Looking for makeup to help your skin, not just mask its problems? With a minimum of ingredients and no irritating fillers, natural makeup made from minerals and fruit pigments gives a safe and healthy glow to any complexion. The idea has quickly become a mainstream sensation, with brands from Cover Girl to Clinique creating “mineral-based” makeup lines. But don’t be fooled: The word mineral on a package doesn’t mean that the glittering powder inside is safe. Plagued with toxins from parabens to phthalates, mainstream mineral cosmetics demand dedicated label-reading to ensure you get a truly healthy product. To help you identify which ingredients to avoid—as well as those to embrace—we’ve put together a field guide to common cosmetics.
A Makeup Makeover Just for You
Different skin types need different minerals to fully flatter and protect. Shelly Ballestero, Windermere, Florida–based aesthetician and author of Beauty By God (Regal, 2009) created these color palettes tailored to suit three common skin types.
Fair or Ruddy
If this is your skin type, or you’re prone to rosacea, you need to calm and nurture the skin while underplaying red tones.
1. Lip color: Miessence in Nutmeg, $24; elyorganics.com
2. Eye shadow: 100% Pure in Cacao, $18; 100percentpure.com
3. Mascara: Suki in Black Velvet, $34; sukicolor.com
4. Concealer: Suki in Flax, $42; sukicolor.com
5. Blush: Dr. Hauschka in Soft Terracotta, $26; drhauschka.com
6. Powder: Alima Satin Finishing Powder, $15; alimapure.com
7. Foundation: Jane Iredale in Warm Sienna, $48; janeiredale.com. Not shown: Suki in Fair, $46; sukicolor.com; Miessence in Vanilla, $48; elyorganics.com
8. Eyeliner: Larenim in Loco Cocoa, $9.50; larenim.com
Olive or Oily
If you have an olive complexion or oily, acne-addled skin, you need to balance oil production and avoid accentuating yellow undertones.
1. Blush: Alima in Honey Rose, $15; alimapure.com
2. Eye shadow: Jane Iredale Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, $46; janeiredale.com
3. Lip color: Primitive Lipstick in Martinique, $16; primitivemakeup.com; MyChelle lip gloss in Honey, $27; mychelle.com;
4. Foundation: Afterglow foundation in Sunset, $32; afterglowcosmetics.com. Not shown: Von Natur in Birch, $28; vonnatur.com; Monave Setting Powder in Angel Light, $12; monave.com
5. Concealer: Von Natur Normalize, $16; vonnatur.com
6. Eyeliner: Larenim in Purple Haze, $9.50; larenim.com
7. Mascara: 100% Pure in Black, $27.50; 100percentpure.com
Dry or Mature
Those with dry or mature skin need to hydrate and minimize wrinkles. Be sure to prep by moisturizing.
1. Eyeliner: Dr. Hauschka Eyeliner Duo, $28; drhauschka.com
2. Foundation: Monave Cream Foundation in Claire, $32; monave.com
3. Eye shadow: Dr. Hauschka in Cool Pink & Smoky Violet, $18; drhauschka.com; Organic Pharmacy Eyeshadow in Pink, $35; theorganicpharmacy.com
4. Concealer: Miessence in Fair, $19; elyorganics.com
5. Powder: Alchemy Colour Loose Minerals in Rose Beige, $28; alchemistsapprentice.com
6. Mascara: Afterglow in Onyx, $21; afterglowcosmetics.com
7. Lipstick: Afterglow in Lovely, $24; afterglowcosmetics.com
8. Blush: Suki in Opal, $40; sukicolor.com
9. Eye Highlighter: Organic Pharmacy shimmer in Pink Ice, $35; theorganicpharmacy.com
The most basic part of a makeup routine, powders and foundations also have basic formulations. A powder foundation, for example, might only contain zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and mica. This simple recipe makes these powders a boon to those with easily irritated skin. Powdered blush contains many of the same ingredients; but double-check the label for carmine—a red pigment made from crushed insects (see “Controversial Ingredients” below).
Even given their minimal ingredients list, these pure powders don’t come risk-free. Experts have raised concern over women inhaling the microscopic minerals and damaging their lungs. Fortunately, more companies, such as Suki, MyChelle, and Jane Iredale, now make liquid foundations and blushes—so you can breathe easy. Although they still contain minerals for color, these bases provide glide-on coverage with the addition of healthy oils and plant extracts.
Watch out for:
Fragrance. You wouldn’t think a simple powder would need fragrance, but apparently cosmetic companies do. But synthetic fragrance can come laced with hormone-altering phthalates. If you must have a sweet-smelling powder, look for phthalate-free labeling or fragrance made with essential oils.
Talc. Talc is also considered a mineral, but manufacturers don’t grind it as fine as other minerals so the larger particles can clog pores. Some experts have also raised concern over the asbestos-like structure of talc molecules, which could lead to cancer if frequently inhaled.
Parabens. As if powder needed preserving. Nonetheless, you’ll find ubiquitous parabens in the most innocent-looking foundations. These shelf-life extenders, now showing up in human breast tissue and urine, may contribute to breast cancer and are best avoided in all of your skincare choices.
Zinc oxide. Not only a natural sunscreen, zinc oxide also kills bacteria and works as an anti-inflammatory, making it a good acne-fighter.
Silk powder. Crushed silk cocoons give powder foundations a light-on-the-skin feel and provide healing amino acids.
Mica. This razor-thin rock gives powders a shimmery glow that helps reflect light and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Because the skin around your eyes and the eyes themselves are so sensitive, you should be extra vigilant when choosing the cosmetics that adorn them. No matter how pure your eye makeup, do a mascara purge every four months to ensure you
don’t unwittingly introduce bacteria into your eyes. Eye shadows and eyeliners, on the other hand, have a shelf life of approximately two years.
Watch out for:
FD&C and D&C colors. Commonly made from coal-tar derivatives, evidence suggests that some of the colors damage the nervous system and cause cell mutations. Also, those who eschew animal cruelty should know these colors often get tested for their carcinogenic properties on animals first, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Nickel. While you won’t find it listed on labels, nickel could still be present in your mineral eye shadow. How can you tell? Watch your skin’s reaction—if you have a nickel allergy, you might experience itchy or flaky skin around your eyelids. Iron oxides, the metals that give mineral eye shadows their vibrant color, can contain contaminates like nickel as a result of the mining process. To avoid nickel all together, try fruit-based eye shadows like those made by 100 Percent Pure.
Mica. This mineral gives a safe shimmer to your lids.
Vegetable waxes. These waxes replace polymers to keep colors on lids and help the pigments in mascara stick to lashes.
Since the average woman eats six pounds of lipstick in her lifetime, choosing products that use plant oils instead of
petroleum and polymers makes a whole lot of sense.
Watch out for:
Mineral oil. This petroleum-derived ingredient will give you the shine you want, but it also clogs pores and doesn’t
allow the skin breathe. Recent studies have also linked mineral oil to an increase in skin cancer–related tumors.
Lead. A recent test by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found detectable amounts of lead in more than 60 percent of the lipsticks it tested. Whether introduced during the manufacturing process or in the mining of iron oxides, lead doesn’t appear on any lipstick labels, so buyer beware. “Setting national standards is the only way we can assure all products are safe,” says Nicole Makris from the Breast Cancer Fund. “Our tests [through EWG] show that lipstick can be made without lead, but we need to advocate for FDA regulation of lead levels in cosmetics.” Find out how to get involved at action.safecosmetics.org.
Natural waxes. Made from bees or plants, these waxes help colors stick and stay on lips.
Vegetable oils. Sweet almond and sunflower oils nourish lips and keep them well-hydrated.
Commonly found even in natural cosmetics, these three ingredients come with their share of safety and skin issues.
Bismuth oxychloride. Some women react adversely to this otherwise safe mineral salt, so those with special skin concerns should avoid this ingredient. Dermatologists warn that bismuth oxychloride can aggravate acne, rosacea, and eczema. In response to a growing concern over this ingredient, many mineral makeup manufacturers are now eliminating bismuth oxychloride from their formulations.
Carmine. It’s nearly impossible to get fire-engine reds from minerals, so many companies have turned to carmine, made from crushed insects, for a dye. The ingredient won’t harm you, but those concerned about animal rights should steer clear.
Titanium dioxide. Recently experts have raised a red flag regarding loose titanium dioxide: The microscopic mineral can be easily inhaled and may potentially damage the lungs. Liquid and pressed minerals minimize that potential (and still provide titanium dioxide’s natural sun-shielding ability), but you can also find titanium dioxide–free makeup lines from Dr. Hauschka, Aubrey Organics, and Lavera.
Can’t Find the Right Shade?
For a woman of color, finding the right powder for your skin tone can be a challenge, especially when it comes to mineral makeup. For years, few companies even made foundations with dark pigments or non-pink undertones. Thankfully, times are changing. These tips can help you find the perfect shade.
Avoid bismuth oxychloride. Used as a base for many mineral cosmetics, the ingredient gives a pearly shimmer to a foundation. However, “it also shows up white on deeper skin tones,” says Kristin Adams, founder of Afterglow Cosmetics. “This can result in an ashy, not very natural look most women with richer tones want to avoid.”
Know your undertone. Notice if your skin has a red, golden, or olive hue. Stand at a mirror will natural light and hold a swatch of each color close to your face and see which one best flatters your skin, suggests Andrea Kane, editor of The Organic Beauty Expert blog. Many companies will point you to the right shade based on your undertone color.
Try out samples. Mineral makeup companies like Monave, Ada, and Larenim sell small vats of powder so you can test out a few shades before you commit.
Give it time. “Apply makeup to your face (not your wrist or hand), and walk around for awhile,” says Kane. “After an hour, you’ll see whether the color really complements your skin tone.”