Eyebrow Pencil Ingredient Breakdown
It's not often I dissect the ingredients of products made by others, but a few comments and questions from followers of my Instagram account prompted me to go through this one.
The product is a commercially manufactured eyebrow pencil.
Looking at all those long INCI names highlighted above might seem a little unsettling for some, but don't panic – it's not nearly as scary as you might think.
Spoiler AlertIf you want the headlines right up front, this pencil is a mix of waxy substances and pigments.
There, I said it.
I'm considering doing a plant-based version – partly because I like how this pencil works and partly because I am a little intrigued at how many different waxy ingredients this one contains (which suggests to me they might have tweaked this formula quite a few times during development, which in turn makes me think 'surely this formula can be simplified without sacrificing quality or function').
But that's for another day.
For right now, let's take a look at the ingredients as they are listed: in descending order.
Synthetic FluorphlogopiteCommonly referred to as synthetic mica, synthetic fluorphlogopite is a mineral based ingredient (and because this is the first on this list, it's what there is most of in this product.)
Why would one want to use synthetic mica? The manufacturers claim these pigments have more stable, brighter and consistent colour.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) expert panel have evaluated and found synthetic mica safe for use in cosmetics according to the general provisions of the Cosmetics Directive of the EU. (links below)
Synthetic mica is approved for use in products for lips, nails, facial foundations, and eye make-up.
Stearic AcidStearic acid may sound like something that could be dangerous to some, but this wax-like ingredient is more safe and natural than you might think. It is commonly used in all kinds of cosmetics, detergents, creams, shampoos, and more.
The name comes from the Greek word for fat (or tallow): λίπος (stéar). Stearic acid can be sourced from either plant or animal fat.
If you use shea or coconut butter, then you are in contact with stearic acid all the time – it happens to be a major component of both of these butters.
See? Not so dangerous.
Hydrogenated Castor OilThis is castor oil that has been through a process called hydrogenation.
To hydrogenate castor (or any) oil, it is 'treated with hydrogen by employing the use of a catalyst'. (links below to nerdy chemical stuff). The end result is an ingredient with interesting and useful characteristics that can be quite handy in a cosmetics formula.
When castor oil is hydrogenated, it is transformed into a solid (or semi-solid) substance that can dissolve in both water and oil and can function as a surfactant, emulsifier, and solubiliser (cool, huh?)
Purists may argue that hydrogenated oil is 'not natural enough' (overly processed) and some are not comfortable using it in their cosmetics.
Others worry there may be residue from the catalyst in the end product. Nickel or platinum are commonly used as catalysts for hydrogenation. I've done a bit of digging around to see if there is any evidence of this but haven't come across anything.
Meantime, alternative hydrogenation methods are being examined (as we speak) and showing good results (check the ResearchGate link below).
Whether or not hydrogenated oil is 'natural enough' for you is a judgement call you will have to make. Personally, I have no problem with hydrogenated oils.
Synthetic Japan WaxThis is one of those ingredients where the INCI name is the same as the common name. (I love when that happens).
Japan wax is a byproduct of lacquer production.
It has been used to help shape and maintain hairstyles in Japan throughout their history and is still present as an ingredient of modern Japanese hair styling products.
Japan wax is vegetable-based and sourced from the kernels of (several varieties of) the Japanese sumac tree. It is also sometimes called Sumac wax.
This particular product contains a nature-identical lab-made version of Japan wax and therefore lists the name Synthetic Japan Wax.
Fun fact: despite its name, japan wax is not really a wax, but a fat containing about 95% palmitin. The texture is more viscous than other waxes because of the low content of fatty acid (approx 5%)
Ethylhexyl PalmitateThis ingredient is yet another waxlike substance that is sometimes used to replace mineral oil in formulations.
Ethylhexyl palmitate acts as a lubricant and provides a silicone-like feel when applied to skin, but it also functions as a binder, which is why you'll see this ingredient in everything from pressed powders to moisturizers and sun products.
It is made from palmitic acid (commonly sourced from plants such as palm or coconut) and safe to use at fairly high levels in a formula. Despite the name, palmitic acid can also be sourced from animal fat.
Ethylhexyl palmitate is classified as non-toxic and approved for use in the EU provided it is not sourced from animals.
Cera AlbaYou probably already know this one: it's good old beeswax!
Beeswax has a very long history of use in cosmetics but is also widely used in other industries. It is therefore available in everything from industrial and general use grade to pharmaceutical and cosmetics grade.
Fun fact: there is to date no international standard for how beeswax is graded, so buy beeswax from a cosmetics ingredients supplier to be sure it is suitable for use in cosmetics.
Sorbitan SesquiisostearateThree guesses at what kind of ingredient this is? What if I tell you it is commonly used in all types of cosmetics as both an emulsifier and surfactant?
What if I reveal it is produced by reacting 2 (naturally occurring) ingredients: sorbitol (sugar alcohol) with fatty acids (triclyceride esters)?
Sorbitan sesquiisostearate is a waxy substance (you guessed it!)
Despite the incredibly long, unpronounceable, and scary-sounding name, sorbitan sesquiisostearate is classified as non sensitizing.
Even the fear-mongering ingredients databases can’t get upset over this ingredient, so the biggest worry of all is how to pronounce it properly. I'm still working on that part.
Aluminium HydroxideThis is a naturally occurring mineral also known as gibbsite or hydrargillite. It is a stable form of aluminium that can be both acid and base because of its amphoteric nature.
Aluminium hydroxide is used for tummy upset, and if your (North American) bathroom cabinet contains Alu-Cap, Aludrox, Gaviscon or Pepsamar, you might be ingesting this (effective and approved) antacid ingredient.
In cosmetics it is used as a skin protectant and opacifying agent in lipsticks, lotions, eye make-up and other products.
In Europe, it is approved for use as a colorant but – when used as such – must be accompanied by the number CI 77002 on the label. Looking at the label up there, I’m not seeing that number anywhere. This could be due to a packaging information glitch. Meantime, I am assuming it is being used as a colorant and hoping the company gets their label design sorted .
Because the FDA has reviewed this ingredient, the European (CIR) has deferred evaluation. (read: they’re taking the FDA’s word for it).
TocopherolThis is the INCI name for E-vitamin, which is used to help retard rancidity of oils and fats. I think it's fair to assume that's what it's doing in this product.
The NumbersAfter all these names, there is a long list of numbers. These are pigments, and as this product series includes a selection of different shades, I think it's fair to assume they are including pigments from the entire series on a common ingredients list.
The giveaway is the little plus/minus symbol you see before the numbers. It indicates 'may or may not contain'
CI 77801 - Titanium Dioxide
That last one is titanium dioxide - used for opacity.
What? No Preservative?Clever you for spotting that there is no preservative. There is no need of preservative because there is no water in this formula.
I know what you're thinking.
Water-free exfoliating bath scrubs have preservatives, some water-free face cleansers even have preservative.
And you are correct.
But these types of products risk coming into contact with water during use, and this is an eyebrow pencil.
How often does one apply eyebrow color to a wet face? Or lick an eyebrow pencil before use? Or dip it into water during use?
Do you make your own make-up? What are your preferred waxes for your eyebrow pencils?
Links to Nerdy StuffEar-Lex safe cosmetics for Europeans
Hydrogenated castor oil
Japan wax and Synthetic Japan Wax
@Hel Taylor - Thanks so much for your kind comment!