I need an answer!

Eyeshadow vs Pressed Pigment: What’s the Difference?

Pressed pigment, pressed shadow, eyeshadow, pressed powder shadow—what on earth is going on? Why can’t we just call an eyeshadow an eyeshadow?

I’ll tell you why:

Not all pigments are safe for the eye area—at least according to the US’s FDA. Eyeshadows are composed of FDA-approved ingredients; pressed pigments are not approved by the FDA for eye application. So cosmetics companies legally have to call these products something that doesn’t imply its use is for the eye—hence, pressed pigment.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as far as what you need to know. So read on to hear more about the difference between eyeshadows and pressed pigments, how can you tell which are which, if pressed pigments are safe, and more!

Boxes of different color pigments
Source: @tomterifx on Unsplash

Eyeshadow vs Pressed Pigment: The Key Difference

We already coasted through a short explanation of why eyeshadows and pressed pigments are different. But let’s get into more detail.

The FDA has a list of pigments, and on that list, they say whether or not that pigment is approved for areas like the lips and eyes. If a shadow has an ingredient not approved, the cosmetics companies have to follow some rules:

  • They have to say somewhere that the product is not for use in the eye area.
  • They have to call it something else, like a pressed pigment.

Eyeshadows, on the other hand, use only FDA-approved ingredients, so you’ll see no such disclaimers on those.

Sometimes the warnings for these are buried, and you have to look carefully to find the warnings. We’ll talk more about that later.

What Are Some Examples of Pressed Pigments?

Where can we find pressed pigments that the FDA thinks you shouldn’t use on your eyes? So, so many places. Here are just a couple:

If They’re Not Safe, Why Do Companies Use Them?

At this point, you may be frustrated with cosmetics companies. If they’re not safe, why are they in products marketed to be used on the eyes?

After all, some users report having irritation from certain colors, like reds, pinks, and purples. Perhaps not coincidentally, many red, pink, and purple pigments are not approved by the FDA (and—hint—these are the colors most likely to called “pressed pigments”). And besides the possible irritation, unapproved pigments are more likely to cause staining on the skin.

So why are companies continuing to put these “unsafe” shadows in their palettes? Shouldn’t they get in trouble, even if they call it out as not safe for the immediate eye area?

Well, it’s worth noting that those with sensitive eyes or allergies can have the same irritation, even with approved pigments. And with bright colors, staining can happen (or not happen, even with unapproved pigments) anytime.

More importantly, the FDA is famously behind on updating its lists. The European Union’s equivalent regulating body, the European Medicines Agency, has approved these pigments for the eye area.

Assumedly, companies know this and figure the risk must be low if all of Europe finds these pigments to be perfectly acceptable. Plus, the most vibrant shades often can’t be pulled off without these unapproved pigments. How can you sell your neon or rainbow palette without that brightness?

Honestly, most makeup users blow off the “not for use in the immediate eye area” advice, often with no consequence to themselves. But others feel upset that companies would sneak in unapproved pigments into palettes and products clearly marketed for the eyes. They actually do avoid these shades and may resent companies for their perceived deceit.

Jars of powder pigment
Source: @criscl5 on Unsplash

How Much Should I Worry About Using Pressed Pigments?

Here’s the million-dollar question, and of course I’m going to say it’s up to you to experiment and decide for yourself. But that’s not really the answer you’re looking for, is it?

With a giant disclaimer that says you may be one of the people that it causes staining or irritation for, I’ll say that I’ve never seen a YouTuber or influencer show hesitation about using the non-eye-safe colors, even those who report having sensitive eyes.

As far as my personal experience, I use the previously mentioned Colourpop Ooh La La! Palette all the time and have never had any kind of bad reaction to the pressed pigments.

So, anecdotal (but not researched or scientific) evidence says not to worry about it too much. It’s hard for me to actually tell you to ignore the warning because of the possible consequences. But if your takeaway is “proceed with caution,” I think that’s fine.

How Can I Find Out If a Pigment Isn’t FDA Approved?

There are a few ways you can figure out if a shadow is FDA approved or not. Some companies are very plain in their advertising. Some are not.

Anytime a company calls a shadow a “pressed pigment” or something other than eyeshadow, you can assume it’s not approved by the FDA.

Oftentimes, an asterisk denotes a pressed pigment. You can look for that on the marketing materials—or even on the palette itself!

Colorful Urban Decay Wired Palette
The previously mentioned Wired pallet. Note the asterisks on the shades that are pressed pigments.

You can also check the ingredient list on the back of the box if you’re in a physical store. It will often tell you what’s what.

If you’re not in-store, check the ingredient list online. Beware here. Sometimes companies bury this information deep.

For example, with Colourpop’s Solstice With the Mostest, everything looks perfectly shadowlike…that is, until you go to the ingredient list, pop it out in a whole new window, and check the bottom.

Colourpop ingredient list, with "not intended for use in the immediate eye area"
Barely noticeable. Source.

If all else fails, you can also look for the absence of “eye” anywhere in the marketing materials. Let’s continue to pick on Colourpop and read what they have to say about Solstice With the Mostest.

The description is “Get maximum colour in a matte finish that’s easily blendable and velvety soft to create a bold and long-wearing look. Meet this metallic neon pink with a blue sheen at the party of the century.”

And as for how to use, they say, “Apply with your favorite brushes. Flat and firmer brushes will give the most color payoff. Fluffier brushes are great for blending.”

These sentences clearly describe an eyeshadow and its application. But they never do say it’s for the eyes, and that’s a cue that you might be looking at a pressed pigment.

Are Pressed Pigments Really Pure Pigment and Nothing Else?

Lastly, I wanted to address the misinformation that’s been shared across the internet. Some people are spreading the idea that “pressed pigment” means that you took some pure red 6 lake or whatever, dumped it into a pan, and pressed it. That’s not true. A pressed pigment isn’t a pure pigment or it couldn’t bind to your eyes and the pressing wouldn’t hold.

If you were around for the Anastasia Subculture Palette controversy, you know some of the complaints about that formula:

  • Just barely touching the brush to the pan seemed to disperse half the powder into the air.
  • Blending was next to impossible.

The formula of Subculture was closer to pure pigment than you usually see, and these are the kinds of problems that come with that.

Since that doesn’t work very well for actual application, companies don’t just use one ingredient—pure pigment—and call it a day. They need binders and other ingredients just as much as regular shadows do in order to perform in a way consumers expect.

Check out the ingredient list for the James Charles’ palette’s pressed pigments:

Long list of ingredients in James Charles palette pressed pigments
Talc is not a pigment.

There’s a lot more going on here than just red 6 lake or the other possible pigments.

Summary and Signing Off

If you’re asking the eyeshadow vs pressed pigments question, just remember: eyeshadow is FDA approved. If the product is called anything else, it’s probably not FDA-approved.

The value of FDA approval is up for debate, especially since the EU says these pigments are fine. If you want to play it safe, approach pressed pigments with caution. They may cause irritation, allergic reactions, or staining. But then, so might many shadows, liners, mascaras, and things used around your eye—FDA approved or not.

A final thing to note is this: pressed pigments are NOT are pure powder pigments pressed into a pan. They have fillers and binders like everything else. They have to, or they won’t blend or adhere.

Hope this post cleared up a lot of mysteries for you, including whether you can use them around your eye or not (proceed, but with caution).

Stay tuned for more eyeshadow adventures here on the blog.