Have you jumped on the mineral makeup bandwagon? If you're concerned about using less toxic options on your skin, you may have switched to mineral makeup thinking it's made with more natural ingredients.
Mineral makeups can have some safer ingredients, but those with sensitive skin may find that these products are actually more irritating than liquid and cream foundations. Though several ingredients may be to blame, one in particular—bismuth oxychloride—is worth looking into. It is known to be irritating, and may also be quite a bit less “natural” than you would like.
Is your mineral makeup free of toxic chemicals?
What is Bismuth Oxychloride?
Bismuth oxychloride is an inorganic compound of bismuth, which is found naturally in the rare mineral bismoclite. Bismuth is a heavy and brittle metal, whereas bismuth oxychloride is a pigment that comes in either a pearl or diamond finish, and is used to give mineral makeups either a matte or shimmery appearance. It's also found in bronzers, blush and eye shadows because of its ability to create a shimmery look, and to give a silky feel, as well as because it helps the minerals adhere to the skin.
Though bismuth, the metal, occurs naturally, it's rare. So to create the high amounts needed by U.S. manufacturers, bismuth is also produced as a by-product from refining lead, tin, copper, silver, and gold ores. Once separated from these elements, it has to go through a long process of refining to make it safe for use in cosmetics.
How is it Processed?
Extracting bismuth from lead, tin, copper, and the like results in a number of impurities in the mix. These may include lead, tellurium (chemical element added to glass for color or used to make metal alloys stronger), and other elements that aren't safe for use in cosmetics. So manufacturers put it through an electrolytic solution, then filter, dry, and further refine the product until the desired level of purity is reached.
The process isn't finished yet, however. Impurities may be further removed through adding other ingredients, and then finally the resulting concoction is chlorinated, treated with water, and dried to form a white substance. It may also be treated with a dilute nitric acid solution.
Therefore, regardless of what you may see on the label, realize that this product is not a natural ingredient, but rather, the result of a long process of refining and altering.
What are the Concerns?
The main concern with this ingredient is that it is irritating. Not only is it labeled as potentially irritating to the skin on the Material Safety Data Sheet, but because it is a heavy metal ingredient, it requires repeated buffing to get it into the pores. Without this buffing, it can actually slide off the wearer's face—but the buffing can also cause irritation, particularly for those with sensitive skin.
The heaviness of the ingredient can also clog pores, which is definitely not good for those with acne-prone skin. Mineral makeup is supposed to be better for reactive skin, but if it has bismuth oxychloride in it, it may encourage the formation of blackheads, whiteheads, and postules instead. Some users may experience cystic acne if they wear mineral makeup regularly.
Another problem is that this ingredient can cause itching. If you switched to mineral makeup and found yourself scratching your face throughout the day, it may be because of the molecular shape of the chemical, or simply because it can be irritating to some people.
More Serious Concerns?
Are there more serious concerns with this ingredient? As far as we know, it's not going to encourage skin cancer or anything like that, but you do want to be careful where your products come from. This ingredient requires a lot of refining to get rid of traces of lead. In the U.S., cosmetics have to meet certain standards for bismuth chloride, but in other countries, those regulations may not be as strict, which increases the risk of bismuth chloride that may be contaminated with potentially toxic ingredients.
What to Do?
Check your mineral makeup. You may find this ingredient on the ingredient list. My preference would be to stay away from it. Fortunately, there are brands of mineral makeup out there now that are advertising their formulas as free of bismuth oxychloride. I'd think those would be a better option, particularly for those with sensitive and oily skin.
Does your favorite mineral makeup have bismuth oxychloride? Or do you have a favorite bismuth-oxychloride-free brand?
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Photo courtesy fashionlearn via Flickr.com.
“Is Bismuth Oxychloride Safe and What is It?” Sterling Minerals Skin Care Guide, May 30, 2008, http://sterlingminerals.blogspot.com/2008/05/is-bismuth-oxychloride-safe-and-what-is.html.