to traditional makeup, but without the oils, binding agents, fragrance, preservatives and other fillers,” explains David Pollock, a health and beauty expert, beauty chemist and founder of JustAskDavid.com. Pollock notes that because mineral makeups are free of these components, it’s much lighter than many of the other makeups on the market. “It’s also less irritating to the skin and clogs pores less,” he adds.
What Skin Types Can Benefit from Mineral Makeup?
There are mineral makeups out there being marketed for all skin types, but due to its lack of fillers and oils, the product has a reputation for being particularly good for sensitive skin or skin prone to breakouts. Some dermatologists even recommend it to patients with rosacea and eczema (2).
Pollock adds that people with oily skin are perhaps best served by mineral makeup, because it does not add further oils or pore-clogging ingredients to their skincare routines. “However, those with dry skin or sensitive skin may benefit from the added ingredients in traditional makeup,” he notes. “I suggest trying both and comparing to find the right one. Keep in mind, it may not be a ‘this or that’ situation. Maybe your foundation or concealer end up being traditional, while some of the other steps like eyeshadow or finishing powder are mineral makeup.”
Mineral makeup isn’t just good for sensitive skin and avoiding breakouts, some also offer SPF. Users concerned about sun exposure should look for products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which protect against both UVA and UVB rays (3) . It won’t replace regular sunscreen on a sunny day, but it’s better than nothing if you’re going to work or running around on the weekend.
Finding a Good Mineral Makeup
Like most cosmetics, there are good mineral makeups and not-so-good mineral makeups. Pollock recommends looking for products with just a few ingredients, namely zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, mica and iron oxides. “While it’s comforting to see some other healthy additives or powdered extracts, they aren’t necessary and not worth spending a lot more for,” he says. “Facial skincare serums and moisturizers will contain higher levels and go on before makeup, so the benefits of additional additives in mineral makeup are minimized by the layering of skincare first.”
While mineral makeup does come with many benefits, there some drawbacks that come with the product. Some people find that mineral makeup powder accentuates fine lines and wrinkles, rather than hiding them. Pollock also notes that mineral makeup lacks the ingredients needed to help color adhere as well as traditional makeup. “Additionally, since it is missing some of the oils and humectants, it can be less hydrating or even drying to some,” he says.
Mineral Makeup Myths
Because mineral makeup has a reputation for being good for your skin, some people believe that you can sleep in it without causing any issues. Pollock is very clear, this is not the case. “Never, ever sleep in makeup. You should wash your skin every night before going to bed to remove makeup, dirt and even dead skin cells. All of these, including mineral makeup, can clog and enlarge pores and irritate the skin.”
Mineral makeup has also been said to clear up acne, but most dermatologists agree that the calming agents in mineral makeups won’t actively speed the healing of breakouts (1). However, it is less likely to clog pores and cause acne in the first place.
For people who are used to traditional makeup, getting the hang of mineral makeup application may take some trial and error. According to mineral makeup brand Mineral Fusion, perhaps the most common issue first-time wearers have is that they apply too much. “Because they are used to using makeup that has large amounts of filler and not a lot of ‘pay-off,’ they use the same techniques when applying Mineral Fusion,” the brand’s website describes (4). The brand recommends lightly building layers until you achieve the desired coverage.
Mineral makeup users should invest in the proper tools, which include brushes specifically made for this purpose. Because powders are so loose, having a brush with the right density and made of the right materials will result in a more even application. “You can alter the coverage by using the right brush,” Mineral Fusion writes. “The longer the hair is on the brush, the more coverage you will achieve.”
For people looking to create more elaborate looks, we recommend checking out YouTube tutorials.