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The Shine and Shimmer Primer on Reflective Cosmetic Ingredients

> Recently I have been getting a lot of inquiries from makeup artists about reflective ingredients in cosmetics. These are what I call the little “micron mirrors” that are found in the majority of makeup products on the market. The major reflective agents most commonly used are mica, silica, and titanium dioxide which have been pointed to as the makeup feedback culprits in flash photography and cosmetic reflection issues in HDTV. These are ingredients commonly found in cosmetic powders and finishing products, and they are the main component utilized in mineral makeup lines.

The simple translation is, these ingredients are added to cosmetics not only as binders, thickeners, extenders, and slip agents, but supposedly they give the illusion of a softer more youthful look by reflecting light away from visible lines and wrinkles. The reality is that the more abundant these reflective ingredients are in the product, the more your face will look like a walking glitter factory, especially in outdoor sun. Ironically, the high absorbency properties of these ingredients can actually be very drying on many skins, and end up accenting lines and wrinkles more than visually reflecting them away!

Reflective ingredients don’t always transform skin into smoother visual perfection. It’s an idea that people think works in theory to soft focus or diffuse light spill on skin, but it actually ends up sitting on top of the skin looking like blinking headlights. For a further look into this issue I have compiled a condensed tutorial to help you understand what these elements are and how they work in a cosmetic product. I won’t bore you with long biology/chemistry explanations, but give you just enough to make you more educated in your cosmetic ingredient knowledge that will hopefully enlighten your makeup selection and application decisions.

Let’s start with Mica, which is actually a name given to a group of crystallized earth mineral salts that are similar in composition and physical properties. They are also silicate class minerals, which mean that they also contain silica components. Mica has a metallic-like form resembling thin rock sheets, or flakes, that have a strong, pearly-like iridescent luster. The mica flakes are easily split and micronized into small particles for cosmetic use.

Mica acts as a texturizer, filler and thickener, and is used as a stabilizer to help pigments maintain their suspension in a formula. Mica helps to increase slip and adhesion properties in a cosmetic and reduces “clumping” of other powder ingredients, like talc. Because of its pearlescent properties mica is used to produce pearlescent pigments, and most often bound to pigments as a color booster and tone brightener. Mica has a very strong holographic nature; meaning it easily transmits and reflects light, so it adds a glittery-like shimmer or sparkle to whatever pigment or compound it is blended with. Mica is also the main pigmented ingredient for all mineral based makeup.

Silica (or silicon dioxide) is a white or colorless mineral found abundantly in sandstone, clay, granite, and quartz. It has a metallic-like reflective texture, and is the principal ingredient used to make glass. The type of silica used in cosmetics is NOT the industrial crystalline dust particle form, but the cosmetic approved form of ground (rounded) silica microspheres. Silica has natural absorbency and thickening properties so it also used in cosmetics as an absorbing and thickening agent. It also improves the smoothness, slip, and wear in foundations, creams, and powders. Silica is also strongly holographic so it possesses light reflecting properties. It is also used as a binder to pigments as a color brightener.

Titanium Dioxide is an earth mineral that occurs in nature as three crystallized forms: rutile, anatase, and brookite. In its natural state it looks silver-gray and often with a multi-colored iridescent metallic tarnish to it. 95% of the world’s use for titanium processing is for the pure white pigment produced from it, and its ability to be a highly effective physical sunscreen agent. Titanium dioxide has a very high brilliance to it and excellent light scattering properties, yet it is strongly opaque, which helps give good coverage. This makes it the best cosmetic whitening ingredient and a very highly effective blocking vehicle against the sun’s penetrating UVA and UVB rays.

I am also including Talc in this line-up because it strongly intertwines into the performance of the above ingredients. Talc is hydrated magnesium silicate, a naturally occurring silicate mineral ore (rock) of magnesium. It is chemically inert to acids and alkalis’ which makes it an excellent filler and binding ingredient, especially for pigments. Talc is valued for its high degree of opacity in coverage, smoothness, softness, and high absorption qualities. It is a very inexpensive ingredient to formulate with and it binds well, which is why it is so pervasive in cosmetics.

Cosmetic talc is often combined with calcium carbonate (or other silicate salts) to increase its absorption capabilities, and to counter or reduce the effect of talc’s naturally occurring luster. It’s moisture repellent properties make it staple product for sealing and finishing of all kinds of makeup applications, as well as making products last longer in wear.

Now that you have a basic understand how these ingredients work, it is fairly simple to add up the pros and cons of their uses in professional makeup that require a non-reflective situation. Consumers will need to start reading labels to know how much of a glitterized appearance they may ultimately encounter when wearing products with any of these ingredients or a combination of them.

Please understand that I am not saying these are bad ingredients for makeup use. As you can see they are necessary in certain amounts to facilitate product efficiency in application and wear. It just means makeup artists will need to be more aware and know more about how these elements or their combined compounds and mixtures in a product will translate in their makeup application for media work, especially in high resolution photography or full digital (HDTV). It largely depends on how micronized the element particles are, how they unite as emulsifying facilitators, or if they are added in as light diffusing reflectors.

The first clue is a visual inspection of the product: if you can see reflective agents in the product while still in the container then you definitely know you will be dealing with that issue in the end result. I strongly recommend that you do your inspection in outdoor noon-day sun or the indoor light equivalent of 4500-5500k temperature, so that you can test it on your skin and properly evaluate the product for reflectiveness. If you can see it on skin, then you can bet you will be dealing with reflective issues in camera if you use it.

As a makeup artist working in HDTV I am naturally sensitive to reflective products, and always highly suspicious of products claiming “soft focus ingredients make skin look smoother and more diffused on screen”. The reality I see is that these “soft focus” reflective ingredients look like annoying little micro mirrors on skin in the camera and monitor. My own experience tells me that titanium dioxide can actually boost the reflective properties of mica and silica if they exceed certain proportions, and especially so if they are combined with talc. Talc will almost insure that these mineral additives will sit on top of the skin.

Another potential issue I see added to this situation is silicone ingredients in foundations. Silicone and its derivatives (dimethicone, cyclomethicone, crosspolymers, etc.) are inherently shiny in their texture and transparent enough to enhance or boost other reflective ingredients they come in contact with. Using powders with reflective ingredients on silicone makeup is nothing short of a potential makeup maintenance nightmare in the making. If you are dealing with topical skin moisture issues (perspiration and skin oils) on top of all this it can create a near impossible balance with good makeup maintenance and continuity in wear, especially for a long shoot day. You can almost bet you will be pulling the makeup off at some point in the day and doing it over again.

Hopefully this tutorial will help artists and consumers become more educated in these issues, and it’s always wise to expand your cosmetic chemistry knowledge to be able to make the right decisions for your needs. I didn’t really address the use of mineral based makeup here directly, but I feel that there is enough information about mineral ingredients in general to help guide you in your own decisions about mineral makeup use. A good article on mineral makeup was published on WebMD, and one that I feel makes some great points about the popularity, use, and claims in performance with mineral makeup. Click here to read the article.

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