Zinc Stearate for Skin: Benefits and How to Use

Close up of a crushed yellow powder on a pink background.

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Zinc stearate isn’t exactly one of those ingredients that rolls off the tongue. And it probably doesn’t ring a bell when you hear the name. But don’t let that fool you—this cosmetics ingredient is everywhere.

“Zinc stearate is a zinc salt made from a fatty acid called stearic acid,” explains board-certified dermatologist Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, FAAD. “It has been used as a binding agent in powdered cosmetics (like powders, blushes, and eyeshadows), as a thickening agent, and as a lubricant.”  

We asked Murphy-Rose and board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, to explain why this ubiquitous ingredient is probably in some of your favorite products, plus exactly what it does.

Meet the Expert

  • Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York and clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
  • Whitney Bowe, MD, is a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist who specializes in skin rejuvenation, laser dermatology, and the link between nutrition and skincare.

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of zinc stearate for skin.

Zinc Stearate


MAIN BENEFITS: Binds or emulsifies products, improves the texture of products, can be used as a pigment or coloring agent

WHO SHOULD USE IT: Almost anyone who finds it in their skincare or makeup products

HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: Daily in a formulated product

WORKS WELL WITH: Most other ingredients

DON’T USE WITH: It plays well with other ingredients, but since it’s a water-repellant, it may not work well with water-based products

What Is Zinc Stearate?

Zinc stearate is "basically the zinc salt of stearic acid, which is a long-chain fatty acid,” says Bowe. “Stearic acid is a waxy substance that can act as an emollient and an emulsifier, so it can make skin feel softer and can also help ingredients in a formulation mix together nicely so that the experience of applying that product is more elegant," she continues. "Zinc stearate, the zinc salt of stearic acid, can also help with hydration, and improve the texture of a cosmetic product, giving it more slip.” 

Benefits of Zinc Stearate

  • Binds products: Zinc stearate is often used as a soap or as an emulsifier or binder in cosmetics. 
  • Improves texture: “It can give a product a bit of slip, which enhances the texture and make the application of a product more enjoyable,” says Bowe.
  • Adds color: “Zinc stearate can sometimes be used as a pigment or coloring agent,” Bowe says. 
  • Generally safe: Most skin types won’t have to worry about adverse reactions when using the ingredient.

Though the ingredient is common enough, it’s typically used as part of the equation in a formula—it isn’t the star of the ingredients list. “Overall, it’s a very safe ingredient, although I wouldn’t call it a superstar active ingredient that drives results,” Bowe says. “It’s safe to include in formulations to enhance the overall experience and help with creating a homogenous, elegant formulation. However, I wouldn’t look for this ingredient to deliver any dramatic improvements in the skin.”

Side Effects of Zinc Stearate

Although it is generally considered a safe ingredient, those with sensitive skin may want to tread carefully. “It has been questioned as an occupational hazard [specifically] as a respiratory hazard,” cautions Murphy-Rose. “Used in cosmetics, it has a low but possible risk of toxicity. It is also possible to be an environmental toxin. It may also be a skin irritant.”

How to Use It

Zinc stearate isn’t an ingredient you can find on the shelves solo; rather, it’s used in products that have been formulated with it. “I have most often seen it as an ingredient in cosmetic powders,” Murphy-Rose says. “It helps to prevent ingredients in powdered cosmetics from caking and it helps them to bind to the skin.”

If your skin tolerates zinc stearate well, it can be used daily, according to Murphy-Rose. However, she warns that because it is a water-repellant, it may not work well with water-based products.  

The Best Products With Zinc Stearate

Bobbi Brown Bronzer
Bobbi Brown Bronzer $44.00

This pick is Murphy-Rose's “all-time favorite powder bronzer.” Thanks to its blending powers, the matte bronzing powder will leave your skin looking naturally sun kissed. Whether you want a touch of color or a deep tan, the buildable bronzer will get you there.

bareMinerals Mineral Veil Talc Free Setting Powder
bareMinerals Mineral Veil Talc Free Setting Powder $28.00

“A nice mineral-based finishing powder,” according to Murphy-Rose, this completely sheer setting powder blurs pores and minimizes fine lines and wrinkles while helping your makeup go the distance. It doesn’t produce any flashback and feels weightless on the skin.

NARS Blush
NARS Blush $30.00

This iconic makeup artist's fave is "long-lasting and sticks well to the skin for an extended duration, and the colors are beautiful,” Murphy-Rose says. Available in a range of shades and finishes—shimmer, matte, or satin—this pressed powder blush is delightfully blendable and buildable. The micronized powder pigments feel super silky on the skin.

Huda Beauty 3D Cream and Powder Highlighter Palette
Huda Beauty 3D Cream and Powder Highlighter Palette $45.00

Get your glow on with Huda Beauty’s versatile highlighter palette. Four shades in two textures— a pearlescent creamy shade and three pressed pearl hues—give you a range of options. Use one solo or combine them all to get everything from a subtle glow to mega-watt radiance.

Makeup by Mario Master Mattes Eyeshadow Palette
Makeup by Mario Master Mattes Eyeshadow Palette $48.00

A single eyeshadow palette will cover all the bases when it comes to matte nude eyeshadow. All 12 hues in this palette are designed to be universally flattering and stay in place without any fallout. Human skin tones are the muse behind the shade range, so it’s equally suitable for creating a natural or dramatic look.

  • What is zinc stearate used for?

    It is most commonly used as a binding agent in powder cosmetics—such as setting powders, blushes, and eyeshadows—as well as a thickening agent and lubricant.

  • What types of products can you typically find zinc stearate in?

    “It is most commonly found in cosmetics,” Murphy-Rose says.

  • Is zinc stearate natural?

    Yes. It is a zinc salt of stearic acid, which is a naturally occurring fatty acid.

Article Sources
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  1. Cdc - niosh pocket guide to chemical hazards - zinc stearate.

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