Yuty, What are safe makeup pigments?
Image Credit Nadezhda Diskant

Using colour to enhance appearance has been a human practice for centuries. From 4,000 BC, ancient Egyptians used Kohl for black eyeliner, a paste made of soot, fatty matter and metal (often lead, antimony, manganese or copper). While they delivered on the looks, the substances themselves were toxic. That was 6,000 years ago. Yet, even today, not all our makeup is safe for us. We're going to look at what you need to look for when switching to clean makeup that will not harm your body.

What are modern pigments composed of?

Modern pigments can be broadly classified into two types: organic, or inorganic. Organic, in this case, does not describe bio or sustainable growing practices. It describes the chemical structure of the molecules. Organic pigments have a carbon atom, whereas inorganic pigments do not. 

Within organic pigments, there are three sub-categories: botanicals (made from plants, mostly safe), synthetic dyes (made from chemically refined coal-tar or petroleum— some, not all, can be toxic), and lakes (reacted from a metallic dye and salt, can be carcinogenic). 

Within inorganic pigments are mineral compounds. Mica (gives sparkle), iron oxides, and ultramarines (makes blue) are naturally found. These can both be found in nature or produced in a lab where their exact molecular structures are recreated, in a purer form.

The modern makeup bag with its contents of lipstick, eyeshadows, blushes, and liners, contains an assortment of different dyes, pigments, of various chemical compositions and various origins. 

Is natural healthy?

When it comes to pigments in makeup, natural or organic does not equal healthy. Ancient Romans used white lead face cream to brighten their complexions, but the practice brought health dangers like skin ruptures, madness, and infertility. Lead originates in nature, but having a natural origin does not mean it is healthy for the human body.

What should be avoided?

In our perspective, synthetic pigments in the organic category (like dyes and lakes) can contain traces of heavy metals (Arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, mercury, and nickel), which are toxic to humans. Exposure to metals has been linked to health concerns including reproductive, immune and nervous system toxicity. You may wonder why they are still appearing in our cosmetics. Many synthetic pigments are legally allowed to contain these quantities of harm-causing substances (the legislation & maximum percentage level exists for this very simple reason). 

Which kinds of pigments are safe to use on the body?

Generally, botanicals (derived from plants) and inorganic mineral compounds, like mica, ultramarine, and iron oxide, are safe to use on the body. 

Botanical pigments are less frequently found in makeup because they typically lack longevity in their application. For this reason, whilst they are safe, they are not a popular ingredient.

Luckily, inorganic mineral compounds fare better in makeup application, and can now be commonly found. Mica is prized for its sparkle, ultramarine from lapis lazuli creates shades of blue, and iron oxides give warm shades of red to orange to black. 

Switching to clean beauty

Many clean products— defined as containing colourants that are safe to use— are now capable of the same results as conventional products that may contain traces of toxic ingredients. However, going clean with makeup can mean paying more, on average, for makeup products. 

To find clean beauty products, look for products that proudly state they are using a safe inorganic compound like mica. 

Experiment with products that are completely vegan, and crafted with only botanicals. While the results may differ from what you're used to, you'll feel comfortable knowing that they will not harm your health. 

At Yuty, we only have brands that contain safe pigments in their products. As an ambassador of both your beauty and your health, it is part of our ethics to avoid recommending products that might bring you a nasty surprise in your later life. 


 NBC News. (2008, January 10). Kohl (cosmetics). Suffering for beauty has ancient roots, https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna22546056

 Axiology. (2018, November 23). What’s in a Color? Understanding the Dyes and Pigments in Your Cosmetics, https://axiologybeauty.com/blogs/our-blog/what-s-in-a-color-understanding-the-dyes-and-pigments-in-your-cosmetics

 Koel Colours. (2021, June 30). What Kind of Pigments are Used for Cosmetics and How are They Different from Each Other. https://www.koelcolours.com/blog/pigments/kind-pigments-used-cosmetics-different/https://www.koelcolours.com/blog/pigments/kind-pigments-used-cosmetics-different/


Related articles