photo from http://www.artinaid.com
What the heck is silica? I’ve been getting this question a lot lately especially as people want to know more and more about what is in their beauty products. And as it seems with just about every other ingredient out there, there are mixed feelings about silica as well.
For starters, why do we even need silica in our products? According to Wikipedia, it’s used as an anti-caking agent in powder (that’s definitely a feature I want in my products. Cake goes in my belly not on my face). It can also be used in cosmetics for its light-diffusing properties (Glow on my skin? Yup, I want that too.) It can also absorb oil (Give me the glow without oily skin? Yes please!) So, you can see why silica is in so many beauty products. It has a lot to offer.
But I keep hearing that it’s bad for you. Yet I see it in “organic” and “natural” and “safe” cosmetics. So…who’s right? Both sides are actually.
So now you’re saying, “Well that doesn’t help me one bit!”. Let me explain. As with just about every ingredient out there, there are different types of silica out there. Remember the Julia Roberts movie, Erin Brokovich where some of the chromium in the water was fine, but other versions were the devil? Same idea here.
photo from http://www.sky.com
Simply put, silica is sand. It’s a common mineral found in the earth’s crust, occurs primarily in quartz and is a major component of sand, clay and stone (www.osha.gov). So that makes it a natural substance. In it’s pure form, it is not a chemical. It is made of silicon and oxygen. It’s in the chemical/molecular makeup that changes silica from safe to harmful. (Think back to chemistry class with those weird drawings of circles and lines going every which way and that’s what we’re talking about.)
Silica can be broken up into 3 primary forms: Synthetic Amorphous Silica, Amorphous Silica and Crystalline Silica. One of the forms is harmless, one is so-so and one can cause quite a bit of havoc.
photo from http://www.crystallinesilica.eu
According to a 2008 report from www.iapa.ca, silica problems are only associated with crystalline silica. Exposure can increase your risk for pulmonary diseases such as silicosis, tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer. But rest assured, unless you are putting your face powder on at a construction site, you don’t have to worry about crystalline silica. Crystalline silica is found in the construction industry where workers are dealing with cement, stone and other such construction materials. Crystalline silica is NOT used in cosmetics.
Amorphous silica is the type used in cosmetics (commonly seen on the ingredient list as simply “silica”), however, there are two types of amorphous silica.
Synthetic Amorphous Silica is the medium guy. Right away you see synthetic so you know that something has been done to it. It has been synthesized. It seems like any time someone messes with a natural product and changes it slightly, there’s always yucky side effects. According to Occupational Hygiene’s report “Health Hazards Due to the Inhalation of Amorphous Silica“, synthetic amorphous silica CAN cause some of the bad effects due to inhalation, however, the study suggests that these inhalation problems can be partially reversible. So not nearly as bad as its big, bad brother crystalline silica, but not all that good either.
According to the same report from Occupational Hygiene, Amorphous Silica (NOT synthetic) is actually safe. The only problems that arise from regular amorphous silica is when it is contaminated with crystalline silica in which case all of the those respiratory problems can rear their ugly heads. So, as long as the silica is in it’s PURE amorphous form, silica is harmless.
But here’s the tricky part…how do you know that the silica in your products, are pure amorphous and not contaminated or synthetic? Good question, actually GREAT question because as I looked through all of my ingredient lists on my products, they all said “silica” and that was it. Hmmmm…that doesn’t help much. Until companies get more specific on the type of silica they use and put it on their ingredient list, you really don’t know.
I contacted the owner of W3LL PEOPLE, a more healthy cosmetics line that I work with to find out what kind of silica they use since their ingredient list just listed “silica” and I was told that they used only pure silica mineral. So I feel SOOOO much better recommending their products knowing what type of silica they use. As for other brands…until they get more specific on their ingredient lists…who knows. We can only hope that as consumers get more educated and savvy, companies will start supplying us with the information we request as well as need to keep ourselves happy, beautiful and healthy.