The Chemistry of Eyeshadow


Eyeshadow is a form of cosmetics mainly found in a packed powder form or in some cases a dense liquid. It comes in all colors and grades to accentuate the eyes or can be used for special effects. Eyeshadow is not meant to be eaten so it doesn’t have a food label, but typically it does have an ingredients label since different palettes and companies don’t usually share the exact same ingredients. Typically they commonly use the same type of ingredients though, as in base fillers, binders, slip, preservatives, and in the case of a liquid oil is used. Which brings me back to why I chose eyeshadow of all things to do for this project. Makeup as whole has brightened my days, I know sounds cheesy right? But it is true, I don’t use it to cover up who I am as a female but to inspire myself to be creative everyday. What better subject to research than something that does inspire you or make you happy but also with using cosmetics I became interested in what I was actually putting on my skin.Composition of ...

    1. Base fillers
      1. Talc
      2. Kaolin clay
      3. Mica
    2. Binders
      1. Zinc
      2. Magnesium
    3. Slip
      1. Silica
      2. Nylon
      3. Dimethicone
      4. Boron Nitride
      5. Bismuth Oxychloride
    4. Preservatives
      1. Glycol
      2. Tocopherol

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Base fillers add bulk and texture as the name implies but it also can control the application behavior, coverage, thickness and compressibility. Most eyeshadow powders are made up of 30% filler and cream shadows are 25%. The three main base fillers used are talc, Kaolin clay, and Mica. The powdered talc is from the soft mineral talc found all over the world mined as a valuable mineral, only the highest grade talc is used though. After taken out of the earth it is crushed then milled into a powder, it is considered an inert ingredient meaning it doesn’t cause a chemical reaction. Kaolin clay comes from the mineral Kaolinite which is an aluminum silicate formed from the decomposition of minerals. It was originally discovered in China for pottery but is now mined all over. Mica is all silicate minerals which leads to 37 different kinds which comes from a metamorphic rock called schist. It is mined in two different forms, sheet mica and flake mica, which both use hard rock mining, aka blasting and drilling, to get.

Binders act like an adhesive to your skin so the makeup stays attached. They are mainly made out of zinc and magnesium which are both white powders. Magnesium is absorbent, a pH adjuster, and a bulking agent while zinc is a skin protectant; they are both opacifying agents meaning they are not translucent. Zinc is naturally occuring in air, water, and soil; it is found most everywhere and is mined underground. Magnesium is naturally occuring and is obtained mainly by electrolysis of brine magnesium salts.

Slip allows the shadow or the cosmetic at hand to glide onto or across the skin smoothly and without crumbling up. Most companies use silica and nylon which are colorless and a fine powder. They are soft yet have a hard stabilization as well are commonly seen as lubricants. Silica or known as quartz sand is never found in its natural state but rather in a combination of oxygen as the silicate ion SiO4. It is found in rocks such as obsidian, granite, diorite, and sandstone. Nylon is a man made fiber using a process called polymerizing in which the chemicals amine, hexamethylenediamine, and adipic acid are used.

Preservatives insures that products stay bacteria free and hold their freshness past their usual life span. In eyeshadows glycol and tocopherol are commonly used to do this. Glycol has two different types overall, ethylene and propylene. Ethylene is from ethylene oxide and it is typically used in explosives and antifreeze while propylene is obtained from propylene oxide and is used in foods, cosmetics, and oral care since it is not harmful. Tocopherol is a naturally occurring antioxidant which comes from vegetable oil and is found in all food groups commonly known as vitamin E.

Chemistry's Role

Overall the main chemistry involved in the production of eyeshadows is knowing which ingredients to use and that mix well in combinations as well as what colored dyes will give the desired color.

Background Research

The first traces of eyeshadow goes back to ancient Egypt where it was used for religious ceremonies and daily life. They used a substance called kohl which reduced infection for medicine practices and glare from the sun. After brought into Greece and Rome eyeshadows soul purpose was to enhance looks and even was a way to tell what class of society you belonged to. Modern day eyeshadow comes the fashion revolution in the 1920’s in which chemists found a way to get rid of ingredients that gave unwanted effects such as irritation and hard removal.


      1. Eyeshadows start with a base filler, mainly talc, kaolin clay, or mica.
      2. Binders, used to adheres to your skin, are mainly zinc or magnesium.
      3. Slip, to make shadow glide easier, are not always used but when they are it mainly consists of silica, nylon, dimethicone, boron nitride, or bismuth oxychloride.
      4. Bacteria growth is prevented using preservatives such as glycol or tocopherol.
      5. Beeswax, castor oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, and silica are used to liquify shadows.
      1. Key ingredients to cosmetics are water, emulsifiers, preservatives, thickeners, moisturizers, colors, and fragrance.
        1. Emulsifiers keep unlike substances, like water and oil from seperating.
      2. Water is the main ingredient in most cosmetics.
      1. 1300 chemicals are banned from cosmetics in Europe while only 11 are banned in the US.
      2. The 10 toxic chemicals
        1. Carbon black has been linked to cancer and organ toxicity.
        2. Ethanolamine compounds can be contaminated with nitrosamines which are cancer causing. The labels are DEA, TEA and MEA for this product.
        3. Benzalkonium chloride (BAK) ruin the epithelial cells in the eyes which keeps out dust, water and bacteria out.
        4. Prime Yellow Carnauba Wax clogs the eyes oil glands causing dry eye disease.
        5. Formaldehyde cause allergic reactions and link to cancer.
        6. Parabens are easily transferred into the bloodstream causing reproductive toxicity, early puberty and breast cancer.
        7. Aluminum powder is a neurotoxin and linked to organ system toxicity.
        8. Retinyl acetate or palmitate are linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity.
        9. Heavy metals such as chrome and nickel are linked to brain damage, lung cancer, and respiratory concerns.
        10. Titanium dioxide is a possible carcinogen.
      1. Inorganic pigments are made up of transition metals due to their outer electrons absorption of light.
      2. Organic pigments are made of chromophoric groups.
      1. Color additives are organized under subject under certification, exempt from certification, straight color, and lake.
      2. All color additives are subjected to the same restrictions
      3. Color additives are not allowed in eye makeup unless specifically permitted.

About the Author

Kira Johnson is a high school student at Senior High in Billings, MT. She enjoys the gym along with her love for her furry friends and artistic abilities especially with makeup. She plans on going to an instate college where she hopes to get a degree in medicine or in teaching. Kira is intelligent, hardworking, determined, diligent, passionate, honest, insightful, and an independent individual who hopes to inspire others.