What’s the Deal (Controversy) With Mica? Synthetic vs. Natural

Something that I’ve seen of debate recently in the beauty community, specifically the drama community on YouTube, is the ingredient mica which is a popular ingredient in most eyeshadow palettes. There are two different types: natural and synthetic fluorophlogopite. So, I thought I would do some research into the ingredient as I was curious what the big deal was. And then share with you that information since we’re focused on cruelty free beauty here. And while by definition that means “not tested on animals at any stage of production”, there is such a thing as ethically sourced and I think that falls into this category as well.

My main resources in this research were LUSH, Ethical Consumer, and Ethical Unicorn as well as various researches conducted. I’ll link/source those as they come up. But these three have great articles on the topic and were my main diving point into the topic, so I wanted to make sure to give my thanks to them.

What is Natural and Synthetic Mica?

Before we can dig into the problem with mica, it’s a good place to start with “what is mica?” It’s a naturally-occurring mineral that has been used in the cosmetics industry for ages. And is commonly resourced/mined from India where 60% of the global mica production occurs. However, there is also a synthetic kind called fluorophlogopite, which is made in labs that tend to be bolder in pigmentation and more reflective than natural mica. These should be clearly labeled on the packaging of the product. Natural mica is listed as ‘Mica’, ‘Potassium Aluminium Silicate’ or ‘CI 77019’, whereas synthetic mica is listed as ‘Synthetic Mica’ or ‘Synthetic Fluorphlogopite.’

What’s the Problem with Natural Mica?

The mineral itself is not the problem, it’s how it is sourced. As mentioned, mica is commonly resourced from India which has a major problem with child labor. In 2016, Dutch NGO SOMO and Terre des Hommes Netherlands released a new report which confirmed findings of up to 20,000 child laborers being involved in the mining of the mineral along the border between Jharkhand and Bihar in North East India. It is estimated that 25% of the world production of mica is sourced from these illegal mines. Many of these children are living in poverty so they go to work in these caves to get their families some money, due to this they are working in poor conditions where caves often collapse or risk getting snake and scorpion bites in addition to skin infections and respiratory illnesses. India officially produces about 15,000 tonnes of crude and scrap mica a year, according to the government’s Bureau of Mines. It has a few hundred tonnes stockpiled. Yet it exported more than 130,000 tonnes meaning a lot of this came from illegal mines that are run by cartels.

There is an initiative called The Responsible Mica Initiative that is working to eradicate child labor and unacceptable working conditions in India mica supply chain within the next five years. However, not all cosmetics brands are part of this. LUSH has switched to pure synthetic mica as of January 2018, and though they aren’t cruelty free L’Oreal is the only mainstream company that states they only source from “legal gated mines where working conditions can be closely monitored and human rights respected.”

This initiative has three main objectives:

  1. Implement fair and sustainable mica collection, processing and sourcing practices.
  2. Empower local communities to ensure long lasting change.
  3. Work together with the Indian government and local authorities to build a legal framework and liveable environment for Indian mica communities.

Now I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with my makeup that has natural mica but it something that I’m going to try to be more mindful of in the future when I’m purchasing new products. If you would like me to do a mini series on various ingredients, I can as I think there’s something similar with sandalwood that might be an interesting thing to look into for how that’s sourced.

Love ya,

Mae Polzine

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