Expert's Opinion

Delivering Active Ingredients from Cosmetic Powders

By Nick Morante, Consultant | February 20, 2012

Nick Morante explains how powders can also boost the perceived efficacy of products.

Many powders that are OTC drugs with active ingredients have specific functionality such as kill fungus (athlete’s foot), relieve the symptoms of the common cold, or sooth the skin (anti-irritants). These ingredients include sodium bicarbonate, acetaminophen, aspirin, salicylamide, and various other ingredients specific to each product. The functionality and physical properties of these powders are very similar if not the same as any other cosmetic powder. They must maintain their physical properties with age and storage in order to maintain their activity and deliver the proper ingredient dosage when applied. If the powder cakes up it may not have the same activity as the loose form. Cosmetic powders can also contain active ingredients (both OTC and non-OTC) that serve a variety of functions along with all the conventional ingredients we find in cosmetics. These conventional ingredients deliver all the desired cosmetic attributes that we look for in a cosmetic powder and work together with the active ingredients to provide for a uniform functional product.

These powders may or may not contain color.Color can be added for aesthetic purposes or conventional colors and pearls if they are marketed in the color and decorative cosmetic market category. Treatment actives are seeing much more popularity in color cosmetic products, including powders. Since powders are just another type of delivery system, active ingredients that provide functionality on the skin can be utilized in cosmetic powders in addition to the cosmetic properties that go along with the different types of powder products currently on the market.

Cosmetic powders can help soothe the skin without making OTC claims. These products can contain anti-irritant ingredients such as caffeine, allantion, herbs, botanical extracts, and very low levels of lipid-based ingredients that can be used as part of the binder system. These can be essential oils, aloe vera, bisabolol, vitamins and other ingredients that are usually used at very low levels to provide their activity. Common sense formulating will determine what other active ingredients can be added to a specific cosmetic system without impacting performance, functionality and stability.They can also contain various antioxidants to fight free radicals.

In sunscreen powders the active ingredients can be micronized titanium dioxide and zinc oxide although there may be a question regarding the administered minimum dosage and testing for SPF protection with powders based on the new FDA sunscreen monograph. Although the exact SPF value may not be determined when no claims are made, the protection against harmful UV rays is still in the product. Also, other ingredients can enhance the performance of these physical sunscreens and give the product added benefits and activity.

Some powder products can also be used as "dry shampoos." These products contain very mild dry surfactants for cleansing, extracts and essential oils to maintain hair health and absorbent materials to absorb excess oils and dirt from the hair. The main convenience factor here is that all this is done without the need and use of water.

In many cases water soluble active ingredients can be added to powders quite easily. As long as the are in the dry powder, they remain inert and non-functional. It is only when the product comes in contact with skin moisture or water will these actives begin to function and provide their benefits. This is similar to sweeteners in lip products. Most sweeteners are water soluble and their sweetening properties do not manifest themselves until the product comes in contact with the moisture on the lips. That’s when you taste the sweetness. Many active ingredients in powder formulations are designed to work in a similar fashion.

The most popular claims for cosmetics these days are for the anti-aging market. This holds true for some powder products as well. The one drawback is that active ingredients take some time to show their effects on the skin and products have to be used on a continual basis in order to deliver these effects. The advantage of powders is that these long-term actives such as peptides and amino acids can be incorporated into the product for their benefits and special light diffusing ingredients can be used for instantaneous visual effects. These instant effects visually reduce the appearance of fine lines and any skin discoloration that may need hiding. This dual functionality is seen in many powders on the market today.


About the Author
Nick Morante is a consultant after having spent over 40 years in the cosmetics industry.He isan instructor for the SCC’s Continuing Education Program in the area of color and makeup formulation and is on the Society’s “Ask the Expert” panel. He has served on their executive committee, educational advisory committee, the Committee on Scientific Affairs as well as being a Fellow of the Society. Nick is also an adjunct faculty member at Fairleigh Dickinson University instructing courses in Color Cosmetics for the Master of Cosmetic Science Program.

More info: Nick Morante Cosmetic Consultants Laboratory and Technical Center; Tel: 631-285-6803 or 516-480-0904 (mobile); Email:; Website:

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