Using straight mica as makeup

Posted on Saturday, at • • 105 views


Colored mica is one of the most widely used ingredients in loose-powder makeup, to add color and varying degrees of shimmer. Wholesalers sell straight mica, both in smaller amounts (6-gram sample baggies is a fairly common size) to larger quantities (by the ounce or pound.) There are lots of companies — both indie and big-corporate, though fewer large companies seem interested — that make loose-powder makeup, including eyeshadow - and the prices range from USD$140 per ounce /  $7 per 1.5 gram to a whopping $700 per ounce (that last figure would be BareMinerals. I knew their loose-powder eyeshadows were expensive, but I never actually broke it down.) Sometimes you catch yourself eyeing the colored micas available from places like TKB Trading or Conservatorie (or even Coastal Scents), and wondering: why am I paying so much money for those loose-powder eyeshadows, when I can pay so little for these???

Using straight mica as makeup

You may have seen people using mica in some really amazing makeup looks…but if you’ve tried it yourself, you may have run into some problems. The color doesn’t adhere well – it doesn’t apply smoothly – it isn’t opaque – maybe you even experienced some irritation. None of these mean that you can’t or shouldn’t use straight mica as makeup. It just means that you need to know some extra things, and take some extra steps. Once you know how to compensate for what isn't there, you can get some amazing effects out of what is.

Safety First

First off, check before you buy any mica and make sure that it’s not proscribed, for what you intend to use it for. Not all micas are safe for all cosmetic purposes. Many have been tested and approved for use near the eyes. Others, government regulatory bodies (like the FDA) haven’t tested yet; and a few (the minority), regulatory bodies have tested and found problems with using a particular mica in eye or lip cosmetics. While almost all colored micas are safe for use in soaps, in nail polishes, or as blushes or body colorants, not all are safe for all other uses. Most companies that formulate and sell makeup, especially loose-powder makeup, will note when a product is not safe for application around the eyes or lips. All mica wholesalers should list this information – and if they don’t, don’t buy from them. Make sure that any mica you want to use as eyeshadow, is safe to use as such.

Get It On…

Second, adjust your application techniques. Depending on what results you want to get, you may need to use eyeshadow brushes with more densely-packed bristles, both for precision and for firmness of placement. Something that's swept on with softer, fairly yielding bristles may not stay in place as well. Stippling or patting it on will get the mica to go where you want it.

Always start with a smaller amount and build up. Unblended mica does not have the ingredients to help with adhesion and to lessen fallout, so you can get as much "blow-back" from loose-powder shimmer- or even satin-finish micas, as you would expect from super-glittery pressed or loose eyeshadows.

Loose mica needs to be applied with, or on, something wet or sticky. You can use a glycerin solution, or a “glitter glue” or foiling medium…or regular old water. Any of these will help with spreadability, even covering, and increased adhesion and color enhancement. Depending on your body chemistry and personal preferences, you may even be able to get the effects you want by simply patting or brushing the mica over a slightly damp primer or cream shadow. Application over a regular primer may not be sufficient. Remember, mica from a wholesaler does not contain anything to help smooth application or to keep it adhered to your skin! You have to either provide a slightly adhesive (damp) surface, or apply the mica with an adhesive.

…and Keep It On

Third, use a fixative spray to help keep your mica in place. This isn’t always necessary with makeup that has binders in it, but it’s a must when using unblended mica. There is a wide range of mist-and-fix products, from super inexpensive (from eyeslipsface) to prestige and high-end (Urban Decay, MAC). Which one you use is up to you, and the most effective one for you can vary depending on your body chemistry and the current condition of your skin.

Know the Rules, Bend the Rules (...but at your own risk)

Remember that bit about the regulatory bodies testing cosmetic ingredients? Well, the various agencies in different countries have established slightly different definitions for “safe for use around eyes or lips.” A small number of dyes or ingredients are classed as eye- and lip-safe in the EU, but not in the US…or vice versa. This is why some of the Sleek palettes, notably the Ultra Mattes, cannot be shipped to the US or Canada — there are ingredients in some of the colors, that are not allowed in cosmetics sold in North America. Yet these palettes are readily available all over Europe. Here is a lengthy but informative page from the US Food and Drug Administration about colorants and color additives in cosmetics. (It hasn’t been updated since 2007, but it does have a good summary, and it links to other references for color additives.)

If you really really REALLY want to use a certain mica as an eyeshadow but it’s labelled as not being eye-safe, do some research. Contact the mica vendor and ask if they can tell you why it’s only approved for certain uses, or look up the ingredients online and learn about the effects that specific ingredients have been found to have. Then, make your decision: stay inside the lines and only use the mica according to the labelled acceptable uses, or branch out and make your own path. (I should add that this applies ONLY to something you intend to use on yourself, and NOT on anything you intend to use on other people.) Also, if you do this and you later develop problems that can be directly tied to whatever you used on your eyes, you are solely responsible. Example: you see an amazing colored mica that is TOTALLY the shade you’ve been looking for for years, but it’s labelled as only being safe for use in nail polish and soap making – not for any other cosmetic use. You decide that you really really love it, and want to use it as an eyeshadow anyway. You buy some, you apply it…and your eyes start itching and watering really badly. You cannot then turn around and blame the company you bought it from – they labelled it as not safe for use around the eyes, you made an independent decision, you have to deal with the consequences yourself. You can certainly tell others about your experiences using that particular mica on your eyelids, but you have the responsibility to state that you knew about the product cautions before you applied a “not-safe-for-use-in-eyeshadow” colorant… as eyeshadow.

Srsly: Be Smart, Be Safe

There have definitely been problems with people and companies using ingredients that were not approved for cosmetics. Colorants that are perfectly safe for soaps or lotions can cause chemical burns or even blindness when applied near the eyes. When something is marked as not being lip- or eye-safe, don’t just assume that it’s going to be safe anyway. Do your research first…and if you have any doubts at all, keep that gorgeous metallic blue-purple shimmer for your nails, not your eyes.

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