I’ve seen this ingredient listed in a few natural products before and I’ve always been curious due to its complex name, what exactly is bismuth oxychloride?
Used in cosmetics since the time of the ancient Egyptians, bismuth oxychloride is a pearly, white pigment used to give products a lustrous, iridescent sheen and also used because of its fine, powdery texture that adheres well to skin. You can find bismuth oxychloride in many mineral-based makeup products today like face powders, eye shadows and even in nail polish.
“Bismuth oxychloride was permanently listed by the FDA as a coloring agent in 1977 and as a synthetic ingredient.” -Paula’s Choice
Bismuth oxychloride is an inorganic compound of bismuth, which is found naturally in the rare mineral, bismoclite. While bismuth occurs naturally in bismoclite, the rare number of these minerals presents a production challenge. “To create the high amounts of bismuth needed by U.S. manufacturers, bismuth is also produced as a by-product from refining lead, tin, copper, silver, and gold ores. Once separated from these elements, it has to go through a long process of refining to make it safe for use in cosmetics.” (Source: Annmarie Gianni Skincare)
To get a little more technical, bismuth oxychloride is created by combining bismuth, which is also a by-product of lead and copper metal refining, with chloride (chlorine compound) and water.
There are many claims that bismuth oxychloride is a more natural, pure and healthier alternative to using talc, however, bismuth oxychloride seldom occurs in nature due to it’s inorganic origins. Bismuth oxychloride is also heavier and more brittle than talc.
Some concerns for using bismuth oxychloride in cosmetics and personal care products are largely that it is a skin irritant. Many people, especially those with sensitive skin, react to bismuth oxychloride due to its crystalline chemical structure which can poke at skin and get stuck in pores. Itching, rashes, blackheads, whiteheads, postules and even cystic acne may result.
“This ingredient requires a lot of refining to get rid of traces of lead. In the U.S., cosmetics have to meet certain standards for bismuth [oxy]chloride, but in other countries, those regulations may not be as strict, which increases the risk of bismuth oxychloride that may be contaminated with potentially toxic ingredients.” -Annmarie Gianni Skincare
The EWG’s Skin Deep database lists bismuth oxychloride with a score of 0 for overall health concerns and also due to limited data available. Though bismuth oxychloride may not be as terrible an ingredient as others, (there is no speculation it causes cancer or other serious health concerns) it is good to be aware of where your ingredients come from and the possible risks it can have on your skin. I personally have quite sensitive and reactive skin so I would stay away from any products that may have bismuth oxychloride in them. I also do not feel comfortable with this ingredient due to the possibilities of its inorganic sourcing.
Do you currently use or have you used any products with bismuth oxychloride? Do you have a favorite product or company with bismuth oxychloride-free products?
Popular mineral-based makeup products that contain bismuth oxychloride:
Mineral makeup companies with bismuth oxychloride-free products: