What is Bismuth Oxychloride? This question has been asked by many women and there is still confusion as to what Bismuth Oxychlorides’ origin is and whether or not it is safe to put on the skin. Short of having a chemical engineering degree, it is difficult to understand the attributes of this ingredient and how it is produced. This will be the condensed version for Bismuth Oxychloride, so I will leave out all the element symbols and chemical calculations.
Basics to know are.....to begin with…it is a common filler ingredient used in cosmetics and is a leading ingredient in some mass marketed mineral makeup sold by Bare Minerals, RAW Minerals, and Sheer Cover. You will also find it in professional lines of mineral cosmetics offered by Dermatologists, Spas and Medical Clinics such as Colorescience and Youngblood. It is considered a heavy mineral and requires the ongoing buffing mineral makeup companies advise in order to force it into the skin and pores to keep it from sliding off of your face. Over buffing of minerals can cause irritation and ongoing inflammation on sensitive skin types. Also it can make acne cystic by congesting pores and cause rosacea to flare.
Now for the scientific explanation of this ingredient: Some say it is from the earth and others say it is a by-product of lead and copper refining. To stipulate on this argument, both sides are correct. However even though Bismuth is found naturally in the earth, it actually is more commonly found in types of ores and is extracted through a smelting process. The mining of this mineral would not meet the demand of the cosmetics industry since it is not economical to mine it, making it very cost prohibitive, and even though it may be found naturally in the earth, bismuth still requires refinement to be safe to use on the skin. So through an extraction method it is typically a by–product of lead and copper refining and in its unrefined form, it is initially considered an impurity and many of its’ chemical properties are closely related to antimony and arsenic.
The different processes to create a purified bismuth oxychloride resembles something from a horror movie. This is the fact of the matter and this information is not designed to be used as a scare tactic toward women about bismuth being closely related chemically to Arsenic...... it just simply is what it is. However, let me state bismuth is less toxic than its' counterpart. Throughout the entire refining process bismuth accompanies lead and the other impurities such as tellurium and the aforementioned compounds are gathered in anode slimes. Wow... now this is a bit scary..... Slimes.....yuck! In keeping my wits about me, I investigated further.
The Bismuth then goes through what is known as the Betts process to separate it from the undesirable impurities as stated above: Basically it is run through an electrolytic solution of lead fluorosilicate and fluorosilicic acid and is then filtered, dried, and smelted and then further refined depending on the purity desired.
At this stage the bismuth is still not safe for cosmetic use.
The process continues as impurities are further removed through adding molten caustic zinc and then chlorinated. This then creates Bismuth Chloride.
But Wait....Still not for cosmetic use, yet!
Bismuth Chloride is then treated with water then dried to form a white precipitate so formed to expel the water. Then treated further with a dilute nitric acid solution of bismuth nitrate and sodium chloride....hence the latter being where certain companies want to claim it as a naturally occurring mineral salt.
Now through evaporation and crystallization, the compound produced is the safer non-toxic by-product which is now the pearlescent, creamy feeling ingredient used as a filler giving mineral makeup its’ glow or shine on the skin enhancing the appearance of younger looking skin. It also enhances excellent adhesion properties. As you can interpret here however, Bismuth Oxychloride is far from natural or straight from the earth.
As I quickly discovered with this ingredient when found in mineral makeup, it can cause extreme irritation and actually make skin conditions worse for many women. After learning of this extreme chemical process to manufacture Bismuth Oxychloride, one can wonder why skin reacts so intensely for many women who use this ingredient, or why they suddenly develop an allergy to the cosmetics containing it? Furthermore, it is described as a potential skin irritant within the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets). For those who say it has been used for years in the cosmetic industry without incident, this may be in part due to the fact it is a minor ingredient for most applications. However, with mineral makeup becoming so popular and this ingredient being the 1st or 2nd on the ingredient list, the ratios are heavily increased, enhancing the skin irritations we are only learning about today as more and more women switch from their traditional makeup feeling they are doing a better thing for their skin.
One of the leading mineral makeup companies wants you to believe that this mineral is found naturally in the earth, but as explained here, this is not practical and is unlikely, yet it sounds great as a marketing strategy.
After many women have written to me, they have conveyed this ingredient has wreaked havoc on otherwise healthy skin after they switched to mineral cosmetics containing this ingredient, and has been described as now experiencing burning and intense itching, while having ongoing problems even after discontinuing the use of products containing Bismuth Oxychloride. All things natural from the earth or processed for refinement don’t necessarily make them safe to use even with FDA approval. The overall consensus has been this ingredient works for some but not for the masses and those few only learn after it is too late, the damage Bismuth Oxychloride may have caused their skin.
My word of advice.....for those who have rosacea, skin sensitivities, or are prone to acne, this is an ingredient which should be avoided. This will typically not make your skin conditions improve but have shown them to actually intensify with increased irritation or intense itching as it did for me, especially in hot weather and after I'd perspire. I just don't feel this chemical compound should be on anyones' face in the quantity it is used as a main filler in mineral powders. Best to save bismuth for the antacids and the Peptos'....well maybe, but that's another subject!
Also, if after removing Bismuth Oxychloride from your favorite minerals you're still experiencing some irritation, then you may want to investigate a possibility to you being Mica Sensitive.
Ref; Handbook of Inorganic Chemical Compounds by Pradyot Patnaik
Ref; Chemistry of Arsenic, Antimony and Bismuth by Nicholas C. Norman
If you have your own story to tell about the use of Bismuth Oxychloride, please feel free to share it with us.
Have a great weekend.