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Bismuth, Titanium Dioxide, and Talc: The Truth about Mineral Makeup Christopher Drummond Beauty Blog

Bismuth, Titanium Dioxide, and Talc: The Truth about Mineral Makeup

I get asked all the time “What do you mean when you say your products are ‘beyond mineral makeup’?” It means that we are very conscious about the claims we make about our products, and that we have take out the ingredients that most mineral makeup companies have in theirs. These ingredients are not good for darker skin tones (ingredients like titanium dioxide), and are known irritants (Bismuth oxychloride)

Let’s start with Bismuth. Companies like Youngblood, Bare Escentuals,and Jane Iredale used bismuth oxychloride as the main “mineral” ingredient, yet bismuth oxychloride is not found in nature! Bismuth oxychloride is manufactured by combining bismuth, a by-product of lead and copper metal refining (dregs of smelting if you will) mixed with chloride (a compound from chlorine), and water. Its use in cosmetics is due to its distinct shimmery, pearlescent appearance and its fine white powder texture that adheres well to skin. That doesn’t make it bad for skin, it just makes the marketing claims utterly false and ludicrous.

On the downside, bismuth oxychloride is heavier than talc and can look cakey on skin. For some people, the bismuth and chloride combination can be irritating. All the claims revolving around how mineral makeups are better for skin or are somehow equivalent to skin care is nothing more than clever marketing.

What about the other ingredients in mineral makeups? There are several that show up regularly in most of them, including such mineral lines as Larenim, Baresense, Sheer Cover by Leeza Gibbons, gloMinerals, Purminerals, Emani, Colorflo, Youngblood, Skin Alison Raffaele, Aromaleigh, Colorscience, Neutrogena, L’Oreal, Jane Iredale, Bare Escentuals, and Everyday Minerals.

Most mineral makeups are capable of providing opaque coverage (this can be blended to within light to medium coverage range), yet the claim is they do so while looking extremely natural, like a second skin or better than your own skin, which appears to be the case in pictures and on TV infomercials (and just like every other makeup application created for advertising).

In real life, that is not what you will actually see. These powders (most of which are tricky to blend because they tend to “grab” onto skin and don’t glide very well once they touch your skin) can be applied sheer, but the very nature of their ingredients results in a textured application that can look powdery and “made-up” on the skin. This is especially true if you have any dry patches on the skin.

For those with oily skin, mineral makeup can pool in pores and look thick and layered just like any powder can. Generally speaking, mineral makeup is best for normal to slightly oily skin (meaning no signs of dryness and little to no problem oily areas).

About the Ingredients in Traditional Mineral Makeup

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide: The presence of titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide often serves as the sunscreen in many mineral makeups. At the same time, these ingredients provide enhanced coverage and a matte finish. Keep in mind that even when these proven mineral sunscreens are listed in the formula, it is still imperative to check that one or both of them are listed as active ingredients and the product is rated with an SPF 15 or greater. Simply having titanium dioxide or zinc oxide in the formula is not a guarantee of sun protection. Without an SPF rating resulting from FDA-mandated sunscreen tests, you won’t know just how much protection you’re getting, and that’s dangerous for the health of your skin.

Although these two minerals are ideal sunscreen agents for those with sensitive skin (zinc oxide is the primary ingredient found in diaper rash ointments) or conditions such as rosacea, their occlusive nature can contribute to clogged pores. This isn’t new information, yet it doesn’t stop companies selling mineral makeup from advertising their product as being ideal for those suffering from acne or breakouts, with some companies actually stating their mineral makeup helps cure it (an absolute falsehood with no published research showing this to be true)!

Mineral makeup powders often contain a 25% concentration of titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. Liquid foundations or lotions with SPF 15 using only titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as the sunscreen active ingredients tend to contain a much smaller concentration of these pigments. The amount of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in mineral makeups create the coverage and opaque quality of the powder, allowing more coverage than the usual talc-based powders. However, if you have determined that liquid foundations with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide exacerbate your breakouts, it is quite possible that a mineral makeup containing an even larger concentration of those ingredients will have the same, if not a more pronounced, effect.

Bismuth oxychloride: A little more information about this ingredient is warranted because it is the common thread that shows up in almost every mineral makeup product being sold. It’s a grayish-white, inorganic powder with a natural metallic shine. The binding properties of bismuth oxychloride are what give the mineral makeups containing it their smoothness and texture. Its thicker texture demands more careful application, which is why most mineral makeup companies recommend special flat-cut, dense powder brushes to work the product into the skin. This method of application also provides considerable coverage and helps ensure longer wear.

Bismuth in and of itself seldom occurs in nature. Instead, it is manufactured synthetically. The International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook, Eleventh Edition, 2006, lists bismuth oxychloride as a synthetic. So much for mineral makeup being the natural solution to applying foundation and creating a flawless face!

Actually, bismuth is chemically similar to arsenic. That is more shocking than significant, but that kind of fact is similar to what mineral makeup companies use to make you scared of the ingredients in other powders not deemed “mineral makeup.” Just like cosmetic grade mineral oil is not related to the crude petroleum from which it originates, neither is bismuth oxychloride identical to bismuth and therefore, the arsenic association is irrelevant. So the bismuth oxychloride used in cosmetics is indeed non-toxic. This is just a good example of how skewed a company’s definition of “natural” can be, and how they can twist factual information to make other cosmetic company ingredients sound harmful.

Unlike titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, bismuth oxychloride can cause slight skin irritation (Source: Although talc has the same potential for slight irritation, bismuth oxychloride is more likely to cause an allergic contact dermatitis due to its pearlescent nature (Source: ). This is more of a concern when bismuth oxychloride is the main ingredient in a cosmetic, as it is for many mineral makeups.

Mica: is a mineral silicate with a crystalline shine. It is used as pigment in most mineral makeups (as well as in many eyeshadows, blushes, and powders in general) to add a luminescent shine to the product’s finish. Mica comprises a group of crystallized minerals that naturally occur in thin, separated sheets. It is available in a variety of colors from pale green to black, and is also available colorless. Compared to bismuth oxychloride, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide, mica has a nearly weightless and noticeably silky texture.

Talc: Many mineral makeups do use talc while others malign it as an evil, cancer causing substance. The truth is that talc is a mineral and completely natural. Companies selling mineral makeup often speak of the talc used in other pressed and loose powders as being harmful and carcinogenic, but the research doesn’t support this hysteria in the least. Although there is epidemiological evidence that frequent use of pure talc over the female genital area may increase the risk of ovarian cancer, this evidence does not prove a direct link. Further research has shown this epidemiological evidence to be questionable. A comprehensive review of several studies in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (August 2002, pages 40–50) stated that “Talc is not genotoxic, [and] is not carcinogenic when injected into ovaries of rats. There is no credible evidence of a cancer risk from inhalation of cosmetic talc by humans.” None of the research about the use of talc is related to the way women use makeup. There is no indication anywhere that there is any risk for the face when using products that contain talc. What is more significant is that there is no research showing that many other ingredients used in mineral makeup don’t pose their own risks. Because research hasn’t been done on those ingredients they don’t get a free pass.

Dismissing talc as a cheap, inelegant, less desirable, filler material is inaccurate because talc serves as the essential backbone for a number of the most luxurious-feeling powders from dozens of lines ranging from L’Oreal to Chanel. The best among those powders have a softness and virtually seamless finish on the skin that most mineral makeup lines should envy. The higher grades of talc are not “filler” materials, they are essential to creating a powder’s gossamer texture and skin-like finish.

Additional sources for the information on talc: International Journal of Cancer, November 2004, pages 458–464; and Anticancer Research, March–April 2003, pages 1,955–1,960.

Christopher Drummond Beauty is a cosmetic line that has some products that are free of bismuth oxychloride, zinc oxide and Titanium dioxide. Many of the products are vegan and all of them are Organic-based, healthy and a great alternative to traditional mineral makeup.

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Christopher Drummond is a professional celebrity makeup artist who has worked with such stars as Jennifer Lopez and Halle Berry. He considers himself a "beauty vegan" and is a proponent on natural, organic and cruelty free makeup and skincare. A beauty veteran with over 17 years as a makeup, skincare and beauty expert, he remains very active in promoting a healthy lifestyle for all.
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One Response to Bismuth, Titanium Dioxide, and Talc: The Truth about Mineral Makeup

  1. megan says:

    Thanks for the insight, now I know why my mineral makeup (sheer cover) is making my face deadly itchy! Good read :)