What’s makeup made of?

Many of us cherish our makeup collection fondly. We lovingly collect our favourite cosmetics, whether it’s foundation, bold lipsticks or eye shadow palettes. But, have you ever stopped to think what products are in makeup and what am I putting on my face? Here we breakdown the chemistry of what’s actually in our makeup:


Foundation has been used since Greek and Roman times to help perfect the skin, add luminosity or reduce shine.  Powder-based foundation usually relies on talc to give it the powdery texture. Pigment is used to give the product colour, emollients and binding agents help the foundation adhere to the face.


  • Some powder-based foundations also use wax, which can be natural or synthetic.
  • Water-based liquid foundations are usually lightweight due to the oil and water being blended with emollients and fatty alcohol.
  • Mattifying foundations use clay as an ingredient to flatten the shine of an otherwise luminous product.
  • Silicone-based foundations, which is are the most commonly used cosmetic, uses a blend of water and silicone on their base. The specific formula depends on brand, coverage, and finish but they generally use dimethicone, polysiloxane, and phenyl trimethicone. Other commonly found ingredients are mineral oil, alcohol, and minerals like titanium oxide and zinc oxide.


Whether it’s vampy purples, classic reds or understated nudes, all lipstick contains pigments, oils and waxes. The oils they use can use include cocoa butter, lanolin, jojoba, petrolatum and castor oil but this will vary depending on the formula. The waxes they include are:

  • beeswax
  • ozokerite and
  • candelilla (with carnauba wax being the key ingredients in the lipstick to have a sturdy upright texture).


The more oil the lipstick contains the more intense the colour and finish will be. Long-wearing lipsticks contain volatile solvents which deposit the pigment and dissolve the wetter ingredients like oil and emollients which causes the product to slide around and transfer onto glasses. This is why heavily pigment lipsticks also tend to be the most drying.


A good eye shadow can enhance your natural beauty, break norms and add drama to any look but this cosmetic can really vary in formulation. All eyeshadows have a cosmetic-grade talc, mica or kaolin clay base. Then binders are added to ensure the powder sticks to the skin. The most commonly used binders are derivatives of zinc of magnesium. Alongside the pigment, which gives the shadow its colour, some companies will add silica nylon, dimethicone, boron nitride or bismuth oxychloride which gives the powder the slip it needs to ensure you get the smoothest blend.


Preservatives like gycol or tocopheral help prevent bacterial growth and keep your shadows fresher for longer. With cream shadows you’ll find the formula contains waxes and oils to form that creamy texture. Beeswax, castor oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, and silicone are used to liquefy a standard powder shadow. With cream shadows, once the wax dries the pigment will bond to the skin and wear longer than a powder shadow.


Eyeliner can really bring a look together, a master of eyeliner can change their whole eye shape with just a few lines. Like many cosmetics, eyeliners can vary in consistency, finish, and formula.

Three ingredients form the base of all eyeliners: film formers, thickening agents and pigments.

  • Film formers: A film former lays down a thin layer on the skin, assisting in application.
  • Thickening agents: The thickening agents are the most important element of eyeliner, these include gums, clays and waxes which make up the product’s weight and volume.
  • Pigments: Pigments are what give the eyeliner its colour.


Black and brown liners are made with iron oxides, lighter colours including white and pastels are made with titanium dioxide and greens and blues are formed with chromium oxide.

So the next time you smack on some lippy and notice the shine and shimmer bouncing off your lips, you’ll know exactly what makes up.. makeup!


Photo by Ladislava Vantuchová from Pixabay


  • site here normajournal.org
    October 12, 2020 at 6:24 am

    This is a great blog.

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