One Way to Get That Golden Glow - Maclean's May 15, 2006
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One Way to Get That Golden Glow – Cosmetic companies are turning to minerals like mica, malachite – and, yes, 24-karat gold

By Barbara Righton 

One company calls them “wonder powders”. Another says they are “micro-pulverized.” A third claims they “detoxify the skin.” The products in question are mineral cosmetics – foundations, concealers, eyeshadows, even overnight skin treatments made from ingredients so ancient Cleopatra probably had them in her make-up bag: malachite, mica, iron oxide, 24-karat gold dust, silica and something called pascalite, which is not listed in the dictionary but according to Pur Minerals in Smyrna, Ga., “was known to the Native American Indians as the mud that heals.” 

Although manufacturers are vague about the actual origin of the minerals (Jurassic rocks, one sales clerk says; mined in the Big Horn Mountains, another adds), their promises – It looks better! It’s good for you! – are making mineral cosmetics a mainstay for trendy women who want a healthy glow. 

The ubiquitous Leeza Gibbons sells the Sheer Cover product line online and on TV. Jane Iredale cosmetics, some of which use gold dust, have been featured in Elle and Allure. At the makeup emporium Sephora in Toronto, a California-based mineral line called Bare Escentuals has pride of place at the entrance. There, just in time for Mother’s day is a table full of its latest product, RareMinerals Skin Revival Treatment – only $85 for 0.15 ounces. (First-year sales are expected to top US$10 million.) 

RareMinerals has a special selling feature. “This line does not contain talc,” says Sephora consultant Sophia Whyte. “People are concerned about ingredients they may have a bad reaction to.” Talc? Apparently a common ingredient in cosmetics, it tends to cake, especially along smile lines, and that can create a very bad reaction, indeed. 

Mineral makeup comes mostly in powder form and is applied with brushes. It promises to be light and easy to use. That’s a response to the current bare-face look, which has replaced the traditional heavy maquillage. “Minerals give you amazing coverage where you look just beautiful but very natural,” says Pur Minerals marketing director Julie Campbell. Mineral makeup also has healing properties, she says. Any of the products that contain titanium dioxide, for example, have a sun-protection factor, and their light composition is especially effective in mopping up oily skin and camouflaging the effects of rosacea, in which enlarged blood vessels create a flushed appearance. “There are no fragrances or fillers, if you have sensitive skin,” says Campbell. “There are no chemical dyes.” Plus minerals soothe acne, she notes. 

There are naysayers. Dr. Lisa Kellett, who owns DLK on Avenue, a dermatology clinic in Toronto, agrees that substances like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are beneficial. They are found in sunblocks, she says, though she reminds consumers that the percentage has to be high enough to actually protect. In general, she doesn’t believe mineral cosmetics are more beneficial than any other makeup. “They are not drugs,” she says, “so manufacturers cannot say that they treat anything. There is really no evidence-based medicine in them at all.” As for sprinkling gold dust on your face, Kellett says, “That is not going to hurt you. It might leave a nicer finish on the skin and that is a valid claim.” 

For some, mineral cosmetics are more than a product; they’re a social phenomenon. At Bare Escentuals in San Francisco, a pioneer of the mineral craze, founder Leslie Blodgett claims to be “the ultimate girlfriend authority.” At 43, Blodgett is a modern version of cosmetics queen Mary Kay, but instead of rewarding the faithful with pink Cadillacs, she takes them on Bahamian cruises where, she told an interviewer after the inaugural trip in 2004, “There were no men and we talked about girly things.” In addition to running the company and tirelessly answering customers’ emails, Blodgett uses her life experience as inspiration for new makeup collections. When she got a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy last year, for example, she created a new collection called Puppy Love. 

Whether they want to be pooches or princesses, “every woman has a look as a goal,” says Sephora’s Whtye. Some want natural and some don’t. When a new line from Blodgett is featured in a fashion magazine, Whyte says, clients come in with the magazine in hand, wanting exactly what was featured. She’s known customers who phoned in their requirements, sometimes to the tune of $1,400, even if they could not see the products or be sure they matched their skin tones. Now that’s a whole new take on face value.

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