Sunday, June 13, 2010

Micas, Ultramarines & Oxides, Natural or Synthetic?

I was recently in a soap swap on facebook and the subject of whether or not micas, oxides and ultramarines were natural came up. I didn't know much about them myself as I don't use them and had no interest in their usage so I deferred to others that seemed to know more. When sharing that I believed micas, oxides and ultramarines to be synthetic I quoted something that was written on the teachsoap site. The response was such that I felt there is a lot of confusion as to whether micas, oxides and ultramarines qualify as natural. Then I was recently asked by a friend who purchased a soap that was labelled as "ALL NATURAL" if the ingredients were in deed natural. Of course mica turned out to be an ingredient. Before I would answer I asked her to give me some time to really look into it. Not having access to any cosmetic chemists I skimmed over some information on the internet and found a couple things that I believe clarifies the question of micas, oxides and ultramarines being natural or not.


Mica is a natural silicate mineral, BUT, the natural mineral mica was never used in make-up. Natural mica is expensive – very expensive to mine & produce. Now it’s rare & reserved mainly for the electronic industry.

The US government sponsored research for synthetic mica production in 1946. Mica was not used in make-up until the 1960’s. It’s always been the new, synthetic, cosmetic grade mica. (The Encyclopedia
Britannica and The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.)

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology defines cosmetic mica as: “a synthetic fluorphlogopite mica made artificially by heating a large batch of raw material in an electric resistance furnace and allowing the mica to crystallize from the melt during controlled slow cooling.”

Synthetic cosmetic mica is white. It’s then usually coated with titanium dioxide, then colourant (synthetic oxides or synthetic FD&C or D&C colours). The process is described by a manufacturer It’s the dual colouring of synthetic oxides on one side & FD&C colourant of the other side that gives mica it’s shimmer.

Often, the mica has synthetic, plastic-based polybutene or synthetic dimethicones are added to help with anti-caking. ( ) Very rarely do companies list all of the ingredients for mica, but if you read the material data sheets, you’ll see these added synthetic chemicals. This company actually listed them on their site:

Most people have no reaction to very small amounts of synthetic mica in amounts of 0.01% to 0.1% of the mass of the product. Some do. But safety wasn’t my point. My point was that “natural” cosmetic companies claiming to sell 100% natural mineral make-up are lying – but mostly out of ignorance. But, since there is no legal definition of the word ‘natural’ in the cosmetic industry, no one is called on it.

As for oxides / ultramarines:

They have been synthetically produced in labs since the 70’s. The FDA decided that natural oxides were too contaminated with dangerous minerals (lead, arsenic, mercury, antimony and selenium). Since then, only “cosmetic grade” synthetic oxides & ultramarines have been allowed.

(Johnson, S.T. & Wordell, C.J. "Homeopathic and herbal medicine: Considerations for formulary evaluation," Formulary, 32, 1167, Nov. 1997. )
“Iron oxides graded safe for cosmetic use are produced synthetically in order to avoid the inclusion of ferrous or ferric oxides, and impurities normally found in naturally occurring iron oxides.”

This company explains how their cosmetic grade ultramarines are the synthetic form of Lazurite

When I called around to suppliers who have been working with & selling soap & cosmetic supplies for over 20 years (like J.D. of Essence Supply & Anne-Marie Faiola, then closer to home, Canwax) they all agreed that cosmetic grade mica’s & oxides are synthetic.

So responsible suppliers know, but ironically, it’s the soap & cosmetic makers who SHOULD know their ingredients who didn’t have a clue. Probably because micas, oxides & ultramarines are a natural substance in nature, it’s the accepted fallacy that those minerals as used in make-up are natural. So, really it needs to be spun the other way around: when a company says that their mineral make-up is 100% natural, don’t believe everything you hear.


When the dermatologist told me I was having a reaction to the “synthetic” colorants in my facial products, I was astounded. At first, I argued with the dermatologist and produced the “natural face powder” from my purse and offered to return with the label from my “natural soap,” because I was certain I was not using “synthetic” colorants. After I calmed down, the dermatologist pointed out the oxymoron, “natural micas,” on the back of my “natural face powder.” Further, he explained there is such a thing as “natural mica;” it does exist; it is an extremely expensive silicate mineral of crystalline structure that is easily broken into sheet-like flecks. However, being very expensive to mine and produce, natural micas are reserved for the electronics industry and all micas used in cosmetics have been synthetic since 1960. All micas used in cosmetics are synthetically manufactured. I was shocked. The dermatologist explained to me that most people have no reaction to very small amounts of synthetic mica used to lightly color products, ranging from 0.01% to 0.1% of the mass of the product. My skin just happened to be slightly more sensitive than average and I just happened to purchase handmade, cottage industry products that contained large quantities of synthetic micas, about 2% to 5% of the product mass.

My further research revealed that “mica” refers to a group of 30 different minerals, the most common are muscovite, biotite, lepidolite, and phlogopite, and that micas were not used in the cosmetic industry until after 1946, when the US government sponsored research for the synthetic production of micas. After micas were produced synthetically and became readily available, the cosmetics industry could afford to use synthetic mica as an inexpensive safe reflectant. At first, the synthetic micas were used as pearlescent-type shimmering agents in sparkling eye shadows and frosted lipsticks. Later, as technology progressed, the synthetic micas were artificially colored to produce an inexpensive safe colorant. (The Encyclopedia
Britannica and The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.) Today, the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology defines “cosmetic mica” as “a synthetic fluorphlogopite mica made artificially by heating a large batch of raw material in an
electric resistance furnace and allowing the mica to crystallize from the melt during controlled slow cooling.”

Out of curiosity I looked on some soap supply sites to see what is being listed as ingredients under mica, oxides or ultramarines. On one site I found the following under one of the mica colorants:

Phenoxyethanol (organic chemical compound often used as a preservative)

on another site I found:

Ferric Ferrocyanide (synthetic pigment)

Methylparaben (preservative)

None of these ingredients are natural or particularly safe.

So confusion is saved for those who don't do research because from what I've learned so far, micas, oxides and ultramarines are far from natural and therefore any product that contains any of the three should NOT be labeled "all natural."


Jennifer Young said...

Thank you very much for this post. I am most frustrated by false labels "natural" and "all natrual" which seem to be a great seller, but much of the time a LIE! I believe that "certified Organic" is monitored... couldn't "all-natural" be monitored? Who knows what the solution is but the LIE is very frustrating for peopel that are actually producing All Natural products. Thank you! xo Jen

Michelle said...

I agree Jennifer,

I think that when someone falsely labels their product it does a huge disservice to those of us who struggle to make sure our products are truly "all natural."

Just like in the 2nd link I posted. If it wasn't for that particular persons need for knowledge on what caused her allergic reaction, she may have avoided natural products in the future.

Amy Warden said...

It's just as I suspected! Thank you for sharing your research!

Jennifer Young said...

Just realized your other blog is also one that I follow! I have really enjoyed following your adventures with bees. Thanks for sharing all your experiences! xo Jen

Carrie Garvin said...

Michelle- I swear you should write a book- keep notes!!!! Your information is so great!

Like I mentioned on FB- I believe "less" is best on any colorant--- I LOVE swirled, colored soap--- BUT not too sure about how I'd feel about it on my skin on a regular basis.....etc.....

Michelle said...

Hi Carrie,

I know exactly what you mean about the colorants. I just wish everything was good for us. Why can't it be good for us for once? I love colors and I love fragrances soooooooo much. I'm so bummed about the micas =(

Joan Morais said...

Michelle, I enjoyed reading this post. I use herbs, clays and fruit powders for natural colors.

egassner said...

Great info Michelle. As always :-)
So my question is...for those who use oxides (ME!) and have 'Handmade Natural Soaps' on my I falsifying? I don't claim ALL natural, just more natural than store 'soaps'! :-)

Michelle said...

Amy, thank you for reading :)


Me too. I'm quite addicted to finding plants to play with for coloring. With some it is always a surprise how they turn out. Hibiscus is still my favorite :)


I'm not sure what to tell you. For me personally I cringe when something has the word "natural" in it when it isn't all natural. Just as I cringe when a label has the word "organic" when only one or two ingredients are organic (there is a big fight going on about that right now and laws are hopefully being put in place to stop that).

I know what you mean, your soaps are naturally made and not commercially made with detergents but the bigger question is, do consumers know that? I believe our allegiance is to the customer. Do your customers know that you mean soaps that are naturally made or do they think that because they are labelled "natural" handmade soaps that they contain only natural ingredients?

I've been duped by companies for a long time and I'm not happy about it (hence, where my frustration with all of the labeling tricks come from) and where a lot of the frustration with the public is coming from now.

Legislation may soon be in place that although protects the consumer from false labeling and synthetic chemicals may hurt the natural product industry as well because instead of just targeting the synthetics and wanting them tested for safety, everything will be lumped into one group and as most of us know, essential oils, plants, clays have been around for centuries, therefore, time tested, but the frustrated public isn't seeing it that way. They are taking this ALL OR NOTHING approach. If we are completely honest in our labeling and make sure our customers know what our labels represent than maybe we can offset some of this frustration.

I hope that made sense? ;)

Jennifer Young said...

Makes sense and I agree with you. xo Jen

Bubble Works said...

thats why I have 2 ranges - all natural with EOs and only Herbs and Spices and Clays for colour and "nearly natural", with FOs and Pigments. That way the consumer can chose. But on the point of synthetic being worse, it is a shame that you had an allergic reaction to Micas, but in this case synthetic is better than natural. Pigments and Oxides in nature are heavily contaminated with heavy metals and other poisons (natural, but still bad for you) which is the main reason they are now made synthetically, so they are pure and safe. And natural colours are very nice, but if someone is allergic to hibiscus it wont be so nice for them? Alkanet is another example. Very nice natural colourant and I love the way it changes and is unpredictable. It is currently under investigation in the EU and may be withdrawn from allowed cosmetic ingredients soon, I believe it already has been withdrawn in Germany. It's all natural, but looks like it may be causing cancer. There you argument is usually, Poison Ivy is natural, but you wouldn't want to rub it all over your body.

Michelle said...

Sorry it took me so long to reply to this. I’ve been out of town with no way of accessing blogger through my cell.

Anyway, I’ve chosen to respond to part of your post here and the rest I’ve saved for an entire blog post since I believe it is needed.

There is no such thing as nearly natural. Something is either natural or it isn’t. Calling something “nearly natural” is like calling it “nearly organic.” If something has 10% organic ingredients and 90% not, would you seriously call that an organic product? Just as your product may be 1% synthetic and 99% natural, that 1% just rendered your product NOT NATURAL. I think it is unconscionable to manipulate consumers that way. We know that the average consumer can be sold by labeling alone and we also know that more “aware” people become the more they seek out purer products, so calling something nearly natural not only misrepresents the actual product but it confuses consumers enough to sell them something they weren’t really looking for in the first place.

You obviously didn’t read my post on mica’s and oxides all the way through. I am not allergic to anything. I linked to someone who was allergic to micas and she only learned so after something was mislabeled natural when it wasn’t. Her article mainly focusses on the fact that something was unknowingly mislabeled by an uninformed formulator, which is also the focus of my post.

3. Since you’ve brought Natural vs. Synthetic into this blog post I’ve decided to address it directly in a separate post using your comments as a backdrop.

AngelicaRose said...

what about all the mineral and vegan makeup companies that are usda certified organic? using oxides and micas in their formulas? such as Bella Floria for example? and yes u state that if a product is 10% not organic then it shouldn't be labeled as so, and rightfully stated but when our government is certifying food and beauty products as organic, who do we believe? even researching informations online now a days can be so conflicting...