Toothpaste to Toasters, Matches to Make-up (part 1)

mineral detail

There are over 3000 known minerals occurring on our planet, and new ones are discovered all the time. Each mineral has its own unique physical and chemical properties, such as the colours it occurs in, how heavy and how hard it is, how light reflects from it and what shape it breaks up into. This makes minerals very diverse, and they occur in all shapes and forms.

The properties which some minerals have make them very useful to us. Minerals have been vital to the development of the human race. We have found some surprising uses for these naturally occurring materials, and we use them in many ways throughout our day-to-day lives, often without realising it. From toothpaste to toasters and matches to make-up, almost everything we use, consume or produce involves minerals or the metals we make from minerals.

We have many minerals in their natural form here in the museum collection at Hull, and many objects across the whole collection where minerals have been used to make them. Take a look at what these particular minerals here are used for, and then see if you can find any objects across the museum collections where minerals might have been used in some way to make them.


This is a flaky, shiny and often transparent mineral, which breaks into thin flexible sheets like these seen here. These properties make mica useful in many completely unrelated ways. Mica is resistant to heat and doesn't conduct electricity so it is used as an insulator in high voltage electrical equipment, and in the elements of appliances such as toasters. Because it is resistant to heat it can often be found on the inside of your oven doors, and even on the glass in your greenhouse!

Mica's shiny, glittery look has made it useful for putting the sparkle into your make-up. It is ground up and used to add glitter to many products such as lipstick, nail varnish and face powders, and can even be found as an ingredient in some toothpastes.


Fluorite comes in an amazing range of colours, and is often thought of as the most colourful mineral in the world. Because of this fluorite has been used as a semi-precious mineral for centuries. The purple, yellow and white variety of fluorite known as 'Blue John' is a popular mineral for making ornaments and jewellery.

But it's uses don't stop there. Fluorite is used in the production of hydrofluoric acid, and it sometimes replaces glass in some high performance telescopes and cameras. It is also the source of fluoride, which is put into many types of toothpaste and into drinking water to keep us healthy. Fluoride is highly useful in the chemical industry, and is used for making plastics, lubricants, cleaning agents and even medicines. Because fluorite has a low melting point it is used as a flux for smelting metallic ores to make metal. Fluorine also comes from this mineral, which is used to make the non-stick coating on your pots and pans!

View all of the Minerals in our collection or use the advanced search