All You Need To Know About Iron Oxides in Beauty Products
Iron oxides. Sounds kind of scientific,
doesn’t it? But actually, you encounter these compounds on a daily basis,
although you might not be aware of that. Iron oxides are a group of sixteen (so
far) known chemical compounds, composed of iron and oxygen atoms, that are abound
in nature. For example, the rust that forms on metal objects when they are
exposed to water or oxygen for a longer period of time is one of the naturally
occurring forms of iron oxide. In addition to many geological and biological
functions that they play in nature, iron oxides are also widely used in electronics,
food, and pharmaceutical industries, as well as in beauty and personal care products.
Do We Use Iron Oxides?
Iron oxides have been used in the cosmetic industry
since the early 1900s as natural, inexpensive, and durable pigments. They can
be found in anything from eye shadows, eyeliners, and mascaras, to blushes, face powders, hair dyes, and lipsticks. You know how rust has that deep red/brownish
shade? Well, that shade is what gives your favourite oxblood red lipstick its
Iron oxides that are created during the
process of oxidation come in a wide variety of earthy tones and shades, not
just reds and browns. Think in terms of deep yellow, fire orange, and even
black. These colourful fine powders are all classified into three main colour groups:
yellow, colcothar (or red), and black iron oxides.
One of the main reasons why these compounds
are used in makeup and beauty products is because they give the products rich
and intense colour. Another reason is their admirable staying power. Iron
oxides are resistant to moisture, and when this feature is transferred to
makeup, you get products that are long lasting (you do not need to reapply every
half an hour) and do not smear or bleed easily.
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Are Iron Oxides Safe For Human Use?
As we have already mentioned, iron oxides
are compounds that naturally occur in nature, which makes them 100% natural. However,
the iron oxides that occur in a natural in uncontrolled setting very often contain traces of heavy metals, such as mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. These
elements are undesirable in cosmetic products because they can be harmful to
our health. This is why the iron oxides that are used in cosmetic formulas are mostly
The word ‘synthetic’ is usually associated
with something bad, but in this case the ingredient is produced in a lab for
safety reasons. The strictly controlled manufacturing conditions are necessary
in order to avoid the inclusion of impurities that would otherwise occur in
naturally produced iron oxides. Their basic composition remains the same i.e.
what lab workers do, is they re-create the naturally occurring process of
oxidation in a controlled environment, free of heavy metals and other
potentially harmful ingredients. Apart from that, after oxidation, synthetically
produced iron oxides are purified, so they can be 100% free of irritants and
any undesirable compounds.
While iron oxide pigments in topical
cosmetic products are unmatched in terms of durability and pigmentation, there
is one tiny disadvantage of using them in products that are placed beneath the
skin (permanent makeup or temporary tatoos). When iron oxides are placed under
the dermis, the iron is gradually absorbed by the blood vessels, which may
cause the colour to change and even fade away. Still, this is rather an
aesthetic issue and poses no threat to human health.