Mica: Darkness Behind The Sparkle

Every professional make up artist, beauty guru, and even regular make up lovers are all obsessed with youthful, glowing skin. Your daily routine probably consists of either shimmery lids, beaming cheekbones or glossy lips.

While applying these products, have you ever wondered where all that alluring sheen comes from?

This sparkly effect is the result of an ingredient called mica. Mica is the name given to a group of silicate minerals which are ground into finely milled shimmery powder. The name derives from the latin word micare which means to “shine”, “flash” or “glitter”. It can be found in car paint, plastics, toothpaste, electronics, nail products and in recent years it is most popular in the beauty industry for making shimmery eyeshadows, highlighters and other illuminating skin products.

According to the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), in 2015 the mica market was worth almost half a billion dollars and since then has been increasing at a rate of 3.6% a year. It is predicted that by 2024, the mica industry will be worth almost $700 million USD.

While illegal mica mining reportedly occurs in countries such as Brazil, China, Sri Lanka and Madagascar, most of the world’s mica supply is sourced from India’s states of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Over 20,000 children as young as 4 years of age work in these unsafe, illegal and unregulated mines. The reason for child labour in these mines is due to the fact that they are small so they can fit into the narrow openings of the mines and go deeper into the earth to retrieve higher quality mica. Their hands are also tiny which means that they can reach into all the crevices that an adult could not fit into. In the end, it all comes down to necessity.

Despite being rich in resources, the people who live in places like Jharkhand never get to benefit from them. Instead, they are exploited and live in poverty. For the parents and children, this is their way of survival. However, for some families things take a turn for the absolute worst. There have been respiratory illnesses such as asthma, pneumoconiosis and silicosis to name a few. In other cases, the outcome of these mica mines is fatal. According to the Thompson Reuters Foundation, there have been numerous deaths due to this dangerous environment.

Cosmetic brands are finding it difficult to clean up their mica sourcing due to the fact that the mica from the mines are taken to intermediaries who then mix legally acquired mica with the illegal one. For this reason, brands are having troubles tracing back the origins of the mica that they are putting into their products. By not purchasing your favourite make up products that contain mica altogether, the problem will not be solved. Mica is still a prevalent ingredient in a lot of other industries apart from beauty. Instead, brands can work with any of the various charities that work towards stopping the exploitation of children in the mica industry. After that, it should be required that the brands disclose to their customers that their mica was sourced from legal gated mines.

“Cruelty free” should be inclusive of child labour too.

Watch Refinery29’s video about the child labour mica mining industry.

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