Ultramarines

What is it? Ultramarines are a synthesized pigment made from ingredients like kaolin clay and sulfur. The original blue pigment was ground from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, making it extremely expensive, and we’ve been synthesizing it since the early 1800s.
INCI Ultramarines
Appearance Vibrant fine pigments available in bright blue, lavender, and purple.
Usage rate I haven’t been able to find a maximum usage level. These pigments are very potent, though, so I can’t imagine you needing more than 50% for most cosmetics.
Texture Fine powder
Scent Generally nothing noticeable, though it can be sulfur-y in high-pH environments
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in formulations? As pigments, for colour.
Do you need it? No, though if you are making cosmetics and want more natural bright blues and purples they are your only option.
Strengths Strong, vibrant pigments that are generally considered natural.
Weaknesses The blue in particular can be difficult to blend into formulas.
Alternatives & Substitutions Lake dyes are the only alternative for such bright, potent pigments.
How to Work with It Include in the grinding phase for powdered cosmetics or blend into melted creamy bases.

Ultramarine is not approved for lip use in the USA, but it is in the EU.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, ultramarine pigments should last at least five years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Due to the sulfur used in the manufcature of ultramarines they can develop an eggy scent if used in products with a pH above 6.
Recommended starter amount 10g (0.35oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Ultramarines

Sodium chloride (salt)

What is it? Good ol’ salt! The variety you’re likely the most familiar with is table salt, but sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, and many other salts are basically just sodium chloride (NaCl).
INCI Sodium chloride
Appearance It can vary; generally crystalline, but there’s a lot of different size and shape possibilities. You can also purchase different colours of salt, like pink Himalayan salt and black salt.
Usage rate Up to 100%
Texture It varies; very coarse to fine crystals.
Scent Little to none.
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? Salt can play several roles in our skin care products. It can be used as an exfoliant, included in bath soaks, and used to thicken some surfactant blends. You’ll find it in hair mists for texturizing the hair. It does function as a humectant, but the skin feel can be sticky. Larger grain and/or colourful salts can also be beautiful decorative elements. In high enough concentrations it can inhibit microbial growth, but we rarely use it at concentrations this high.
Do you need it? No, but you probably already have it!
Refined or unrefined? It depends what you’re looking for; I have table salt, large grain salt, and Himalayan pink salt.
Strengths Inexpensive, readily available.
Weaknesses Salt is very rich in electrolytes and can compromise anything that is electrolyte sensitive.
Alternatives & Substitutions As an exfoliant granulated sugar can be a good alternative. For bath salts, Epsom salts are a good alternative. For thickening surfactant blends you can try Crothix or a gum like HEC.
How to Work with It Include as directed in the recipe (it can vary a lot depending on the reason for use). Can be hot or cold processed.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, salt should last indefinitely.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Try mixing equal parts fine grain salt and liquid oil for a simple body scrub.
Recommended starter amount 100g (3.3oz)—more if you are making bath salts
Where to Buy it Buy it from your local grocery store or Amazon. You might want to turn to a DIY supplier for more affordable versions of fancy salts like Himalayan pink sea salt.

Some Formulations that Use Salt

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 formulations? 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 Formulations 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 formulations? 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 if it going to be whipped up/aerosolized.
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 Formulations 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 formulations? 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 Formulations that Use Magnesium Stearate

Activated Charcoal

What is it? Activated charcoal is a form of charcoal that’s been treated to have an incredibly high amount of surface area. It can be made from various types of ash, including bamboo and hardwood.
INCI Charcoal
Appearance Fine black powder.
Usage rate I rarely use it above 1% due to how messy it is.
Texture Fine, mildly gritty.
Scent None
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in formulations? First and foremost, activated charcoal is very black—so you better want a black end product! It works well to colour soaps, scrubs, facial polishes, masks, and more. It is also a mild physical exfoliant.

Activated charcoal also has quite a lot of almost mythology-level lore around its ability to detox. LabMuffin has a fantastic post on this and I would highly recommend reading it! The general gist of it is that it might be a better cleanser than other things, and it’s likely not harmful.

There are a lot of recipes online for activated charcoal mascara—please do not make mascara (or other eye makeup) with activated charcoal! Activated charcoal is not an eye-safe pigment.

Do you need it? No
Strengths Very black, very trendy.
Weaknesses Activated charcoal is really messy, and it is unlikely to be as magical as some sources claim.
Alternatives & Substitutions If you just need something to be black, black iron oxide is a good option. You won’t need as much of it to get the effect, though, as black iron oxide is even more potent.

If you’re using it as a mild exfoliant, a clay like kaolin would be a good alternative.

How to Work with It Include it in the heated or cool down phase of a recipe. It is not heat sensitive.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, activated charcoal should last indefinitely.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks “It’s estimated that 1 gram of activated charcoal has a surface area of 3000 square metres, which is the same as 3 Olympic swimming pools, 7 basketball courts or 230 car parking spaces.” –LabMuffin
Recommended starter amount 30g (1oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Activated Charcoal