Article by: Kelly Dobos

Iron oxides are the main pigments used for matching skin tones in foundations, powders, concealers, and other make up for the face. Iron oxides come in a variety of shades from yellow to red and black. Various shades of brown iron oxides are also available but these are merely mixtures of the three previously mentioned colors. Sometimes referred to as natural mineral pigments, all iron oxides used in cosmetics are synthetic per the United States FDA Code of Federal Regulations (U.S. FDA – Listed in CFR 21 §73.2250). Because the chemical inputs in the synthesis can standardized and controlled, the iron oxides have a predictable safety profile.

Chemical Compositioncosmetic iron-oxides

Yellow iron oxide is Fe2O3•H2O. The red iron oxide (Fe2O3) is produced by calcination, heat treatment in the absence or limited supply of air or oxygen to bring about decomposition, of yellow iron oxide at about 800°C, so it is very heat stable in the relative temperature range where cosmetic products are produced. Black iron oxide, Fe3O4, is a mixture of ferric and ferrous oxides.

Stability and Compatibility

Iron oxides are opaque and exhibit with excellent light stability. They stable in acidic and alkali environments but yellow and black iron oxides are sensitive to high temperatures. Exposure to temperatures as low as 125 – 150°C can cause the color to visibly shift as the yellow will lose some it water of hydration. They are very opaque and exhibit excellent light stability. The yellow, however, will shed some of its water of hydration at temperatures as low as 125 – 150°C, causing some shift in color that can be seen. Like the yellow, black iron oxide will also shift color, becoming redder, at temperatures of 125 – 150°C. It is also important to know that iron oxide is magnetic and will coat iron or mild steel containers so care should be taken in selecting the proper vessels for scale up and production.

Kelly Dobos

About the Author

Kelly Dobos

Kelly Dobos is a cosmetic chemist and expert in both skin care and make-up product formulation. She has the coolest job and a passion for teaching others the smartest ways to express their creativity through cosmetic chemistry.


  1. Hajra

    I wanted to know if iron oxide has blue color? Because when only 3 colors are available mostly black yellow and red… but some websites are selling blue iron oxide too… so is it safe ? And is there blue iron oxide

    Reply to me please…

    1. Kelly Dobos
      Kelly Dobos

      There are no blue iron oxides. There is a colorant referred to as iron blue which is identified by INCI Ferric Ferrocyanide. It is restricted from us on the lips in the U.S.

  2. Parul Tandon

    I wanted to know from where can i buy these Iron Oxide Minerals as i wanted to use them to make lipsticks..?

    1. Kelly

      I would recommenced you look for a distributor of cosmetic ingredients to supply iron oxides.

  3. Listaty

    Miss Kelly,
    Please advise whether Iron Oxide for cosmetic is only consist of Fe2O3 ? Is there any other chemical composition ? Could you please response my question to ?
    Appreciate for your information

    1. Kelly

      Black Iron Oxide = Fe3O4 (can also be referenced as Fe2O3.FeO)
      Red Iron Oxide = Fe2O3
      Yellow Iron Oxide = FeO(OH)

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