Mica in Makeup: child labor
We all have applied shimmery eyeshadows, lip-gloss, or highlighters some time in our lives, some people more than the others. But have you wondered where that shimmer and glossy look comes from? We often ignore the ingredients of a product when we are purchasing it as we know that it has remarkable results but what is not remarkable would be the process of extracting some of these ingredients. One of the many ingredients is Mica, a group of minerals which are physically and chemically similar. Mica is present in almost all the shiny or shimmery makeup products we apply, ranging from eyeshadows to lip products to glowing bronzers and highlighters. In other words, mica dust gives the product it’s shine and sparkle. However, Cosmetic industries have turned to ethically sourced products due to the recent consumer behaviour shifting to ethical makeup (extraction and application). This has caused quite some controversy for mica products and people want to know more about where and how mica comes from. There has been an ongoing debate on how the mineral is extracted and people are raging over the use and exploitation of minors to extract the hazardous mineral without safety gear. https://cleanbeautygals.com/mica-in-makeup/
Asia remains one of the biggest micas extracting continent as of yet, with China producing 95,000 metric tons of mica in 2020. https://lisbdnet.com/where-can-mica-be-found/#Where_can_you_find_mica_mines. According to the export measuring site Statista, the value of mica exported from India in 2019 was 71.27 million US dollars. Some other places containing chief mines of mica mineral are Belgium, Brazil, and Madagascar, where mica crystals are present and often in the shape of distinct mica sheets. However, 2020 onwards, the value of mica export dropped dramatically to 52.57 million US dollars from the previous 71.27 USD https://www.statista.com/statistics/940784/export-value-of-mica-india/ and many cosmetic companies backed out of mica containing products due to public outrage for children exploitation in extracting mica.
The mica particles used in foundations and bronzers etc are small and long-term inhalation of mica comes with a health risk to workers, more specifically those working in muscovite mills, which is the most common form of mica. In addition, other occupations such as agriculture, workers in cosmetic manufacturing factories, mines, and construction work are also unsafe. They are usually are given masks to prevent mica inhalation. Long term mica inhalation causes coughing, weight loss, irritation, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration https://buff.ly/3zevcDS. Furthermore, these problems, if not treated, can give rise to lung disease respiratory problems, and lung scarring and create problems in breathing. https://buff.ly/3993Y6Z.
Although processed mica which is sold in makeup products does not have any serious side effects to the skin, it is only toxic when extracted raw. As mentioned before, India and China are one of the largest mica producers in the world and unfortunately more than half of their workforce is full of minors some as young as 5 or 6 years. A report by SOMO, an online news publication platform, reveals that around 22,000 workers working in India, in Bihar and Jharkhand, are children. https://www.somo.nl/global-mica-mining/. A central reason for this is poverty, children are forced to take up these jobs as they have to help their families financially and provide for them. According to the data from the Reserve Bank of India, Bihar and Jharkhand has one of the highest rates of poverty within India. https://m.rbi.org.in/scripts/PublicationsView.aspx?id=16603. Another major reason for using children instead of grown ups is that these mica mines are extremely narrow, cramped and deep. It is very hard for an adult human to fit inside thus the use of children to easily slide in and extract mica. However, as this is not a professional operation, these children are not provided safety features, from mining companies, like masks, goggles, or gloves to protect them from mica inhalation. Many children obtain diseases due to the health hazardous nature of the mineral and therefore upon recent consumer trends increasing the use of “Ethical sourced makeup and skincare”, many brands have shifted to alternatives. So how are cosmetic brands dealing with the uprise?
Well, the truth is that there is no one solution to the huge problem. You may have noticed how many brands have alternated to “cruelty free” products and often display it on their items. Well, these brands are referring to the fact that they don’t test their products on animals. According to the website Ethical element which is based on research about sustainable and ethically sourced cosmetics, manufacturers don’t really focus on the source of the product just the manufacturing part. https://ethicalelephant.com/eth
ical-mica-in-makeup/#:~:text=Some%20ethical%20beauty%20brands%20have%20chosen%20to%20use,with%20its%20own%20set%20supply%20chain%20traceability%20issues. In fact, Estée Lauder, MAC, Rimmel, Bobbi Brown, too faced are some of the high end brands which actively use mica in their products. However, there are brands which have taken initiatives in order to become ethically based or at least spread awareness of the matter:
1) Synthetic mica: some beauty brands have successfully switched to the use of synthetic mica, which is produced in labs and therefore does not involve exploitation of children or animals. Some brands which have switched to use of synthetic mica are Aether, Clean Faced Cosmetics, Glo Skin Beauty, and Lush Cosmetics.
2) Awareness regarding the product: There are many brands which have clearly stated on their packaging whether it contains natural mica or synthetic ethical mica. This is a great way to make your audience aware of what they may be using. some brands that explicitly state that they use ethically sourced or lab-created mica are Dr. Hauschka and River Organics. On the other hand, some brands emphasize that their makeup is cruelty-free, including Black Moon Cosmetics and 100% PURE.
3) Some brands have claimed that they have opted out of child exploitation linked to mica extraction by simply not purchasing mica from places like India and Madagascar. For example, Fit glow. However, banning the use of mica from these areas is not the whole solution to the problem. https://ethicalelephant.com/ethical-mica-in-makeup/#:~:text=Some%20ethical%20beauty%20brands%20have%20chosen%20to%20use,with%20its%20own%20set%20supply%20chain%20traceability%20issues.
4) Mica free products? There are lots of skincare and makeup brands that are completely mica-free. From using only matte finish products to banning products that contained mica previously. For example, a very well known skincare brand farsalicare, in 2020, reformulated many of their top selling face serums due to the presence of mica, for example, Rose gold elixir and unicorn essence.