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. Meysam

    Hi kelly
    How remove heavy metal and lead in red pigment for cosemetic

    1. Kelly

      Heavy metals are trace contaminants at ppm levels and there is no way to completely remove them.

  2. Chiquira Gamble

    Hi I’m starting natural cosmetic lip gloss/lipstick line and was asking what would you recommend for natural oxide pigments and other natural products to make the lip gloss

    1. Perry Romanowski

      There are no “natural” oxide pigments. All of the legally allowed oxide pigments in cosmetics have to be synthetically produced. This is because pigments found in nature are often contaminated with heavy metals and other dangerous compounds.

  3. Grace

    Kelly, thank you for your question. l use 3-roll mill and atomizer together to grind the pigment. Main grinding equipment is atomizer which makes dry mixed one. 3-roll mill is only used when foundation color needs to be fixed and to add more iron oxide. Most case,
    wetting agent is sorbitan sesquioleate in my formula. Really, the lines are more significant when the pigment is added. . .

  4. Grace

    Thank you for your information of pigments. I always use non coating iron oxide pigments and silane coating TiO2 together. When I develop foundation product, glass is main vessel for scale up. It seems to be nice until this process. In plant, main vessel is metal and sometimes I find that foundation bulk has many lines on the surface. These lines is not disappear in the plastic bottled sample. I always wonder these lines is found only plant produced bulk and was not found during scale up process. I would like to know your opinion for this.

    1. Kelly Dobos
      Kelly Dobos

      What equipment are you using to grind the pigment and what wetting agent are you using?

      1. Kelly Dobos
        Kelly Dobos

        You always need to use a 3 roll mill to create dispersion unless using treated pigments.

  5. Anna

    Hi, im just wondering how exactly do these work in lets say in foundation? do they stay as particles or how do they actually color the liquid? If the foundation would contain Nylon-12 or 6 would it colour the particles or attach to them? Im trying to understand the mechanism but I don’t. Could you help?

  6. Lui

    Hi kelly i would like to produce my own scalp micropigmentation ink.
    Is iron oxide black suitable for this procedure?

    1. Kelly Dobos
      Kelly Dobos

      No, the FDA has not approved any inks for injection into skin.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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)

      1. Shahzeb Hayat

        hey i am research student at university of Ulsan, South Korea. currently i am doing research on tattoo, the material used for tattoo is iron oxide which is harmful for body when a patient undergo MRI. i want to know about conductivity of this material with specific frequency i.e 64, 128 and 300 MHz. is there any material that are relevant to my subject.

        1. Kelly Dobos
          Kelly Dobos

          These pigments are not approved for tattoos.

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