Written by: Claudia Hall
Your usual Saturday night routine might begin with a smear of concealer, two coats of mascara and some lipstick; but in 2020 – no look is ever complete without a dusting of highlighter. That shimmery finish, like icing on the cake huh? But alas, the reality behind your favourite makeup is far from sweet.
The vast majority of cosmetics today contain a fine mineral called Mica; the seemingly innocent ingredient that gives eyeshadows, highlighters and other products a glittery shine like no other. Muscovite, known more widely as white mica, is a sheet silicate mineral. This thin, transparent silica rich mineral forms in igneous rocks, from mines located in Western India, where 25%of the global supply is sourced1. Though non-toxic and versatile, the increase in demand for high end makeup pallets has brought some unwanted attention to the supply chain- exposing not only the negative environmental impacts; but the workforce of 20,000 children2.
As the largest mica producing nation, mining occurs in some of the poorest parts of India; 90% of which are illegal2. States like Jharkhand and Bihar are overwhelmed by poor communities; where children as little as 5 years old crawl through a series of unstable dirt tunnels, collecting flakes of mica with their bare hands. Earning only enough to feed themselves for a day, these children are deprived of an education; stuck in unsafe working conditions where suffocation and respiration issues are inevitable. This extreme turnover fuels a corrupt industry- where untraceable supply chains generated UD$532 billion-dollars in 20193.
Though the extraction of mica is primarily an issue regarding ethics, the damage expands much further. In India, mining makes up the majority of deforestation- heavily impacting endangered native species, and furthering India’s diminishing biodiversity. Between 1980-2019, over 500,000 hectares of forest were cleared to make room for mining4, bringing the extinction rate of India’s native species to 40,000 times the natural depletion rate. Larger scale mica mines where sheet mica is extracted using machinery contribute to further environmental damage, in the form of ground water pollution and CO2 emissions.
Though the future of the mica mining industry looks grim, there is potential to turn it around. The Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI) was formed in 2017, aiming to “Establish a responsible Mica supply chain that is free of child labour by 2022.” who alongside the Indian government will work towards a sustainable and ethical industry for the future. In terms of the end product, sustainable alternatives have also begun to appear in the market. Leading the way is Lush cosmetics; who in 2018 eliminated natural mica from all of their products6. By replacing the staple ingredient with a sustainably sourced synthetic mica, Lush was still able to manufacture products of equal quality; as sometimes natural is not always better.
For the sustainable development of both our planet and our people, it is essential we make better choices. By purchasing more sustainable cosmetics or skipping out on them altogether- we can decrease the demand for mica; allowing communities to break the cycle of poverty while benefiting the natural environment.
So, the next time you want to purchase the latest eyeshadow pallet endorsed by a popular celebrity, I hope you’ll think- is that little extra shine really worth it?
- RMI – Challenges. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://responsible-mica-initiative.com/about-us-rmi
- Kate, A. T., Schipper, I., Kiezebrink, V., & Remmers, M. (2016). Beauty and a Beast: Child labour in India for sparkling cars and cosmetics.
- What the $532bn beauty industry looks like in 2019. (2019, December 23). Retrieved from https://edited.com/resources/what-the-beauty-industry-looks-like-in-the-future/
- Mehta, P. S. (2002, February). The Indian Mining sector: Effects on the Environment and FDI inflows. In Conference on foreign direct investment and the environment
- Lush New Zealand. (2018, January 3). FAQ on Lush and mica. Retrieved from https://nz.lush.com/article/faq-lush-and-mica