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Am I Allergic to Bare Minerals? Here’s How to Tell.

By Amalah

I have been reading your blogs on and off for a lot of years now. Sometimes I get a little too addicted to the Internet and have to make myself stop for a while. But I always come back. 🙂
Anyway, I have a question. It’s sort of time sensitive since it involves whether or not I am having a makeup reaction and should stop using it before my face falls off (but I know you receive zillions of e-mails and might not be able to respond right away–just thought it wouldn’t hurt to try asking you). I just recently purchased the Bare Minerals starter kit because I wanted something very light and natural. Confession: I am mostly a makeup virgin. Ok, I have worn it before. I have some makeup that I break out for special occasions. But no one ever really taught me how to use it well, and I never felt like I needed it. Now, I still don’t think I NEED it, but I have had makeup done on me (by salons, at Mary Kay parties, and so on), and I’ve seen how a nice, simple “routine” can make me look just a little fresher and feel just a little nicer. So I finally went to the Sephora store and got some goodies. But I digress. My point is that I’m new to being “serious” about all this stuff, and I want it to work. I know you recommend trying different things, but truthfully I don’t really have the money or the inclination to experiment with a ton of different things. I just want to find something that works, you know?
So I got the Bare Minerals. The salesperson put it on me the day I bought it, and I liked it just fine. No problems. Then I started reading your site and saw that some people had had reactions to it. I didn’t think much of it, but it was in the back of my mind, I guess. Yesterday I used the makeup, and toward the end of the day I noticed my left cheek was starting to look “brighter” than the right and my forehead was just a teeny bit weird-looking, sort of flushed but not really. About an hour later I washed my face and, sans makeup, noticed that both of my cheeks were very pink (my left more so than my right). Now, sometimes my cheeks do pink up a little, but I think this was different. They weren’t really itchy or irritated, but I remembered the “negative reviews” and started to worry. This morning my face looks “normal,” and I’m wondering whether I should keep trying the makeup. Was it just a fluke? Or am I setting myself up for a horribly irritated face if I keep going? I don’t want to assume things based on one experience, especially because maybe it was influenced by the negative info I had read earlier, but I don’t want to do bad things to my face, either. I couldn’t find info about the reactions people have had (am I just a bad Googler?) to see if this sounds like a reaction.
Also, I had to drive an hour to find a Sephora store, so returning/exchanging will be a pain. And then what do I buy? Because I can’t keep driving that far for makeup experiments. Please advise! Thank you.
(Oh, p.s. Skin care. Do you really need to do ALL the steps recommended–cleansing and toning and so on? I used to just cleanse and moisturize, but now they’re trying to sell me all this other stuff. I am so incompetent with this stuff that I am feeling lost, not wanting to get “taken” for lots of dollars but wanting to get things that will really be good/necessary.)

bareminerals.jpgThe important thing to remember about Bare Minerals — or any of the loose-powder “mineral” makeup clones on the market now — is that many of the “minerals” are actually finely finely ground metals and metal derivatives. Bismuth, iron oxides, titanium dioxide, stuff like that. Which is why, personally, I continue to be baffled as to how aggressively these kinds of makeups get marketed to people with sensitive skin. Sensitive skin types need to stick with foundations clearly labeled as hypo-allergenic, like Almay or Clinique. Mineral foundations are NOT hypo-allergenic, and I think the high number of reactions you hear about it simply because the stuff is being promoted and marketed to the wrong audience. (And don’t even get me started on the “BareVitamins” moisturizer that comes bundled in the starter kits, which is mostly salicylic and glycolic acids, and I think that little fact should be made MUCH CLEARER for dry- or sensitive-skin users.)
I’ve never classified my skin as sensitive when it comes to cosmetics — I’m classic combination, prone to an oily t-zone, blackheads and dry patches on my cheeks. I don’t get many bona-fide zits anymore, but my complexion is FAR from even-toned, so I really do need a decent amount of help from my foundation in order to look even and fresh-faced. And while I’ve been happy with my liquid foundation (Sue Devitt’s oil-free seaweed foundations — which are 70% water, extremely gentle and light, never made me break out AND did a decent job of hiding my splotches without ever looking cakey), I admit that I finally just HAD to see what the fuss was all about with Bare Minerals and purchased the starter kits.
While my face has never been particularly sensitive, I DO have skin allergies — although never from cosmetics! Think cheap jewelry. Nickel. Iron. Steel. And (this is weird) cold weather — I have cold urticaria, which means I get hives and other reddish irritations from the wind or sudden cool-downs on the surface of my skin (so I also get hives when my own sweat hits my skin).
So really, it was probably dumb for someone like me to even try Bare Minerals, especially after getting SO MANY STORIES from readers who experienced less-than-awesome reactions to it. But the mineral makeup is very much love it or hate it. For people with ivory, pinkish or freckled complexions, switching from liquid to loose, multi-faceted foundation can be life-changing. I imagine it would be fabulous for young, 20-something skin that just wants a touch of tint without a lot of coating. Plus, its crazy popularity means I naturally get tons of questions about it, and I figured I needed to try it out first-hand.
So I did. Like you, the first day or two were fine, reaction-wise. Although I honestly didn’t love the makeup — I couldn’t seem to apply it without spilling a fine coating of powder all over my bathroom counter, and I felt like I needed to use a LOT more than the video demos suggested. It felt kind of heavy on my face and settled into my fine lines and was really, really shiny by mid-day. If I applied less I could avoid the settling and the shine, but then I wasn’t really getting the kind of coverage I wanted — it was just like I’d used a pressed powder compact instead of real foundation, and that’s a makeup move I haven’t been able to get away with since high school. I also disliked what a MESS it always seemed to make, but that’s mostly my fault, because I’m more of a “sweep everything haphazardly in a drawer” girl and I forget to GENTLY set the makeup upright somewhere, thus I always have fourteen tons of excess on top of the sifter that poofs all over the place when I open it.
After a couple days I felt like I’d achieved more of a middle ground with the application (using a foundation primer first helped with the shine/slipping into wrinkles thing quite a bit), but…by this point I could no longer ignore the fact that my skin was ANGRY. I started noticing red patches on my cheeks and forehead, and my face had this vague itchy feeling a lot of the time. When I removed the makeup at night, I would get hives.
And then the really disturbing thing happened — the skin on my fingers started to crack and peel off in chunks. This is my cheap-jewelry allergy, which I first noticed in high school. Kind of like a form of contact dermatitis, with a weird eczema-like twist. I once got the specific kind of allergy/eczema diagnosed from a dermatologist, but I can’t really remember it anymore. Not that it matters — there isn’t much to do about it except avoid triggers, wash and moisturize my hands religiously, and apply topical cortisone cream when it gets really vicious.
And this reaction was indeed vicious. My fingers swelled, cracked, flaked and bled. I stopped using Bare Minerals and within three or four days my hands cleared up. A little more timid experimentation revealed that the Mineral Veil powder was the primary source of the reaction and responsible for the itchy feeling and hives on my face. I could use the other powders occasionally just fine, but if I wore it for several days in a row I’d pay for it with cracked finger skin for sure. (Weirdly, I could use the eye makeup without any problems — although I really only use it as eyeliner now, so we’re talking very small quantities.)
The redness and itchy feeling are probably the most common reactions I’ve heard from readers — some seem to get better after awhile, while others’ reactions get worse with regular use like mine did. It does sound like you had a mild reaction to the makeup, but no, I wouldn’t chuck the whole kit out based on one flare-up, which could realistically been caused by something else and was just a coincidence. Try using the makeup without the Mineral Veil (a “finishing powder,” which seemed to be just your average translucent loose powder to me, nothing special), or try applying a little less. And WASH THE BRUSHES.
If, however, you’ve had allergies to cheap metal jewelry in the past, or are prone to hives or other serious allergic reactions (think respiratory epi-pen type things), stop using it. Not worth it. Contact Sephora’s online customer service or Bare Minerals directly to see if you can arrange a return.
Since the Bare Minerals fiasco, I’ve tried a few other light foundation alternatives with some success. (The pregnancy “glow” has temporarily evened my skin tone out so I don’t need quite so much coverage.)
supernatural.jpgFirst up, Philosophy’s Supernatural mineral makeup. I originally planned on doing a head-to-head comparison of a bunch of different mineral makeups, but obviously nixed that idea fairly quickly. But I’d already purchased this one. Which, at first glance, is very similar to Bare Minerals. (Zinc, bismuth, iron oxides, etc.) So I was very hesitant to try it. I don’t know if it’s a different formulation or what, but I did not have AS strong a reaction to this stuff. I can’t use it everyday (the finger thing happens), but I think the packaging prevents you from using as much as the swirl-tap-buff application of the other mineral makeups. That said, this AIN’T for girls who want full coverage. If you want to really use this as an honest-to-God foundation, you’ll need to disassemble the spongey top and go in there with a foundation brush. (The spongey top also needs regular washing, which is annoying, but it gets gross and clogged if you don’t.) I like the built-in SPF and the lack of mess (you can TRAVEL with it! no little sifters to remove or tape over!), and would recommend this for anyone looking for VERY light coverage, especially if you already use mineral makeup but are looking to speed up your morning application routine.
And then there’s also Benefit’s Some Kind-A Gorgeous, which is…well. I’m not sure what it is. It’s a foundation faker. At first glance, it looks like stage greasepaint makeup, but it’s actually oil-free and feels like a powder once you’ve put it on your face. It’s only available in two shades (light and dark, take your pick), but is very sheer and natural-looking that I’d put this in the “plus” column, especially if you’re the type who gets intimidated when trying to pick the right shade of makeup from dozens of slightly-different bottles. It also makes a great eyelid base.
For anyone looking for a really good really real foundation, let me repeat (for what feels like the zillionth time) that Sue Devitt’s seaweed gel foundation is fantastic. It’s not like other liquid foundations at all — super light, won’t clog your pores, easy to remove and the whipped gel-like texture makes application (whether you use a brush or just your fingers) a total snap. There are two variations on this foundation — the stuff in a tall pump and the . The pump is the lighter option, while the tub offers fuller coverage. Infuriatingly, Sephora has stopped offering the brand in stores and online, but it is available many other places, from to Amazon.

Published July 24, 2008. Last updated July 24, 2008.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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