Makeup made from ground-up rocks has been around for thousands of years (Cleopatra used it to style those iconic eyes). Yet it's enjoying new popularity thanks to the proliferation of brands marketing themselves as totally natural options. Indeed, some mineral makeups are healthier for skin because they don't contain common skin irritants such as preservatives, artificial fragrances, synthetic oils, and dyes. But don't be fooled — many mineral products do. “There are no industry standards for makeup,” explains Sean Gray, a senior analyst for the Environmental Working Group, the nonprofit that created the Skin Deep cosmetics safety database (cosmeticsdatabase.org). “It's buyer beware.”
When choosing a mineral makeup, search out optimal ingredients, such as oils derived from plants and flowers, as well as natural coloring agents such as iron oxide, manganese, and chromium oxide. Avoid products with filler ingredients such as talc — a potential carcinogen often used in powdered cosmetics — and remember that even natural additives like mica and bismuth oxychloride can aggravate sensitive skin.
Women who switch from conventional makeup to minerals often find that problems like acne and rosacea disappear. “Minerals have natural anti-inflammatory and cooling properties,” explains Jennifer Devlin, a licensed aesthetician and makeup artist in Tampa, Florida. And because mineral makeup sits on the skin's surface rather than soaking in, it doesn't clog pores the way some conventional cosmetics do, she says. It also reflects light — like a polished rock — to create a shimmery effect.
“Most people who have reactions to eye makeup are reacting to the artificial dye,” says Devlin. “So when choosing a product, look for one that doesn't list any artificial colorants.” Mineral cosmetics contain powders sourced from around the globe. Blue often derives from Mexican lapis; orange from Arizona mudstone. Devlin notes that when applying mineral makeup to the eyes, women should use about one-fourth the amount they use with conventional products. “The minerals go a lot further,” she explains.
Just like the powdered products for your face, true mineral lipsticks get their pigments from ground rocks. The good news is that once you apply the color, it lasts for 12 hours, says Devlin. “Still, 90 percent of women who try mineral lip color find that it feels uncomfortably dry,” she says. If you fall into that 90 percent, you may prefer a product that also contains natural plant-based moisturizers.