If you’re a makeup lover who regularly reads the ingredients on your products, you may have heard of mica before. It’s a very popular ingredient in makeup products (and many other things), but you may not know exactly what it is.
Let’s dig into mica a bit further. What is it? Is it safe for your health? For the planet?
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What is Mica?
Mica is a shimmery mineral found in a variety of rocks and crystals. There are 37 different mica minerals, and they all occur naturally in various colors.
It’s most commonly sourced from India because the country has the largest known mica deposits, and many makeup brands use it as a color additive.
Basically any makeup product that has a shimmery look to it is likely made with mica.
What it looks like on the label: Mica, CI 77019, Micagroup Minerals, Pigment White 20, Sericite
Benefits of Mica
As mentioned above, mica is a shimmery mineral, so it adds a shimmery look to your makeup and other skincare products. This shimmer can help reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles.
Since it comes from rocks, it can also give products an exfoliating factor.
Is Mica Natural and Safe?
Mica is naturally-occuring, and it’s mostly safe as an added ingredient.
It can cause lung damage, shortness of breath, and coughing for those who work closely with the mineral itself and breathe it in on a regular basis.
Is Mica Bad for Your Skin?
In makeup and beauty products, mica is perfectly safe for most skin types (though the exfoliating qualities may irritate extra-sensitive skin).
The trouble with mica comes in how it’s sourced.
Two Indian states product about 25% of the world’s mica supply. These two states have the highest poverty rates in India, and 40% of the population is illiterate.
Mica, unfortunately, is a contributing factor to this poverty because much of it comes from illegal mines. (There are also illegal mines in Madagascar.) These illegal operations solicit child labor and pay very little for the amount of work that’s done.
Children as young as 5 years old have been found mining mica in these countries. They complain of backaches and body soreness, and many have been injured or killed on the job.
These kids are skipping school and heading to the mines where they’re paid virtually nothing for the work they’re doing.
Sadly, some brands are not aware of where their mica comes from because the illegal mines make it virtually untraceable.
You can make a difference though. Reach out to your favorite beauty brands and ask them where they source their mica. If they don’t know, they’ll be pressured to find out when more and more customers ask.
You can read more about the mica crisis here and here.
Is There Ethical Mica?
Don’t fear if your makeup has mica in it. Ethical mica does exist! Some brands source their mica from countries with better regulations (like the U.S. and Japan), and others use synthetic mica (which can come in a wider variety of colors).
When researching mica, you may come across information about the Natural Resources Stewardship Circle (NRSC). This organization, formed by major makeup brands like L’oreal and Estee Lauder, is making moves to improve the conditions for mica miners. Their purpose is to create “child-friendly villages” to get children back in school and away from the mines.
Some argue, however, that the NRSC isn’t doing enough.
The organization doesn’t have deadlines, they’re very vague in what a “child-friendly village” entails, and they’re no longer audited by a third party.
How to Avoid Mica
It’s difficult to avoid mica entirely because it’s in such a large assortment of products that we use on a daily basis, and boycotting it entirely can actually worsen the problem because these illegal mines will need to produce their mica at lower and lower prices in order to make it more attractive to brands. This will contribute to a greater poverty rate in the region.
You can make a difference though. Search for brands that purchase responsibly-sourced mica or use synthetic mica. This should be fairly easy to find because the brands will be proud of it.
Synthetic mica (which you may see on the label as synthetic fluorophlogopite) is an environmentally-friendly alternative that’s created in a lab. Though it’s man-made, it’s perfectly safe for you and your skin.
Brands that Use Ethically-Sourced Mica
Clove + Hallow
One of my personal favorite beauty brands, Clove + Hallow, uses natural mica in their products, but it’s sourced ethically from the U.S. Their Sunrise Pressed Pigment Palette uses synthetic mica as well.
On their website, 100% Pure mentions that their mica is “ethically-sourced,” but without much more information, I reached out to them to learn more. This was their response: “We also ensure that our mica is sourced within the framework of the Ethical Trade Initiative base code. We are confident that our mica is not only of the highest quality but that it’s produced in the most ethical and safe way possible. The mill, located in Andhra Pradesh, is a modern, high-tech facility, that never utilizes child labor and holds product quality to exceptional standards.”
Au Naturale does their due diligence in making sure their mica comes from reputable sources. Their natural mica is responsibly-sourced from suppliers who own and run their own mines and have control over the entire process, from start to finish. This makes the mica traceable and ensures that no child labor is used.
Omiana is a hypoallergenic makeup brand that’s focused on creating products that are safe for all skin types. Because of this, they offer a range of 100% mica-free products.
In 2018, LUSH became 100% natural mica-free. Instead of tossing out all of the products that used mica back in 2014 (when they decided to stop using it), they opted to use up the products that were already in production. This created less waste and was more environmentally-friendly.
Shared Planet is another brand that makes sure none of their products are produced using child labor. They source their mica from fair-trade operations that pay fair wages and can easily trace their mica, so you can “shimmer without shame.”
If you’d like to cut mica all together (whether for ethical reasons or because you have sensitive skin), Rejuva Minerals offers a wide selection of makeup that is entirely mica-free. Their products are also talc and paraben-free!
Where Else is Mica Used?
Mica isn’t only found in the beauty industry. In addition to its use in makeup and skincare products that “brighten” or “illuminate,” mica is also used in car paint, building materials, and as insulation in some electronics.