Wednesday, February 12, 2014

There's WHAT in My Toothpaste?: Seven Minerals In Your Bathroom

This guest post was written by Amanda Reynolds, a structural geologist and a personal friend of mine.

If you're anything like me, you love to read the labels on your beauty products. (Alternatively, maybe you don't and I'm just an oddball who needs a constant source of entertainment while I brush my teeth.) Still, ever since I became a geologist, ingredient labels on everything from sunscreen to eyeshadow became even more interesting. A secret code of chemical names was unlocked; I noticed that the minerals I had to memorize for my weekly quizzes in undergrad were also in my every day products and supplies. So, what minerals are in your health and beauty supplies?

Here are seven of the most common:

Calcite (CaCO3)


Calcite
Source: http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/geology/images/calcite.jpg

Calcite, also known as Calcium Carbonate, is a heavy hitter in a wide range of health and beauty products. In its natural forms, it is found in limestone, chalk, and marble. In our bathrooms, it's in everything from toothpaste, where it is used as an abrasive, to lipstick, where it adds a glossy finish. It's also added to body and face powders to absorb moisture. In our medicine cabinet, it's the primary ingredient of most chewable antacids like Tums or Rolaids. In our pockets and purses, it's sometimes the white powder on a stick of gum. You can't escape from calcite even if if you shun personal care products, since calcite is just about everywhere in the modern world. Heck, it's even in the cement and plaster that make up our buildings!

 Fluorite (CaF2)


Fluorite
Source: http://skywalker.cochise.edu/wellerr/mineral/fluorite/6fluorite-douglass95.jpg

Fluorite, or Calcium Fluoride, is another mineral frequently used in toothpaste. Naturally, you might see it in the pockets or veins of large deposits associated with igneous rocks or hydrothermal activity. Although you are most likely to see "sodium fluoride" listed on the product label, fluorite is usually the source. Fluorite is processed to produce sodium fluoride via the addition of sulfuric acid. Furthermore, fluorite in its unedited form can also be included as another abrasive ingredient.

Mica


Muscovite
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/26/Muscovite-Albite-122887.jpg

You'll notice that I didn't list a chemical formula for mica. Micas are actually a large mineral family with long, unwieldy formulas that cause early geology majors to weep during exams. So, although you might see "calcium carbonate" on an ingredients label, you probably won't see "Potassium Aluminum Silicon Oxide". You'll just see "Micas". However, the most common variety of mica is called muscovite, which is a light colored mineral that is one of the most commonly used in everyday applications. In nature, it's typically found in a wide variety of igneous rocks. If you're ever looking at a rock (Yeah, I know. I'm the only one...) and you see some sparkle, that's likely mica.

Mica is another mineral that can show up in toothpaste as an abrasive, but you are more likely to see it in your powders and blushes. After all, it's been used in makeup since pretty much forever. When muscovite is ground to a powder it transforms into a glittery, shimmery substance, which is perfect for makeup products that are intended to give your skin a glowy appearance. Muscovite and other micas are found in most types of makeup, be they blush or eye shadow, creams or lipsticks. You can even find mica in your delicately sparkly nail polishes. Additionally, some mineral makeup products are comprised of pure mica powders. Companies that manufacture these products claim that mica-based makeup is less likely to irritate your skin and clog your pores.

Rutile (TiO2)


Rutile
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/Rutile-122157.jpg

Chances are you've never seen "rutile" on your ingredients label, but I bet you have seen "titanium dioxide". This is another popular ingredient to show up in toothpastes and, again, it is used as an abrasive agent. (Are we brushing our teeth with rocks? Yes!) This is also another mineral that is naturally found in hydrothermal settings. However, it can also be synthesized in the lab by breaking down a different mineral called ilmenite (FeTiO3).

Outside of toothpaste, you're likely to find titanium dioxide in your sunscreen. Titanium dioxide is very effective at blocking UVA and UVB rays and, as a result, it is one of the most popular active ingredients for physical sunscreens. You might also see in listed as an ingredient in lotions. This is sometimes for the SPF effect, but it is also used for pigmentation, since titanium dioxide is bright white pigment. (If you check out your kitchen cabinet, you'll find that it is a common food additive as well. You can find it listed on most red-colored candies. It's also used to make Oreo filling white. Science is delicious!)

Quartz (SiO2)


Quartz
Source: http://www.mineralminers.com/images/phantom-quartz/polx/phqp178.jpg

Quartz is also known as silicon dioxide and it is usually listed on ingredient labels as "silica". It is... Well, it's everywhere! First of all, it's what sand is made of. Given that it is one of the most common minerals on the planet, it stands to reason it's going to be in a crapload of our personal care products. In a use that is probably no longer surprising at this point in the list, silica can be found in your toothpaste, both as an abrasive (in its gentler, amorphous form) and as a thickener. It is also used in powders to help "flow". (In other words, to keep them from clumping).

Outside of the makeup counter, you can even find colloidal silica used in beer and wine production as a fining agent. And, as any geologist worth their halite (salt!) can tell you, beer is everything.

Hematite (FeO3)


Hematite
Source: http://skywalker.cochise.edu/wellerr/mineral/hematite/6hematite-oolitic742.jpg

This mineral is typically listed on labels as "iron oxides". (There are more iron oxides than just hematite, but it is the most common.) Iron oxides are a very commonly occurring group of minerals in just about any setting, but they are more common in areas with moisture. They are used to give make up with a red, orange, yellow, brown, or, on occasion, black tint. You'll find hematite and other iron oxides in lipsticks, eye shadows, blushes, bronzers... the whole gamut!

Talc (Mg3Si4O10(OH)2)


Talc
Source: http://www.beg.utexas.edu/mainweb/publications/graphics/talc400.jpg

Talc is a mineral you've probably heard of, whether you realized it was a mineral or not. Anyone who has ever used talcum powder, for example, has come into contact with talc. It's the softest known mineral, meaning that it grinds into a very fine powder. Consequentially, it is excellent for smoothing the skin and absorbing excess moisture. So, not only does it make an appearance in most body powders, you can find it in a great deal of face powders as well, particularly in those that tout oil controlling properties.

If you visit a natural history museum, you've probably oogled gorgeous minerals displayed in luxurious glass cases. Seeing rocks in such a formal setting can cause us to forget that these simple minerals are actually highly utilized, much-needed components of the products we use every single day. They touch our lives when we use makeup, toothpaste, ceramics, electronics, and many other products. Providing a comprehensive list of the minerals that surround us would be far too long to fit into a blog post, but I hope this incomplete list gave you something to ponder next time you brush your teeth.

18 comments:

  1. Soooooooooooo interestinggggggggg!!!!!!!!!!!
    I always read you..but this is the first time i comment!
    Loved it....:)

    ReplyDelete
  2. As a geology major, you have now combined my two favorite things (rocks and cosmetics). You are my favorite. It is worth noting that talcum powder is not commonly used in baby powder any longer, as there was a pretty big scare years ago (the flames of which were stoked by the Daily Fail, naturally) about the possibility that talcum powder use was contributing to ovarian cancer. Talc is very similar mineralogically to asbestos, of which there are many kinds, falling into two groups: crysotile, which is composed of long, silky, flexible fibers, and amphibole, which is more needle-like. All asbestos is carcinogenic to varying degrees. Geologically, it is pretty rare to find a mineral deposit that is pure, and talc is no exception. Most talc deposits contain trace to significant amounts of asbestos, some of which makes it into cosmetics. There was some question as to whether daily powdering of one's nether regions over decades could cause talc to migrate up to the ovaries, where the body would react (just as it does to asbestos in the lungs), causing ovarian cancer. Several studies have been done, but most have been inconclusive. To avoid the problem and the associated controversy, most baby powder producers switched to corn starch (which I imagine is cheaper anyway). That said, talc is still commonly used in other cosmetics, and yes, it probably contains traces of asbestos. Unless you're doing lines of crushed eyeshadow off of the mirror in your bathroom, though, you're probably safe. Sorry for the dissertation... your post got me all excited about rocks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think talc is also used in many dry shampoos - where there would be real risk of breathing in bits of it. Baby powder comes in two flavors - corn starch or talc. The main ingredient is still talc in most baby powders (if you look at the store shelves there will be one or two with corn starch and many with talc). For example Johnson's baby powder: http://www.johnsonsbaby.com/products/johnsons-baby-powder. Aside from the concerns about talc some how wandering up to the ovaries (???? is that even possible) I thought the main concern was from breathing it in, because it is a very fine powder.

      Delete
    2. Yup me too! (Geologist by training. Rocks get me happy.) As do beauty products--imagine that! Thanks for the nice post.

      Delete
    3. You're right; I overestimated the number of companies that made a switch to cornstarch! People definitely SHOULD be more concerned about the effects of asbestos/talc inhalation than about its effects on the ovaries; after all, it is a much more direct route into the lungs, and at least one of those minerals has been definitively proven to cause lung cancer. I think that the to-do raised by certain tabloids brought attention to an invented problem (even if the story about the woman with talc-clogged ovaries were true, which I doubt, you would have to be exposed at pretty high levels over a long period to develop that kind of condition, I imagine). That said, unless you're huffing baby powder or dry shampoo, I would imagine you're probably okay!

      Delete
    4. It's also worth noting that regulation of asbestos in talc (at least in the US) is very strict, and has been since the 1970s!

      Delete
  3. Aah :-) these kinds of posts absolutely make my day ^_^.

    No, you're not alone in obsessively reading the backs of everything - as a research chemist, I do the same!

    Fun alternative use for calcium fluoride in my field: generation of supercontinuum (white light lasers) using ultrafast pulsed lasers :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lasers and cosmetics? Be still my heart.

      Delete
  4. Phatamie (I bless you for that) I must thank you for the innovative idea on how I can upcycle my many unused eyeshadows. Lines off the mirror of my bathroom!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Geology and cosmetics? Girl, you are awesome!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Well, as a rock hound, I find all of these minerals so pretty.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What an awesome guest post! I love learning cool things like this!

    ReplyDelete
  8. This was such a great post! I was about to suggest a follow up post that goes into some detail about minerals in makeup and any controversies (e.g. talc), but it looks like a commenter already took care of that. Anyway, its great to enjoy the science of cosmetics.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks, Amanda (and Robyn)! This was a nifty post.

    ReplyDelete
  10. My chem brain was enjoying breaking down the formulas. I love the photos. Nothing is as beautiful as nature.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Minerals found especially in mineral based makeup are actually beneficial. It is not the minerals that should be discussed here so much as the about the daily usage of chemicals, parabens, and pthalates that are commonly and daily used. Not to mention the Reds, the Lakes, the Dyes, and all other colors that are linked to many illnesses.

    I love using Glam Girl Naturals Cosmetics because they are natural, safe, free of the dyes, lakes, parabens and pthalates, and are full of ingredients that are actually good for my skin! You guys should try it out too!

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...