Pigment 101 : Kaolin Clay

Lots of people are asking the difference between a filler, a binder, and a pure pigment.

I admit, there is a different  between using a ‘base’ for a product and using a ‘filler’.

A base is a combination of things that make the consistency of the mica/pigment smoother and last longer when applied.  These can be any combination of oxides and stearates.  Some colors need a base in order to have a desired finish.  Anything that is matte is usually mixed with some oxide to counteract the natural sheen in the mica, which is after all, just crushed semi precious stone.

A filler is anything that is there simply to extend the mica/pigment so you can use less in the finished product.  A mica might cost 15$ an unit while the filler costs 2$ a unit.  So being able to use less of the more expensive product and sell it for more is obviously a bonus.

The number one filler used in mineral eye shadows is kaolin clay.  It is thin and light and used mostly to make porcelain pieces fine and delicate.  It’s also used in alternative medicine.  Known as 赤石脂 it’s used for intestinal distress.

Kaolin has NO practical use in an eye shadow, so when you see it listed as an ingredient you know the company (or individual) selling the shadow is only using it for their profit margin.

Kaolin is perfectly acceptable in a number of other mineral makeup applications, such as foundations, veils, and finishes as it has natural oil control properties.

Here is an example of the way a shadow changes when mixed with kaolin.

On the left is a jar of kaolin.  I purchased an 8 ounce bag for $3.40.  So cost wise that one little jar is less then 10 cents worth of product.

The jar on the right is the G2 Pure Pigment Love Like Winter.  It’s a blend of several shades of mica, over all that jar would cost me about $4 to make breaking down costs.  I sell them locally for $6.55 for the full jar which is usually about 4 grams worth.

In the center is Love Like Winter cut with kaolin.  It’s about a 1:1 ratio of the blend.  I don’t normally use it, so I can’t tell you for sure what the normal blend would be.  The price it cost me to produce that blended jar is now less then $2.

“Ok, so what’s the big deal?” you ask.  Nothing wrong with making a little profit.

Look carefully at the jars.  The last two colors are nearly identical.  In the photo they are almost dead on, in person you notice a SLIGHT difference in the sheens.  But otherwise, no big difference.

Now look at those same shadows swatched.

See the difference?  On the left is the blended color, on the right the pure Love Like Winter.  Most of it’s vibrancy and pop are gone.  It’s very sheer and doesn’t have the coverage of the pure pigment.  In fact, someone just called it ‘dull’ looking at the back of my hand as I’m typing.

I hope this article helps you a little bit as you navigate the ever growing market for mineral shadows and pure pigments.  If you have any questions, please feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer them to the best of my ability.


3 Responses to “Pigment 101 : Kaolin Clay”

  1. very interesting! have just put in a $50 order with TKB to have a go at mixing some of my own products, so thanks for the information 🙂


  1. Pigment 101 : Duochromes « Gothique - October 13, 2009

    […] They cannot be cut.  As I mentioned in my previous post, a lot of companies use kaolin or other fillers to extend the product. […]

  2. Where to Start? « Gothique - November 8, 2009

    […] base per four parts mica.  You could add a few other things to continue to improve your shadows (never kaolin, though) but this is a good start.  I would recommend a sample bag at […]