What’s the Deal With Mica?

by Catherine Conelly

If you’re a fan of organic, natural beauty products, mica powder is a holy grail. If you love shimmer, you probably own several products that contain mica powder: eye shadow, nail polish, and bronzer. But — and this is a big but — if you’re a fan of ethical beauty products, forget everything we just said.

As an ingredient approved by natural-beauty gurus, it might seem harmless at first glance. But the boom for mica powder and resulting skyrocketing demand in the beauty industry have led to some less-than-ethical and not-so-sustainable sourcing practices to keep up.

The Problem with Mica Powder

The problem isn’t with mica powder itself but with how it’s sourced. Much of the mica powder found in cosmetics comes from two Indian states, Bihar and Jharkhand, which are home to the largest mica mining areas and produce 25% of the world’s supply. But they are also rampant with poverty. According to a report by the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations, Bihar and Jharkhand are the two Indian states with the highest poverty rates, and 40% of the population is illiterate.

In addition to the obvious economic downsides of poverty and lack of education, both factors make communities extremely vulnerable to child labor. In fact, according to the International Labor Organization, they’re the top drivers.

Even in poverty-stricken areas where education may be available, the struggle to survive takes precedence. Children feel pressure to help provide for their families when parents have no other option. The same report by the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations estimated that around 20,000 children in Bihar and Jharkhand are involved with the mica mining process, while 90% of the mining in these two areas is illegal.

The Solution

So how do we make it stop? It starts with where you spend your money. The perfect shimmery eyeshadow palette doesn’t have to come at the cost of cruelty. But the answer isn’t necessarily to boycott mica altogether. As an in-depth investigation by Refinery 29 reports, driving down demand for mica may only worsen poverty in the areas that depend on it to earn money to feed their families.

But if decreasing the demand for mica powder won’t eradicate poverty or child labor, supporting safe and sustainable mining operations may at least get us one step closer. What does that mean for you? You should buy from brands that go the extra mile.

Which Brands Are Ethical?

Research your favorite brands and make sure they source their mica responsibly and ethically. It’s the first step toward making sure that all beauty products are ethical beauty products. Support companies that purchase mica from fair-trade operations paying their workers fair wages. Choose brands that continuously audit and trace where the mica in their beauty products originates.

Shared Planet is committed to never selling products that are produced using child labor and to sourcing only ethical mica so you can shimmer without shame. Child labor is not a problem we can fix overnight, but the one thing we can all do is spend wisely and research what’s in our beauty products as well as where it comes from. Who’s with us?

Catherine Conelly is a former beauty and health editor turned freelance writer and content marketer. She’s written for “Shape,” Thrillist, PopSugar and StyleCaster. Her work has also appeared on Forbes, Entrepreneur, the Glassdoor blog and Adidas Game Plan A.