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."