Mineral makeup makers have got themselves between a rock and a hard place. Touting minerals as natural, they lead consumers to believe that they are putting a product that is benign - possibly even beneficial - on their skins. Often, the minerals are combined with preservatives such as parabens and not all minerals are benign. For example Young Blood Natural Mineral Loose Foundation uses a pearlizing agent that gives mineral makeup that candlelight glow. This agent is bismuth oxychloride. Strictly speaking, it is a mineral, but it’s not found in the earth. Bismuth is a byproduct of lead and copper processing.

Young Blood's Mineral Primer ($35.50), on the other hand, has nothing unpleasant beyond a couple of silicones and a UVB absorber called ethylhexyl salicylate that, at high enough concentrations (presumably greater than that used in a cosmetic product) is associated with developmental and reproductive toxicity. Indeed, it has some useful vitamins and botanicals. But what of its minerals? Do they bring any actual benefits?

Smithsonite extract is the subject of all manner of claims - some say it exfoliates, while others maintain that it soothes, the more ambitious would have it that it regenerates skin while protecting the cells. In fact this lump of rock (named after the founder of the Smithsonian Institute) is zinc carbonate and zinc carbonate is an astringent, the main purpose of which (in cosmetics) is to tighten tissues and close pores. In its pure form it can be a skin irritant.

Rhodochrosite is a pretty red mineral that also appears in Bare Escentuals new Buxom Lash Mascara, Manganese is mainly found in rhodochrosite as well as in our own bodies as a trace mineral. It activates the enzymes responsible for the utilization of several key nutrients including biotin, thiamin, ascorbic acid, and choline. It is a catalyst in the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol, facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolism, and may also participate in the production of sex hormones and maintaining reproductive health. There is very little information, though, on what happens when it is applied topically other than some patents claiming it absorbs UVA rays and a cosmetic maker (Neova) saying that manganese peptides brighten sun damaged skin.

Not only do the benefits seem nebulous or unproven, one of the minerals turned out to be a lot less benign than I had thought. Hematite is the source of iron oxides (often used for pigments in mineral makeup). They can irritate the skin and according to the Environmental Working Group, can help other ingredients penetrate. In nanoparticle form (and let's look on the bright side and assume no nanos here), iron oxides can be cytotoxic. Rat and rabbit studies have shown iron oxides to be acutely toxic in its pure form. This is a little ironic since iron oxides are touted to be a safe alternative to FD&C colors.

When I read somewhere that malachite was antioxidant, I thought Young Blood might be able to redeem itself. Although we know that copper peptides are antioxidant, malachite is copper carbonate. Widely used a pesticide, the EPA labels it as highly toxic. However, the only reference I could find that it is toxic to humans as well as weeds and bugs was on Wikipedia and it was not referenced.

Ingredients in Young Blood Mineral Primer

Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Cyclopentasiloxane, Ethylhexyl Salicylate, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Smithsonite Extract, Rhodochrosite Extract, Hematite Extract, Malachite Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract.