A makeup chemist is a cosmetic chemist who focuses on creating color cosmetics.  They face the same issues as personal care product formulators, but they need to know about slightly different ingredients.  Here are the main categories of cosmetic raw materials that you need to know before you can be an expert makeup chemist.

Makeup Colorants

These are the ingredients that give your formulas color.  In the United States, these ingredients are highly regulated by the FDA and there are only certain ones that are allowed.  This is also true in the UK and Japan.  Of all the cosmetic ingredients, colorants are the most highly regulated.  You can see this FDA Cosmetics page for the basics about color additives and their use.   But the regulatory stuff only helps so far.  Here is some specific science information that will be helpful to makeup chemists.

There are two primary types of colorants Inorganic (or Mineral) pigments and Organic pigments.  Here’s what you need to know.

Inorganic Mineral pigments

Inorganic pigments found naturally around the Earth are primarily composed of compounds from transition metals.  Color is a result of the outer electrons that can absorb visible light and get promoted to a higher energy level.  Here is a partial list of the more important inorganic colorants.

Iron Oxides – These include the colors Red, Brown, Black and Yellow which can be blended to make most any shade.

Chromium Oxide – This is a green color

Ultramarines – These can give you a blue violet or pink color.

Titanium Dioxide / Zinc Oxide – When you need a white pigment, these are the best.  It also provides some UV protection.

Inorganic pigments are generally more opaque and solvent resistant.  They are also not as bright as organic pigments.

Organic pigments

These ingredients are organic molecules that have a chromophoric group like N=N, C=O, or C=S.    They have different levels of solubility in various solvents.  The primary groups include the following.

AZO colorants – These are the basis for a number of Red and Yellow colors.

Triarylmethane – This is the basis for Blue and Green colors

Xanthenes – This material is a staining dye which can provide Red or Orange colors.

Anthraquinone – A green colorant

Natural Colorants – There are also a number of natural dyes that do not have the same regulatory restrictions as the Organic and Inorganic dyes.  These include things like Cochineal (beetle shells), Caramel, Cartenoids, etc.   The biggest problem with these types of dyes is that they have limited stability and can also exhibit strong odors.  They provide a great challenge to the “natural” cosmetic formulator.


Fillers ingredients (or filler pigments) have the primary job of extending the main pigments so you get the color and even coverage that you want.  Makeup would be awful if it were blotchy and unnatural looking.  Fillers can sometimes be in the formulas a higher percentage than the primary pigment.  The main fillers to know include the following.

Talc – A mineral found all over the world.  It’s also an ingredient that is much maligned as it’s been associated with asbestos.  Not to worry, the talc used in the cosmetic industry is high quality and there is no evidence that it is hazardous to health under normal use.

Mica – This is potassium aluminum silicate and is a bit more translucent than talc.  Sericite is a type of mica that has properties in between Mica and Talc.

There are other specialty fillers but you can get most formulas done using either Talc or Mica so you can focus on them.

Formulation finishers

There are a few things put in makeup that you’ll frequently find in other personal care products.  These include preservatives, fragrance, emulsifiers, claims ingredients, etc.  It really depends on the type of formula you are making and in a later article we will go through the specifics.

Creating makeup formulations pose a special challenge because color matching can be quite challenging especially since the pigments vary in shade from batch to batch.  Perhaps in a  future article we’ll have our resident expert color matcher give some of her tips.


Perry Romanowski has over 18 years experience formulating products to solve consumer problems in the personal care and cosmetic industry. His primary focus has been on hair & hair related products. He is also an author who has published extensively about the field of cosmetic science. He is currently Vice President of Brains Publishing which specializes in science education. Perry received his B.S. in Chemistry from DePaul University. He has written and edited numerous articles and books, teaches Society of Cosmetic Chemists continuing education classes in cosmetic science, and is the primary author at ChemistsCorner.com a website dedicated to training current and future cosmetic scientists. His latest book project is the third edition of Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry published by Allured. Perry can be reached through his website ChemistsCorner where he is available for consulting about cosmetic formulating, testing, and Internet solutions.

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