Is Bismuth Oxychloride really natural and should I avoid it?

Bismuth Oxychloride is a greyish/white powder but a lot of people aren’t sure about its origin. Some say it’s natural (after all, it’s one of the most common ingredients used in mineral makeup, isn’t it?), while others think it’s synthetic. So, who’s right? Well, both. It is true that Bismuth Oxychloride occurs in nature, but it’s rare and so it’s not very economical to mine it, which means that companies prefer to produce it. The type used in cosmetics, therefore is made by combining Bismuth (a byproduct of copper and lead, although after it is refined, lead is completely removed from Bismuth Oxychloride), chloride and water.

Why is Bismuth Oxychloride used in cosmetics?

The main reason why many companies put Bismuth Oxychloride in their products is because it is very inexpensive. But what does it actually do? Well, Bismuth Oxychloride has several functions. This ingredient has binding properties that not only give products their texture and smoothness, but it also make sure they adhere well to the skin and stay on it, thus helping makeup last longer.

Bismuth Oxychloride is available in two forms, pearl and christalline, which is what give cosmetics their finish. In its pearl form, Bismuth Oxychloride imparts a matte finish to the skin, whereas the christalline type provides a glowy look. This latter form is the most used as a subtle and natural glow seems to be what most consumers want. In addition, Bismuth Oxychloride is refractive, and because of this it helps to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

But that’s not all. Bismuth Oxychloride is a coloring agent that imparts a white color to products and also absorbs shine. However, it has a thick consistency and so needs to be applied carefully to avoid a cakey, unnatural appearance. That’s why it is recommended to use a dense flat brush to apply products that contain this ingredient.

What are the side effects of Bismuth Oxychloride?

If the mineral foundation (or any other product with this ingredient) you’ve been using has irritated your skin, it’s very likely that Bismuth Oxychloride was the culprit. This ingredient has been reported to cause irritations and allergies, itchiness and redness  in a lot of people. Of course, this also depends on the concentration of Bismuth Oxychloride in the product. If it is present in high amounts, it is more likely to cause a negative reaction while smaller doses are usually better tolerated even by people who have problems with this ingredient.

Not that I suggest that you try it. If you’ve had problems with Bismuth Oxychloride in the past it’s best you avoid it completely, but if you were wondering why you can use some products with this ingredient without any bad reaction occurring, while others cause havoc for your skin, well, that’s why. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with Bismuth Oxychloride (so far at least) so I don’t avoid it. But I admit I’m always disappointed when I see a product that contains it. That’s because I think it’s unfair that a lot of people won’t be able to use otherwise great products because of it when there are lots of other ingredients that provide the same benefits of Bismuth Oxychloride minus the nasty side effects.

The Bottom Line

Despite being very widely used in mineral makeup, which may give people the impression that Bismuth Oxychloride is a natural ingredient, the type used in cosmetics usually isn’t. This cheap ingredients provides several benefits for the skin, giving products their texture, finish and making them last longer, but sadly it is very irritating and a common allergen. It saddens me that companies are still using it in their products knowing that a lot of people can’t tolerate it, but if you can and you’ve never experienced a negative reaction, there is no reason to avoid it.

Do you use or avoid products with Bismuth Oxychloride?

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    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Dao, I know you’re allergic and that’s too bad. But I agree with you. There are other ingredients that can give the same effect as BO but won’t cause problems to a lot of people so companies should start using them more.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Fabulessbeauty, that’s too bad. BO is a common allergen and irritant and can cause problems to lots of people. :(

  1. says

    I haven’t had any problems with Bismuth Oxychloride, but I know a lot of people do! It’s crazy that it’s in so many mineral makeups (although I know a lot of companies are getting rid of it now). It’s ironic and unfortunate that it’s in so many products that are called “natural” alternatives to regular makeup.
    Jeni´s last blog post ..My New Hair Loss Blog!My Profile

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Jeni, I agree. It’s good that some companies are finally getting rid of this ingredient but it’s still in too many products imo. It seems to be more traditional companies like MAC or Elizabeth Arden that put BO in their mineral makeup products which usually aren’t mineral at all..


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