Child Labor & Mica Mining: The Ugly Origins of your Beloved Beauty Products

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Child Labor & Mica Mining: The Ugly Origins of your Beloved Beauty Products

From clean beauty to cruelty-free campaigns, there has been a massive push within the beauty industry for more ethical product and brand development. While these efforts are noble, there remains a product on many cosmetic ingredient lists that often is the result of some seriously unethical pursuits.

What is Mica?

Pull any product from your makeup bag. Chances are, if it contains any type of shimmer (which, during this era of dewy makeup – I bet you it does), then it more than likely is formulated with mica.

Mica, aka “nature’s glitter”, is a family of minerals that is ground down and widely used in makeup and skincare products. Within the beauty industry, mica is a popular ingredient for its ability to give products, and thus consumers, a beautiful, iridescent glow. However, regardless of how beautiful mica’s end result is, it is often the case that this ingredient is connected to an ugly past in child labor.

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Mica and Child Labor

In the Indian states of Jharkhand and Bihar, where mica is bountiful and where a quarter of the world’s mica supply is derived, there is an estimated 22,000 children mining mica, who are put at risk daily by the practice. In these unregulated and unsafe mines, children suffer injuries, such as respiratory illnesses and abrasions, and some children suffer far worse. In one study, it was observed that within a 2 month period, 7 children died in the two regions’ mines.

Since there are so many intermediaries in the mica sourcing process, it is often very difficult to discern whether the product is sourced from child labor or not. The extreme lack of transparency in the industry have muddled the waters when it comes to ensuring an ethical future for the beauty industry.

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What companies are doing – what you can do

Unfortunately, there have been numerous barriers to a path forward when it comes to beauty companies and mica usage. Some brands, such as LUSH, have decided to circumvent the issue of unethical sourcing by switching to synthetic mica. However, many impoverished families are dependent from the income that comes from mica mining. Keeping these concerns in mind, some cosmetic companies have decided to continue utilizing mica sourced from India but now commit themselves to rigorous tracing of the materials they use. One such company, L’Oréal, is one of the founding members of the Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI), which works to establish “a fair, responsible and sustainable mica supply chain in the states of Jharkhand and Bihar”.

As a consumer, it can sometimes be hard to navigate the beauty industry ethically. To do your part in eradicating child labor, you can start by spreading awareness to the issue of mica sourcing and by researching the makeup brands you have in your own cabinet. If the search leaves you without many products left, here is a list of 100+ brands who do use ethically sourced mica.

For a more comprehensive introduction to the topic, I recommend watching this short documentary from Refinery29:

Feature Image from Chatelaine

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