Q: It’s officially fall, that time of year when I replenish my makeup kit, throw out the old eyeshadows, liners and pencils, and shop for brand spankin’ new stuff! I’ve heard that mineral makeup is the way to go if I want to avoid toxic chemicals but I’m not sure which brand to choose — so many say natural on the label, and then when I turn it around to look at the ingredients, I still can’t pronounce the names of half the things on there! How do I know which ones are really good for me?


A: The truth about mineral makeup is not as pretty as it may make you look. Mineral makeup has been all the rage the past few years and that’s because makeup that comes from natural minerals rather than chemicals has become the “greener” choice. Some folks are concerned, though, that the mineral makeup revolution is simply a byproduct of smart marketing, and that mineral makeup is not all it’s cracked up to be. Still, others tout the enormous benefits of using mineral makeup, particularly for women with sensitive skin. So which is it?


On some level, mineral makeup is indeed more natural than other makeup. Many brands of mineral makeup are hypoallergenic, and don’t contain irritating fragrances or dyes. If you look at the ingredient list of a mineral bronzer and that of a regular brand, for example, chances are the mineral bronzer will have a much shorter list. But still, there are mineral makeup brands that do contain those harmful additives, and unlike food and drugs, beauty product labeling is not regulated. This means that a brand’s label claim of being "all-natural" or "pure" can often be misleading. The only way to tell for sure what you’re getting is to look carefully at the ingredient list and know what to look for. The general rule is that the fewer ingredients, the better. But it is also important to know which ingredients are potentially more harmful than others.


One ingredient often used in mineral makeup is bismuth oxychloride. Bismuth oxychloride is a metal derivative of the natural mineral bismuth. It’s often added to makeup to give it shimmer, but has become controversial as of late because it can irritate the skin and cause rashes or even acne.


Another potential problem with mineral makeup? Fine minerals such as talc and mica. Even though these minerals are naturally occurring, their particles are so fine that they can be easily inhaled into your lungs during application. Says Dr. Oz — (Oprah’s medical guru, for those of you who have been living under a rock), it's better to apply makeup such as this with a window open nearby.


Still, many mineral makeup brands are truly natural and better for you and have gone the necessary lengths to eliminate known irritants such as parabens, fragrances and dyes from their makeup lines, as well as the ones mentioned above. One good example is Coastal Classic Creations, which refreshingly details all the ingredients for each of its products on its website.


Your best bet for finding makeup brands with the least offending ingredients? The Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database, which lists all the ingredients of virtually every product on the market, and rates each product for safety as well.

Or you could go au naturel without any makeup at all. Hey, if Hoda and Kathie Lee could pull it off, then you sure as heck can too!


— Chanie


Got a question? Submit a question to Mother Nature and one of our many experts will track down the answer. Plus: Visit our advice archives to see if your question has already been tackled.


Photo: runintherain/Flickr; MNN homepage photo: HLPhoto/Shutterstock