What Is Pearl Powder? Applications in the Beauty Industry and Sustainability Concerns

Learn how pearl powder is made and its environmental implications.

Close-Up of Gold Cultured Pearls in an Oyster Shell

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Pearl powder is a natural ingredient that has been used in beauty elixirs and wellness products for thousands of years. The powder is extracted from the same iridescent pearls that are used in necklaces, earrings, and other luxurious jewelry. The pearls used for powder are usually the imperfect ones not suitable for fancier applications.

Ancient Egyptians incorporated pearl powder into their beauty regimens, while royalty and wealthy families in Europe similarly used pearls throughout history for their health and beauty benefits. In traditional Chinese culture, the powder is thought to be detoxifying and is used as an antioxidant. While these precise claims can’t be substantiated, pearl powder does contain calcium, amino acids, and trace minerals that may offer cosmetic benefits for your skin.

What Is Pearl Powder?

Pearl powder contains a number of compounds that may offer cosmetic benefits, including over 30 trace minerals, such as magnesium and potassium, which may help boost the skin’s vitality. Amino acids can also be found in pearl powder, which help to produce collagen, promote cellular repair and hydration, and generally provide a protective layer to the skin.

In addition, pearl powder is rich in calcium and contains antioxidant boosters. The calcium helps to moisturize the skin and also contributes to skin regeneration. The hydrating and antioxidant qualities of pearl powder make it a powerful ingredient in natural cosmetic routines.

Products that contain pearl powder

  • Foundation
  • Finishing powder
  • Face masks
  • Lotion
  • Toothpaste

How Is Pearl Powder Produced?

Keshi Tahitian Black Pearls

Chameleonseye / Getty Images

Pearls are extracted from oysters, though not just any oysters. The oysters that produce pearls come from a different family than those that are consumed for food. Pearl oysters can be found in oceans around the world, from the Pacific Ocean off the Hawaiian coast, to the warm waters around the Indonesian islands.

Freshwater mussels, which can be found in rivers in the United States, also produce pearls.

These precious gems can either grow naturally in wild oysters or can be cultured by implanting a nucleus into oysters cultivated on a farm.

The actual process of making pearl powder from pearls involves boiling fresh or saltwater pearls in order to sterilize them. After they're boiled, the pearls are ground into a fine powder that is soft and similar in texture to flour. This powder is then added to beauty products and is also sold on its own.

How Is Pearl Powder Used in Cosmetics?

Pearl powder can be used in two main ways: topically and orally. For topical application, pearl powder is used in a variety of beauty products. Thanks to its iridescent properties, the powder is added to foundations, finishing powder, blush, and eye shadow. Pearl powder can also be added to lotions and primers, which benefit from the subtle sheen and anti-aging properties.

Face masks and scrubs can also be boosted with a sprinkle of pearl powder. You can find beauty products already infused with the ingredient or you can opt to make your own face mask or scrub with pearl powder.

Pearl powder isn't as readily available as some other beauty products, although you can purchase it from select online shops and it's not too pricey. After obtaining the powder, you can get creative with how you use the product. For example, sprinkle some pearl powder into rose water and mix it into a paste. Apply the paste to your face or body, leave for about 10 minutes, and then rinse off using circular motions.

Pearl powder can also be ingested. Available to take as a capsule or in pure powder form that can be mixed into smoothies, tea, or water, pearl powder is thought to contain eight essential amino acids. Experiment and get creative with recipes, from soups to smoothies, to elevate your beauty routine.

The ingredient is even added to some brands of toothpaste, as it is thought to brighten teeth without bleaching them with artificial whiteners. 

Is Pearl Powder an Ethical Ingredient?

Pearl farm in Halong bay, Vietnam

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While pearls are natural and don’t have the same environmental impact as mining other gems such as diamonds and sapphires, they do pose certain threats to marine habitats, as well as the oysters themselves.

PETA opposes pearl farming in general because it believes culturing or cultivating pearls exploits a living creature. According to PETA, the oysters are subjected to stress when the irritant is inserted to begin the process of forming pearls. The oysters are then suspended in water inside cages and moved around different water temperatures.

Pearl cultivators and some researchers argue, however, that oysters don't have a central nervous system and thus can’t feel pain in the same way humans or mammals do.

Regarding pearl powder specifically, the pearls used in its production are often those discarded by the jewelry industry, taking advantage of a product that would otherwise go to waste.

Is Pearl Powder Sustainable?

Black Pearl Farming
Karen Kasmauski / Getty Images

According to research by the United Nations Sustainable Development Partnership Platform, "marine cultured pearl farming does not harm the environment if adequate management practices are implemented, and a healthy ecosystem is a prerequisite to producing beautiful pearls." The key is, of course, adequate implementation of pearl farming methods. Unregulated commercial pearl harvesting could lead to harmful practices that infringe on marine habitats and cause pollution.

Fortunately, there has been a recent rise in eco-friendly pearl farms, which are proving to be a potential solution towards a more sustainable production process of pearls.

In addition, emerging research suggests that oyster farms may actually be slightly beneficial to the environment, as they naturally filter water and remove nitrogen and heavy metals from the seawater in which they live.