Behind The Glitters: A Look Into Mica

“I can show you the world. Shining, shimmering splendid…”

But before you get excited, no, this isn’t going to be about the latest Disney live-action that has Will Smith swagging out as a genie in a bottle.

Also, if you think this is going to be a review of Mac’s “Aladdin” collection then think again.

This time around, we’re going to take a look at the ingredient that allowed those lip glosses and loose eye shadow pigments, to name a few, from the collection to, well, quite literally shine, shimmer and be all splendid to the human eye. But this isn’t just for Mac. This is a look into how that very ingredient that has provided shimmer and glitter to almost every shimmery makeup or skincare product out there has been supplied for years.

Today, we take a look at Mica (coming from the Latin word “micare” translating to shine or glitter). The mineral that is literally the epitome of “beauty is pain” but provides a whole different take to the motto’s meaning.

According to cosmeticsinfo.org, Mica “is a group of silicate minerals that are widely distributed in different types of rock. Mica often occurs as flakes, scraps, or sheets, and has been used by humans since prehistoric times.”

Apart from needing it to provide the necessary glitter aesthetic most makeup products are seen with, this mineral is also used “as filler in cement and asphalt, and as insulation material in electric cables”, according to safecosmetics.org. Additionally, they are also used in the production of certain toothpastes, car paints, car parts and plastics.

Therefore, it really is hard to quickly eradicate the use of Mica since it isn’t only in makeup that one can find purpose for it. It’s practically present in a number of other products that are used on a, more or less, daily basis. Now, unless we miraculously find an alternate source that can substitute Mica in all the products that contain it, one of the main things we can just do right now is to find a way on how to substitute it for its lesser purpose in makeup which is to provide shimmer unlike with its more important use of being a filler for things like cement. As stated in a 2006 book called “Industrial Minerals & Rocks: Commodities, Markets, and Uses”, Mica is not only cost-effective as a filler for many manufactured products but (in all of its forms whether dry, hammer-milled, etc…) holds excellent characteristics such as its natural heat resistance, strength and low moisture absorption which thus making it perfect fillers.

Although there has also been an academic study by a Mr. Gerald Maregesi that looked at the negative effect of both black and muscovite/white mica which are used as fillers of cement. It concluded “that the presence of mica in fine aggregates [which make up 75% of concrete] causes reduction of the compressive strength and it increases the water demand.” Basically, that mica in cement apparently reduces its durability. But, again, this claim is just based on one study.

Nonetheless, whatever it is used for, the process of getting a decent supply of Mica has been the main concern for many. In the case of makeup, as its production and use has only been increasing within every year, more and more Mica is demanded by the companies that produce these beauty products.

So how does one get Mica?

It all starts with the underground mines in India, specifically located in the areas of Bihar and Jharkhand, where most of Mica is mined. Thousands of children risk their lives in search of Mica in those two aforementioned regions where children being exploited for labor is pretty much normal there. The Mica they gather are then sold off under the impression that it came from legal mining caves and, thereby, gathered legally by experienced miners. As Lexy Lebsack of Refinery29 has said, upon visiting one of the mining sites in Jharkhand, “By the time the Mica is exported, its illicit origins have been stripped away.” Hence why most consumers like us who think we know what’s going on behind our makeup products (as we are typically given “inside looks” into the process making them) actually have little clue as to what truly goes on behind its production. The secrets of the Mica industry has been going on for decades and yet it is really only now that more people are becoming aware to the painful truth behind the mineral that provides us that well-loved highlight and glow.

But are they (a.k.a. those mica-for-profit syndicates) getting children for cheaper labor costs or practically free labor?

Yes, but the main reason is also for their built. Given that the openings of these mines are too small and risky for most average adults to go into, children are sent in instead to do the dirty work. Nonetheless, this does not change the fact that these caves are very much unstable and any wrong or too quick of a move can immediately cause the entire structure to collapse as what has already happened to a number of unfortunate child victims who have lost their lives mining for Mica. Also, again according to safecosmetics.org, long term exposure to the mineral can cause respiratory problems to occur due to it easily being pulverized and turned into fine dust particles which can then be easily inhaled by anyone around its proximity.

Additionally, in the search for more of the mineral, forests are also being cut down just to build an opening for the mines which is very bad for an environment that already has widespread deforestation done for other reasons.

Recently, an initiative by British cosmetics company Lush has sought to stop its use of Mica in its products and cease being part of the global half a billion dollar Mica industry altogether. They began incorporating in all of its products synthetic Mica instead which apart from not requiring any child labor participants in supplying this ingredient it also actually provides more variety to its sparkles.

Other big brands and conglomerates including LVMH, Sephora, L’Oréal and a couple of others have also begun working with legal mining operations In India to create a sustainable supply of Mica.

Yet, the issue stands. Mica is still mined for its multitude of purposes and, at this point, some people have accepted its high value as an ingredient. Instead, many have been calling out governments, particularly the Indian government, in actually participating in the fight against child labor instead of sweeping it under the rug due to the immense profit Mica makes as well as for the proper compensation or more job opportunities provided to those working adults who also help mine for Mica or whose children continue to mine for it.

If Mica is to still be mined then their point is to at least spare the children who are supposed to be the future of their country—to allow them the opportunity to go to school—and to give back what is due to those legitimately part of the working force so that they may be able to at least afford in giving their children a decent education in return for mining the Mica. A tit for tat especially since areas like Bihar and Jharkhand literally survive mainly off whatever profit they get from Mica.

Although we are still very far from having a totally mica-free society (given that it is also used in other non-makeup products), it helps that more and more companies within the makeup industry are becoming aware of this entire issue behind its supply since change almost always starts small. The fact that it is also big companies or big magazine names in the industry that are finally campaigning against the process of getting mics helps reach towards a wider audience all over the world. So maybe the next time you decide to buy your next haul of makeup, it’ll help to look up the ingredients behind the product first before you make your purchase (Mica also hides behind the names of Potassium Aluminium Silicate and CI 77019). Even just by doing that, you’re probably already helping out in the mission to lessen the use of mica (and subsequently the exploitation of the children mining them) as people are finally starting to see the truth behind the glitters.

Photo Credits: RT Documentary’s Official and Refinery29’s Official YouTube accounts

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