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All You Need To Know About Iron Oxides in Beauty Product


Iron oxides are a group of sixteen compounds, composed of iron and oxygen atoms, that abounds in nature. For example, the rust that forms on metal objects when they are exposed to water or oxygen for a long 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.


Why 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 eyeshadows, eyeliners, and mascaras, to blushes, face powders, hair dyes, and lipsticks. Do you know how rust has that deep red/brownish shade? Well, that shade is what gives your favorite oxblood red lipstick it's color.

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 colorful fine powders are all classified into three main color 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 color. Another reason is their admirable staying power. Iron oxides are resistant to moisture, and when this feature is transferred to makeup, you get long-lasting products (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?

As we have already mentioned, iron oxides are compounds that naturally occur in nature, which makes them 100% natural. However, the iron oxide that occurs naturally in an uncontrolled setting very often contains 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 produced synthetically.

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 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 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.

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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 tattoos). When iron oxides are placed under the dermis, the iron is gradually absorbed by the blood vessels, which may cause the color to change and even fade away. Still, this is rather an aesthetic issue and poses no threat to human health. 

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