Bismuth Oxychloride – What is it and is it Safe?

In today’s day and age, many people are choosing to go as “natural” as possible in regards to food, household products, and health and beauty items. This is a worthwhile endeavor, as switching to non-toxic substances can be quite beneficial to one’s health and overall well-being. However, in some cases consumers may be finding themselves spending more time and money than necessary in their efforts to avoid certain products deemed “unnatural” and therefore unsafe. This does indeed seem to be the case when it comes to the controversy over bismuth oxychloride, a chemical compound taking quite a bit of heat from opponents though it is found as a harmless ingredient in a variety of cosmetics.

In fact, bismuth oxychloride can be found on the ingredient list of cosmetics ranging from nail polish to bronzers to blush and eyeshadow. But where it is found in highest concentration levels, and therefore meeting the most controversy, is in mineral powders. Bismuth oxychloride is a synthetically-prepared powder created from bismuth, oxygen and chlorine that is used in cosmetics because of its abilities to create a white pigment, shimmery look, and silky feel in addition to its exceptional ability to adhere to the skin.

Though it is synthetically prepared, bismuth oxychloride is derived from natural elements. Everyone should be familiar with oxygen and chlorine, chlorine being approved for use up to certain concentration levels in numerous products, including cosmetics, so the element in question is bismuth. Bismuth is a natural metal, number 83 on the periodic table. It is actually the only non-toxic heavy metal, and thereby approved for use as a color additive in cosmetics by the U.S. FDA.

So, if bismuth oxychloride has been approved for use in cosmetics, why all the contention? Well, there are two main issues that opponents like to raise. First, bismuth appears in the same family of elements as arsenic, and thus “resembles” it. Obviously no-one wants to be putting a “relative” of arsenic on their face, but this is a ridiculous claim at the face of it. Nitrogen is just as closely related to arsenic, but the gas is a part of our atmosphere and we breath it every day with no ill effects.

The second concern touted by opposers of the compound is that they’ve read in Material Safety Data Sheets that bismuth oxychloride can cause irritation of the skin. This is an unlikely event that is probably worsened by the fact that mineral powders can irritate the skin sometimes anyway, regardless of inclusion of bismuth oxychloride. Add to that the fact that many users of powder foundations reapply the powders multiple times per day in order to “freshen up,” and there is bound to be redness or irritation by those who already have skin sensitivity. If there is a problem, the easy solution to this problem is for those with sensitive skin to either avoid foundations containing bismuth oxychloride or reduce the number of applications per day, but it is important to keep in mind that it may not be the bismuth oxychloride to which one is sensitive. Mica and other compounds found in cosmetics are also known to cause irritation to sensitive skin. Just because a small group of people have a mild reaction to a compound does not mean it should be outlawed- if we were to do that we may as well kill all stinging bees, for surely the great danger they pose some people outweighs the usefulness of their pollination.

As it is approved by the FDA, cosmetic users and consumers will most likely continue to see bismuth oxychloride on the list of ingredients found on many makeup labels. It is up to each individual whether or not she will continue to purchase products found with the compound. Those with sensitive skin may want to avoid it, and those who truly want to be all-natural will probably continue to find fault with the ingredient as even though it is derived from natural elements, it is produced synthetically. Regardless, the vast majority of cosmetic consumers can confidently purchase products containing bismuth oxychloride, knowing that it is not only a preferred ingredient by a number of cosmetics manufacturers due to its numerous positive attributes, but more importantly, it is perfectly safe to be used as an ingredient in the products put on one’s face on a daily basis.

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