How to Decode the Ingredients in Your Make-Up Bag

Posted in Content Beauty

Ever wondered about the hard-to-pronounce cocktail of ingredients in your colour cosmetics? Even with natural ingredients it can get complicated! We’re here to help you decode the ingredients in your make-up bag.

Below, we compiled a short A-to-Z of ingredients that are most commonly found in the labels of your organic cosmetic products and give you a break down of what they are and how ‘safe’ we think they are for you. As you’re already reading this article, chances are you have switched at least some of your products to natural versions and you may be familiar with a few of the most common cosmetic constituents below so this list will help you brush up on other terms. Others may have found themselves for the most-part turning a blind eye to what lies within their favourite high street mascara and lipstick, but now are ready to make the change to natural – this will serve as a great beginners’ guide.

A Note on Labelling
You may see several numbers listed on your products. These are CI Numbers which translates to Colour Index Constitution numbers to identify dyes and pigments for international standardisation. Coal tar dyes, natural and inorganic pigments are all assigned a Colour Index number so you cannot rule out an ingredient until you know exactly which CI Number it is. Colours and minerals are almost always listed at the end of the ingredients list and often include common disclaimer phrase ‘may contain…‘. This is often in reference to mineral colours, which due to the process of manufacturing may contain small traces of other ingredients – similar to ‘may contain nuts’ in food packaging. So if it reads ‘may contain irons oxides’, this means there may be traces of this ingredients in the products – but there also may not. We did warn you it was a bit complicated!

You may have also come across some other terms. FD&C (food, drug, and cosmetics), D&C (drug and cosmetics), or Ext. D&C (external drugs and cosmetics) are also used to batch identify colours. The letters will be followed by a colour number for example FD&C Red No. 40. To further complicate matters, some colours are made by combining these ‘straight’ colours with ‘substrates’ such as sodium, potassium, aluminum, barium, calcium strontium or zirconium. These are known as ‘lakes’ and are named using the same system but with the addition of the word lake and the substrate, for example: FD&C Red No. 40 Aluminum Lake. Armed with this information, onto some individual ingredients.


Bismuth Oxychloride (CI 77163)  We’ve found that when people are finding they react to mineral make-up, this ingredient is most likely the culprit. A common skin irritant in powder based products, this compound can cause extreme itching and sensitivity.  It is also thought to contribute to pore congestion and acne. We do not stock any products with this ingredient — see our full list.

Carmine (CI 75470)  A bright red pigment historically produced from cochineal insects. Avoided by vegans and sometimes by those with sensitivities. Also identified in lists as E120, or CI 75470. This could be termed ‘natural’ but many brands will avoid it as a animal ingredient. Just ask about it when shopping if you would like to go insect-free.

Dye  For our purposes, we normally use the term ‘dye’ when referring to synthetic colourants. Those found in what we stock are considered food safe or food ‘dyes’.

Fragrance  We only stock products using natural fragrance. Synthetic fragrance is a soup of unidentified chemicals that don’t have to be listed separately on the label, which makes it tricky for the hyper-sensitive. Many ingredients found in fragrance such as phthalates, are known hormone disruptors so we think it is best to avoid synthetic fragrances – orange oil as used by some brands just tastes much better too!

Iron Oxides  Also referred to as clay earth pigments. Naturally occurring minerals have been used as pigments since prehistoric times.

Mica (CI 77019)  A natural mineral with a shimmery surface used in cosmetics to provide subtle to bold illumination and shimmer.

Pigments  A commonly used term to refer to mineral or fruit-based colourants.

Talc (CI 77718)  A natural mineral with an absorbent effect that leaves the skin shine-free and smooth. In the past there were concerns about talc being contaminated with asbestos fibres, but modern mining practices mean this is no longer such an issue. Talc used in certified natural cosmetics does not contain asbestos. We like to avoid it just because there are other ingredients that work just as well or better, plus there are also health concerns over inhalation so if you do choose to use a product with this ingredient in it, make sure it is pressed and you shut your mouth when brushing it on.

Silica  A fine textured powder derived from natural mineral silicon dioxide that is used in cosmetic powders to impart a smooth, shine free finish. Press into skin for better finish rather than brushing on with powder brush due to shape of particles. One derivative of silica is Dimethicone, an ingredient that you may find showing up on an otherwise natural product. Brands often use it to enhance the wear time of products, but some will cite it as forming a barrier on the skin, stopping the skin from ‘breathing’. If you want to avoid it, you just have to retouch your make-up during the day. We think it’s an unrealistic expectation of the beauty industry (and us consumers) that a colour product should last all day when faced with climate and temperature fluctuation, pollution and people touching their faces. Products that are most beneficial for your skin will move a little – it’s natural!

Synthetic Colours  These are derived from petroleum, coal tar or modified mineral pigment sources. Some synthetic colours are suspected to be human carcinogens and skin irritants. You may find that some natural brands use what are deemed safe synthetic pigments in very small amounts (0.03% is typical), as some colours are not producible through mined mineral pigments – often to achieve reds where they want to avoid carmine. These brands are dedicated to making safe cosmetics in colours that we actually want to wear and are very transparent about the ingredients they use so just check the details if you want to avoid all synthetics.

Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891)  Naturally occurring in minerals, it is used in cosmetics for its UV reflective properties and its opacity. See more details on this mineral below under sunscreens. As with all powders, avoid inhalation.


Often mistaken on the shop floor for being mineral oil (which we don’t stock!), minerals will appear somewhere on the ingredients list of most natural and organic cosmetics. There is no such thing as an organic mineral. ‘Organic’ refers to a method of growing and minerals are naturally occurring not farmed like plant ingredients.

Ferric Ferrocyanide (CI 77510)   An iron-based inorganic colourant used to provide a rich blue colour. Cosmetic-grade ferric ferrocyanide is approved for use on the eyes and face in the US, and on lips, eyes and face in the E.U. and Japan.

Iron Oxides (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499)  Or ferric oxide is the inorganic compound created from purified, oxidised iron. These pigments can range in shade from yellow to red, brown and black.

Kaolin (CI 77004)  Also known as china clay, kaolin is a soft white clay principally made up of the mineral kaolinite. It’s very pure, soft and matte and is highly prized for its gently absorptive properties and lustrous feel.

Mica (CI 77019)  An inorganic, colourless silicate mineral that provides lustre. Used in most of cosmetics for its luxurious silkiness and subtly reflective properties. It’s available in many grades, ranging from matte to shimmery.

Ultramarines (CI 77007)  Originally made by grinding lapis lazuli into a powder, this a blue inorganic mineral pigment is made from aluminosilicate zeolite and contains small amounts of polysulfides.

Minerals as Sunscreens

There has been some concern over this titanium dioxide regarding it being a potential carcinogen. For our purposes, we do not stock anything with nano particles (less than 0.1 microns or 100 nanometres), so the mineral cannot penetrate the bloodstream. To work as a sunscreen, minerals have to be large enough to sit evenly on the skins surface to reflect away UV rays; smaller than this doesn’t work.

Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891) A naturally occurring oxide of titanium, generally used as a pigment and the mineral that gives that ‘white’ look with some sunscreens. Cosmetics grades are extremely pure and highly prized as an effective non-synthetic sunscreen. We do not stock nano-sized titanium dioxide in the products we sell, however some will be less white due to being micronised. Approved for use in cosmetics in the US, EU and Japan.

Zinc Oxide (CI 77947)  An inorganic chemical compound found in nature as zincite. Refined zinc oxide is used in cosmetics as a white pigment and is highly prized as a non- synthetic chemical sunscreen. It is also regarded as anti-microbial and wound-healing. We do not stock nano-sized titanium dioxide in the products we sell, however some will be less white due to being micronised. Approved for use in cosmetics in the US, EU and Japan.

The cosmetic industry is ever evolving and in the past few years ingredients such as cornflower, powdered aloe vera, green tea and several herbs have cropped up in our natural cosmetics, which is all very exciting – the closer we get to food-state ingredients the more truly edible out lipsticks become!

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Image: Alima Pure