One of my favourite questions that I often get via e-mail is “I would love to make all my own make-up—what on earth should I be buying?” Awesome! I love to hear that you’re interested in making all the colourful powders you used to buy. You’ll have tons of fun, you’ll get exactly what you want, and you’ll ditch heaps of packaging. That’s fantastic.


And yes, I understand that all the various ingredients that you can buy are numerous, confusing, and potentially quite expensive. So! Here is my guide to which ingredients do what, which ones you ought to have, and how much you should be paying for them. (Before you read this, check out my entry on the different properties the different cosmetics have—I know you’ll find it most useful).

(You will likely find you need some of the ingredients I talk about here as well.)

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Titanium Dioxide—both oil & water-soluble
Expect to pay ~$15/kg

Titanium dioxide is a light, fluffy, white powder (500g is approximately a cubic liter of the loose powder). It appears in a lot of recipes because it is responsible for brightness and opacity. As you can probably guess, it’s a wonderfully versatile ingredient. In soap, it works beautifully to whiten and brighten bars. In face powders, blushes, and eye shadows it gives you a bright, opaque base to build other colours on top of—it is the canvas for your concealers, your tone eveners, and whatever else you like. It is the “white-out” of cosmetics. From here you can go anywhere, as it were.

Titanium dioxide is something I would definitely recommend having on hand. It is available in both water and oil soluble/dispersible versions. For powdered cosmetics it doesn’t really matter which one you get. It should be quite inexpensive, so if you have the option of getting a relatively small amount (~100g) of each from the same supplier, I’d recommend that. Otherwise, I would choose oil soluble first as it is useful for soaps and any solely oil-based cosmetics (like my Brightlighter) that need it.

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Zinc Oxide
Expect to pay ~$9/kg

Zinc Oxide performs the same role as Titanium Dioxide, except it is insoluble in both water and oil. I haven’t noticed that it performs significantly differently than Titanium Dioxide in powdered cosmetics, but I sure like it in some creams and masks (zinc oxide is the active ingredient in diaper cream). Worth getting, I suppose—at least it’s pretty inexpensive, and 500g will last ages.

13-09-20-pic05Magnesium Stearate
Expect to pay ~$3/100g

This moderately clumpy white stuff is all about slip. If you rub a bit between your fingers you will find it to be surprisingly creamy and smooth—not at all like titanium dioxide. It’s pretty cool, actually. A small amount of it gives face powders and eye shadows a delightfully creamy, smooth feel. It is oil soluble and melts at 120°C, so I include it in both powder recipes (like eye shadow and mineral make-up) and oil based recipes (like lipstick and brightlighter).

Since it is both so useful and so cheap, I’d definitely recommend having magnesium stearate in your cosmetics cupboard.


Iron Oxides
Expect to pay ~$3.50/30g

Unless you are both albino and colour blind, you’ll find that you want a wide assortment of iron oxides—they are what give you colour! I’d recommend starting with the primary colours (red, yellow, and blue), plus black and brown, as that will give you most everything you could want (yay for elementary school colour theory).

Iron oxides are powders, and you will find a little goes quite a long way (as such many of my recipes contain rather imprecise measurements like “pinches” and “specks”). Depending on the colour you will pay $3–5/30g, but that generally amounts to approximately ¼ cup of the powder, and when it is measured out in quarters to thirty-seconds of a teaspoon, you’ll find that will last you ages.

These should be very cheap—check your local Asian or bulk bins grocer first

Starches are bulking agents—corn, wheat, arrowroot, rice, potato, tapioca, or whatever else you have access to. They are inert, translucent, and relatively unremarkable. I use them to dilute the opacity of titanium dioxide and/or the vibrancy of iron oxides.

They are both cheap and useful, so there is no reason not to keep one or two around. I regard one starch as much the same as any other, so simply choose one or two that you have easy and inexpensive access to (and are not sensitive to), and keep them on hand. You will likely find them quite useful in cooking as well.


Expect to pay $10–$14/500g

I love clays—they are like iron oxides’ cheaper, more versatile cousins, but married with the starches. They provide both colour and body, while contributing beneficial minerals and detoxing effects.

While available in fewer colours than oxides (generally restricted to white, brown, and the pinks/reds), they are fantastic in nearly everything. I use French Red for dry shampoo, lipstick, and blush. Australian Reef Red makes a beautiful lipstick, eyeliner, blush, and mascara. I love ultrafine zeolite for its proximity to my skin tone, making it a beautiful base for face powders and concealer (I’m sure you can find a clay, or combination of clays, that matches your skin tone). Australian black clay is great for eyeliners and mascaras. Kaolin, in all its white, pasty glory, makes a great semi-opaque filler than can be coloured as desired with iron oxides.

While clays are generally more expensive in the initial investment as they often aren’t sold in units smaller than 500g, you’ll find they offer more bang for your buck than oxides (especially the Australian clays, which are highly pigmented). I can’t recommend having clays around enough. Start with kaolin (the white one) and a clay that matches your skin tone. Add a red or pink one if you’re interested in lipstick and/or blush, and go from there as the addiction takes over (don’t say I didn’t warn you!).


Liquid Oils
Prices vary wildly

Most powdered make-up recipes will call for a few drops of a liquid oil to complete them. Jojoba oil (~$40/L) is usually the most popular choice as it is technically a liquid wax and therefore has a very long shelf life. You can really use any oil you like here as long as it isn’t highly volatile (prone to expire in no time flat). The oil mostly adds a bit of moisture to the final product (which definitely improves the feel of it) and keep the final product from being so dusty that you inhale more of it than you apply. It also contributes some of its nourishing properties to the final product.


Expect to pay ~$14/10g

This bright red colourant is derived from the shells of beetles. Grimace all you like, you’ve likely used it in a wide variety of products without your knowledge for most of your life (it’s frequently masked by a “natural colourants” label in ingredient lists). I figure if you’ll swat a fly or squash a mosquito (as I certainly will—I vacation in Manitoba!), you should be totally a-ok with using carmine. Anyhow, this delightfully potent red colourant is really only uniquely useful for one thing, and that’s lip stain. It’s water soluble, meaning you can use clays or oxides just as easily (and far more cheaply) in lipsticks. It is, however, the only thing I have found that will work for lip stain—and I have tried a lot of alternatives, from oxides, to clays, to beetroot and rosehip extracts. Carmine is, quite seriously, the only thing that will work that isn’t a coal tar derived dye. So, if you like lip stain, buy carmine. Otherwise, you can use something else.


Expect to pay $3.50–$5.50/30g

If you like a bit of sparkle and shimmer in your final products, you’ll need some micas! They come in a wide variety of colours, but the easiest/cheapest thing to do is to buy silver, and then colour it with your oxides.


Sericite Mica
Expect to pay$2.50/30g

Sericite mica isn’t quite the same thing as straight up micas—it isn’t crazy glitter sparkly. It’s used as a diffuser in powdered products. That is, it diffuses the light around your skin to slightly blur it, disguising imperfections without smothering them. It’s a must have!

Did I miss anything? What’s your favourite cosmetics ingredient?