Silica Microspheres

What is it? Silica microspheres is an “an amorphous hydrated silica” in a microsphere (super tiny ball) format. Silica is a naturally occurring mineral found in everything from granite to sand.
INCI Silicon Dioxide
Appearance Very fine white powder.
Usage rate 1–15%, up to 100% (watch for the product being too drying)
Texture Incredibly soft and smooth with a silky, dry finish.
Scent Nothing noticeable.
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in recipes? Because they’re magic, basically. Silica microspheres improve slip, reduce the oily feel of products, and help improve the appearance of the skin by diffusing light for a real-life airbrushing effect.

I use silica microspheres in a lot of eye makeup formulas because they improve the slip/glide of the product and help with oil control, which helps improve wear time.

I include silica microspheres in cream cosmetics and oil serums because they give the end product a beautiful dry-touch finish that is incredibly luxurious and feels very expensive. Try blending a drop or two of oil with a tiny sprinkle of silica microspheres and rubbing that into your hand to see what I mean!

I love silica microspheres in all kinds of cosmetics for oil absorption, light diffusion, and improved slip.

Do you need it? If you want to make colour cosmetics I highly recommend owning some silica microspheres.
Refined or unrefined? Silica microspheres only exist as a refined product.
Strengths Extremely effective oil absorption, light diffusion, and improved slip.
Weaknesses They can be hard to find in some parts of the world, and may be too drying for some skin types.
Alternatives & Substitutions Silica microspheres are hard to substitute well. Sericite mica can be a decent alternative, but it is not nearly as oil absorbent so if the recipe relies on the silica microspheres for a dry-touch finish that likely won’t be present. Calcium carbonate has similar oil absorbing properties, but the pH is much higher so it isn’t a good choice for eye products. Calcium carbonate also has none of the light dispersion/blurring properties of silica microspheres.
How to Work with It Wear a dust mask! Silica microspheres are very lightweight and prone to floating around and being inhaled.

Stir or hand-mash into powdered cosmetics after you are done using your coffee grinder; grinding silica microspheres compromises their teensy sphere-ness. Silica microspheres can also be stirred into hot or cold liquid cosmetics that won’t be ground.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry,
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks In my book, Make it Up, feel free to replace calcium carbonate with silica microspheres in any recipe for a better end result. I used silica microspheres sparingly in the book as they can be very expensive in some parts of the world, but if you have an ample supply I think you’ll enjoy the swap!

Some companies sell straight silica microspheres as an expensive setting powder—check your ingredient labels!

Recommended starter amount 30g (1oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Silica Microspheres

Magnesium Myristate

What is it? Magnesium Myristate is the salt of magnesium and myristic acid (a fatty acid that naturally occurs in palm and coconut oils).
INCI Magnesium Myristate
Appearance Fine white powder
Usage rate Typically 5–10% for loose powders. For creamy cosmetics and binding powders for pressing you’ll need to use it at higher rates.
Texture Magnesium Myristate is surprisingly creamy when handled—it has a wonderful, rich slip when rubbed between the fingers.
Scent Nothing much—perhaps a bit fatty or waxy.
Approximate Melting Point 130–150°C (266–302°F)
Solubility Oil, warm alcohol
Why do we use it in recipes? Magnesium Myristate gives our colour cosmetics both slip and adhesion—I find it provides more adhesion than the more readily available magnesium stearate. It can also used as a binding ingredient when pressing powders, but I tend to choose magnesium stearate over magnesium myristate for pressing as stearate is more readily available.
Do you need it? I highly recommend it if you want to make your own makeup—especially if you want to make items like eyeliner that have higher adhesion requirements than something like blush.
Refined or unrefined? Magnesium Myristate only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Excellent ingredient for increasing slip and adhesion/wear time in colour cosmetics—especially in more challenging products like eyeliners and lipsticks.
Weaknesses It is harder to acquire than magnesium stearate.
Alternatives & Substitutions You could try zinc stearate or magnesium stearate, but you will need to re-test the formula for performance and wear time.
How to Work with It Blend it in with the other powders in powdered cosmetics. In cream cosmetics it can be stirred into the oil phase. As with all fine powders, be sure to wear a dust mask.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, magnesium myristate should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Try incorporating a small amount of magnesium myristate into a recipe for colour cosmetics that could use better wear time—it works incredibly well!
Recommended starter amount 30g (3oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Magnesium Myristate

Magnesium Myristate is a very commonly used ingredient in my book, Make it Up.

Magnesium Stearate

What is it? Magnesium Stearate is the salt of magnesium and stearic acid.
INCI Magnesium Stearate
Appearance Fine white powder
Usage rate Typically 5–10% for loose powders. For creamy cosmetics and binding powders for pressing you’ll need to use it at higher rates.
Texture Magnesium Stearate is surprisingly creamy when handled—it has a wonderful, rich slip when rubbed between the fingers.
Scent Nothing much—perhaps a bit “fatty”
Approximate Melting Point 130°C (266°F)
Solubility Oil, warm alcohol
Why do we use it in recipes? Magnesium Stearate gives our colour cosmetics both slip and adhesion. It is also used as a binding ingredient when pressing powders.
Do you need it? Magnesium Stearate is essential if you are making your own makeup.
Refined or unrefined? Magnesium Stearate only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Excellent, inexpensive ingredient for increasing slip and adhesion/wear time in colour cosmetics.
Weaknesses I can’t think of any!
Alternatives & Substitutions You could try zinc stearate or magnesium myristate, but you will need to re-test the formula for performance and wear time. I do not recommend eliminating this ingredient as both slip and adhesion are crucial to the success of colour cosmetics.
How to Work with It Blend it in with the other powders in powdered cosmetics. In cream cosmetics it can be melted into the oil phase, but I’ve also found if that it incorporates well if pre-ground with the other powders and stirred into the creamy base.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, magnesium stearate should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Stearic acid is almost always vegetable derived, but it is possible to source it from animal fats as well. Double check with your supplier if they don’t state the origin—that said, I have never found magnesium stearate made with animal-derived stearic acid.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Magnesium Stearate

Sericite Mica

What is it? Sericite mica is a semi-sheer fine grey-white powder that is hydrated potassium alumina silicate. It is commonly found in cosmetics thanks to its airbrushing and adhesion properties.
INCI Mica (CI 77019)
Appearance Fine grey-white powder
Usage rate Up to 100%
Texture Soft, smooth powder
Scent Slightly dusty
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in recipes? Sericite mica plays many roles in cosmetic formulations. It diffuses the appearance of light, giving the skin a more airbrushed appearance and making makeup appear more life-like. It absorbs oil relatively well and helps boost adhesion. It is also used to improve slip and dilute pigments.
Do you need it? If you want to make makeup, sericite mica is essential.
Strengths Sericite mica is an excellent, inexpensive ingredient that plays many important roles in cosmetics.
Weaknesses Some people are allergic to mica and will need to avoid sericite mica.
Alternatives & Substitutions If at all possible I really don’t recommend substituting out sericite mica. If you have to, consider a combination of white kaolin clay or a starch (corn, arrowroot, wheat, etc.) with some silica microspheres. The clay or starch will provide the bulk while the silica microspheres contribute to airbrushing and additional oil control. Keep in mind that silica microspheres should not go through a coffee grinder, so they will need to be added after grinding is complete. Silica microspheres are significantly more oil absorbent than sericite mica—to the point of being quite drying—so do not substitute silica microspheres for all of the sericite mica in a recipe.
How to Work with It Include in the ground portion of a powdered recipe or blend into a melted oil base in creamy products.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, sericite mica should last indefinitely.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Sericite mica is available as a plain product or with a variety of coatings or surface treatments (like magnesium myristate, lauroyl lysine, or various waxes). Make sure you are using the variety called for in the recipe. If nothing is specified, assume plain sericite mica.
Recommended starter amount 100g (3.3oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier.

Some Recipes that Use Sericite Mica

Titanium Dioxide

What is it? Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is the naturally occurring oxide of titanium.
Appearance Bright white powder
Texture A dry, dusty, relatively fine powder.
Scent Nothing remarkable, perhaps a bit dust-like
Solubility You can purchase both a water dispersible and an oil dispersible version, with the oil version being significantly more useful for most DIY applications (especially cosmetics).
Why do we use it in recipes? It brings wonderful opacity and brightness, and helps boost adhesion in cosmetics.
Do you need it? If you want to make cosmetics, absolutely. Zinc oxide will not do!
Refined or unrefined? You’ll want non-micronized oil dispersible titanium dioxide.
Strengths Its opacity, coverage, and adhesion are unrivalled. It’s very versatile in cosmetics.
Weaknesses It’s a bit difficult to blend into oil bases without pre-grinding it.
Alternatives & Substitutions None, in the vast majority of circumstances. If a soap recipe calls for a bit of titanium dioxide to whiten it you can probably get away with zinc oxide instead, but in any sort of cosmetic application, if titanium dioxide is what the recipe calls for, use titanium dioxide.
How to Work with It It’s a must-have in cosmetics, and great for making white soap. As with all fine powders, use a dust mask when working with it to avoid inhaling it.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, the shelf life of titanium dioxide is indefinite.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks It’s a key ingredient in many sunscreens, but DO NOT make your own sunscreen!
Recommended starter amount 100g (3.3oz) or less. If you’re just making makeup you could probably get away with half that—you’ll use more for soap.
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Titanium Dioxide

Zinc Oxide

What is it? A naturally occurring, slightly clumpy, inorganic white powder.
Appearance A dry, mildly clumpy powder.
Texture Dry, and a relatively fine powder (but not silky smooth). A bit chalky to the touch.
Scent Nothing remarkable. A bit dusty.
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in recipes? In cosmetics for opacity, in masks and salves for soothing and anti-chafing properties.
Do you need it? If you want to make makeup, calamine, or diaper cream, it’s essential. Otherwise it’s easy to do without.
Strengths Anti-chafing, astringent, soothing.
Weaknesses The opacity and adhesion isn’t great, so even though lots of people try to use it as an alternative for titanium dioxide in cosmetics, it doesn’t work.
Alternatives & Substitutions In most things where zinc oxide is called for you can’t swap it for anything else. It is not a good alternative for titanium dioxide in cosmetics due to its inferior coverage.
How to Work with It I love it in some cosmetics, anti-chafing powders, and calamine anything. As with all fine powders, use a dust mask to avoid inhaling it. Don’t combine it with flax oil as that can create an exothermic reaction that might ignite.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, zinc oxide has an indefinite shelf life.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Zinc oxide is the key anti-irritation ingredient in calamine lotion and baby cream.
Recommended starter amount 100g (3.3oz)
Where to Buy it Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Zinc Oxide

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