Marketers like to promote mineral makeup as being safer and healthier than conventional makeup, and consumers like to believe it’s true. But how much healthier and safer is mineral makeup truly? There certainly are some ingredients in mineral makeup that consumers need to be wary of. Even the standard ingredient titanium dioxide has been proven to be carcinogenic, but it has not yet been linked to a common and deadly cancer among women consumers, like ovarian cancer, in the same way that talc has been, which is a main ingredient in all conventional makeup brands.
Scientists Eileen Kuempel and Avima Ruder for the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in an article titled, “Titanium Dioxide,” recently analyzed the carcinogenic properties of titanium dioxide by looking at case studies of production workers in the titanium dioxide manufacturing business to see if workers developed lung cancer due to exposure. The scientists reviewed three studies published in 2006, as well as another published in 2008, and did not find that titanium dioxide can be linked to lung cancer. Titanium dioxide can be produced in both fine and ultra-fine forms; the ultra-fine form is also called nano-titanium dioxide. Nano-titanium dioxide is considered to be more of a threat than fine titanium dioxide, but the studies assessed by Kuempel and Ruder used both forms and still did not determine that either form can be linked to lung cancer. The scientists further reevaluated earlier studies performed on rats, such as studies completed by Carlton (1994), Boorman et al. (1996), and Lee et al. (1985), particularly reevaluating what was classified as cancerous lung tumors in rats who had been exposed to both nano-titanium dioxide and regular fine titanium dioxide. While there was certainly some evidence of cancerous tumors, most of the lung tissue change observed was simply either non-cancerous changes in the surface of tissue (squamous metaplasia) or non-cancerous cysts (non-neoplastic pulmonary keratin cysts). However, another study performed by Heinrich et al. (1995) focusing on only nano-titanium dioxide showed that 4 out of 9 rats exposed to the inhalation of nano-titanium dioxide certainly did develop cancerous tumors, showing us that nano-titanium dioxide certainly does pose a threat. While the three studies mentioned earlier (1994, 1995, 1985) certainly do show that some tumors can develop when exposed to very high amounts of fine titanium dioxide, as opposed to nano-titanium dioxide, studies show more definitely that the real problem is with respect to nano-titanium dioxide. What’s more, case studies on workers in titanium dioxide manufacturing plants have not proven either fine or nano-titanium dioxide to cause cancerous tumors in human lungs.
In comparison to titanium dioxide, talc actually has been proven to cause ovarian cancer among women. The Cancer Prevention Coalition’s 1994 petition requesting the FDA to start labeling talc on consumer products as carcinogenic certainly named several studies linking talc to ovarian cancer, such as studies performed in 1992 and 1994. What’s more, ovarian cancer is a serious risk, leading to about 20,000 diagnoses and 14,000 deaths annually, of which only 3% of these can be attributed to genetics, leaving the rest of ovarian cancer tumors being caused by as of yet undetermined external factors. In contrast, lung cancer due to titanium dioxide exposure certainly has not yet been proven to be a serious risk. Hence, one can conclude that talc-based makeup certainly does pose a legitimate health risk, while makeup containing titanium dioxide has not yet been proven to be a serious risk. More importantly, only nano-titanium dioxide has been proven to cause the most damage. While some mineral makeup companies may use nanoparticles, most companies advertise that they do not use nanoparticles, such as Gabriel Cosmetics Inc or Real Purity. However, according to Shelley Levitt, Perry Romanowski, author of Can you Get Hooked on Lip Balm? Top Cosmetic Scientists Answer Your Questions about Lotions, Potions, and Other Beauty Products You Use Every Day , argues that if any cosmetics companies actually used nanoparticles, the mineral particles would be “useless in makeup because [the particles would] become transparent and wouldn’t offer any coverage.” Regardless, if in doubt, a consumer can always contact the mineral makeup line of that person’s choice and ask if the makeup line uses nanoparticles. If the answer is “yes,” that consumer can then switch to a brand that advertises not using nanoparticles.
While talc-based cosmetics have certainly been proven to be more dangerous than pure mineral makeup, there are other smaller dangers in pure mineral makeup to be aware of. According to Josienita Borlongan, bismuth oxychloride is one ingredient to be aware of. It’s a metal derivative made from the byproducts of smelting copper and lead. It’s especially used in mineral makeup to give it that shiny effect, the same shiny effect that some users of Bare Escentuals’ Bare Minerals complain about, resulting in switching to using other mineral makeup products instead. While generally not considered toxic, it is known to aggravate the immune system. It can affect the lungs, and it can especially irritate the skin, leading to breakouts, another reason why some consumers switch from using Bare Minerals to other mineral makeup products. Also according to Borlongan, zinc oxide is another mineral makeup ingredient to be conscious of since being overly exposed to zinc oxide can lead to immune system hazards, such as “sore throat, headache, fever or elevated body temperature … nausea, vomiting, chills, muscular pain and weakness.” However, while it can certainly be a work-related hazard to manufacturers, there is as of yet no evidence that the way in which zinc oxide is used in makeup can lead to overexposure and the above symptoms. Dr. Oz also warns us about using mica, a main ingredient in mineral makeup. He warns that mica is also used by construction workers in products like Spackle. But when construction workers use mica-containing products, they are also sure to wear masks to prevent the ultra-fine particles from entering their lungs, which, if exposed to over a long period of time, can lead to lung tissue scarring. However, one can escape the dangers associated with using loose mineral makeup by simply avoiding using loose mineral makeup. Many, many companies now offer liquid mineral makeup as well as pressed mineral makeup. Even Bare Escentuals offers pressed mineral products along with their loose mineral products.
However, those who are truly health-conscious certainly now have options that eliminate most of the harmful ingredients. One fairly recently launched makeup brand is called 100% Pure and specializes in making fruit-pigmented makeup. They definitely offer a very full makeup line that’s free of mica, talc, and bismuth oxychloride, though it does still contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as sunscreens. Or, if you want a makeup brand that’s truly free of all of the nasties named above, you can try Epic Mineral Beauty, which is completely free of mica, titanium dioxide, bismuth oxychloride, and talc.
Kuempel, Eileen D & Ruder, Avima . (n.d.). “Titanium Dioxide (Ti02).” International Agency for Research on Cancer .
Kessler, David A. (1994, November 17). “Citizen Petition Seeking Carcinogenic Labeling on All Cosmetic Talc Products.” Cancer Prevention Coalition .
Levitt, Shelley. (2012, November 14). “The Lowdown on Mineral Makeup: Can these popular beauty products live up to the hype?” WebMD .
Borlongan, Josienita. (n.d.). “What are the dangers of mineral makeup.” ModernMom .
Oz, Mehmet Cengiz (Dr. Oz). (2010, February 2). “The Price of Beauty.” The Dr. Oz Show .