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, 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, 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.