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Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Jessie White

Physical Geology
Spring 2011


Safe Cosmetics and Mineral Makeup

Our skin is designed to protect us from harmful elements, yet it is not capable of blocking out everything, such as plastic or aluminum is able to do.  Skin is a living structure made of cells who constantly replace themselves, and whose existence depends on their absorptive capacity.  Our skin is resilient, and may withstand an exposure to a harsh or toxic substance like gasoline or bleach, yet it is not indestructible.  Like all cells of our body, skin cells are subject to aging as well as developing cancer.  What we expose our skin to, inside and out, and especially what we expose it to over long periods of time, will influence its condition.  It is wise then to consider what is safe to apply on our skin.  Makeup is something we women use every day yet may not necessarily consider the safety of.  As long as a makeup is not immediately irritating to the skin, and looks nice, most of us will love it and wear it without thinking twice.  Forgetting that makeup stays on the skin all day—next to the eyes, nose, and mouth, gets rubbed into our pores, eaten with our food, and inhaled, we don’t consider its composition enough.





The truth is that there are no regulations for what’s put into makeup while much of its contents haven’t been tested satisfactorily.  One disconcerting fact is the amount of petroleum by-product that is put in personal care products.  Mineral oil, for example, has a very misleading name.  It has nothing to do with minerals in fact but is simply another one of the many not assuredly safe petroleum by-products that manufacturers love to use, because it is inexpensive.  Mineral oil is not actually moisturizing to the skin but instead only leaves a coating over it, which keeps moisture in.  Whether it is actually good for the skin is questionable, and some studies suggest that it causes skin to age prematurely and can damage the immune and respiratory systems.  There are other oil derivatives that are used in cosmetics, such as parabens, paraffin, propylene glycol, and isopropyl alcohol, and all together, more than 50% of ingredients in cosmetics are in fact crude oil derivatives.  These do not end the list of unsettling ingredients in most cosmetics, however, as there are still other chemical compounds which are in makeup.



The most obvious disadvantages to such things tend to crop up in the form of clogged pores, irritated eyes, and skin allergies.  It is true that the ingredients used are chosen for their ability to do the job without causing any noticeable problems—they have to, of course, otherwise they wouldn’t sell.  And they do, for most people, work without being irritating.  But it is not the immediate effect of the ingredients that we should be concerned with so much as it is with the long term.  We remember that our skin cells are absorbent.  Skin can absorb a substance into the bloodstream, and, according to Josephine Fairly in “Organic Beauty,” 60% of the products we put on our skin are so absorbed.  This may be okay, and it may not be okay, depending on whether or not what’s been absorbed is toxic.  There hasn’t been enough research to conclude causality, but parabens, for example, have been found in breast cancer tissue.  Where did they come from?  



Information given, it is no wonder that pure “Mineral Makeup” has become so popular.  These cosmetics, although not always as pure as advertised, are made up of only minerals which have been ground into a fine powder, cleaned, and sold in loose form.  They are then buffed onto the skin, as foundation, blush, and eye shadows, with cosmetic brushes.


This makeup has rapidly gained popularity not only for its pure and natural composition, but for the way it looks as well.  It goes on smoothly and gives the skin a beautiful glow.  There are no shortages of colors and reflective materials in the mineral world, and with the lack of additives that are in other cosmetics, the color in mineral makeup is pure and intense.  It seems that mineral makeup is a fine answer to the problem of unsafe makeup, however one question has not been asked. Are minerals safe?  The words “pure” and “natural” denote that they are probably a healthy choice, however that is only an assumption.

One of the primary ingredients in mineral makeup, as well as in ordinary makeup, is titanium dioxide. This is one of the whitest, light reflective substances on earth, and it is used in sunscreens, paints, candies, papers, toothpastes, and pottery glazes, as well as makeup. There is a lot of debate over whether titanium dioxide is safe. It occurs naturally in the minerals rutile,



anatase, and brookite, from which it is taken and then ground and purified for commercial use.  Some research suggested that inhaling titanium dioxide, such as that in powdered makeup, could be damaging to and ultimately cause cancer in the respiratory system.  Research has thus far found this to be definitive in rats, while there are still questions as to whether or not it is actually a risk to humans.

         Another commonly used mineral in mineral makeup are iron oxides.  Iron oxides are chemical compounds made of iron and oxygen, can be seen in the earth as beautiful red and brown colors, and are commonly used as pigments.     

Description: Painted Desert Photo - Painted Desert, Flagstaff, Arizona


Also used in mineral makeup are zinc oxides, mica, and a vast number of colored minerals that make lovely eye shadows, such as the wonderful blue lapis lazuli.


It cannot be said that each of these has been tested enough to be considered assuredly, completely, 100% safe.  It is said of mica and iron oxides that they are bio-accumulatives, which means that the body is not able to get rid of them once they are inside.  What is most concerning, though, regards titanium dioxide and iron oxides.  When these are prepared for quality makeup they are ground into unimaginably tiny, nano-fine particles, which are more able to penetrate cell walls. This creates a carcinogen that is able to get deep inside the cellular system and perhaps able to cause damage even to the DNA.  In searching for a safer makeup, nano-particles should certainly be avoided.  Not all manufacturers will say whether or not they use nano-technology, so it takes a little looking on the part of the consumer.  Other ingredients which should be avoided are bismuth oxides, talc, and, as always, fragrances and parabens. 

         Each ingredient used in makeup has its own advantages and disadvantages, and, regardless of how convincing the product or packaging may be, it is up to the consumer to be responsible about what they buy.  Mineral makeup is a better choice for its simplicity and lack of fragrances, preservatives, and petroleum-by products, however it is still not verified to be100% non-toxic and safe.  It is a good idea to apply a moisturizing sunscreen, preferably a natural one without chemicals, preservatives, and titanium dioxide. This will not only moisturize the skin, protect it from the sun, and create a nice platform upon which to brush dry minerals onto, but will provide a protective barrier between the skin and makeup.  And if you really care about your body and your skin, be sure to wash the makeup off at night.  It is never a good idea to sleep in any makeup, or to go to bed with dirty skin. And be sure to check the ingredients in your cleansers and moisturizers, too.



Works Cited

Fairley, Josephine, (2001). Organic Beauty, DK Publishing, London.    0302


Photo Credits, in the order in which they appear