Health & Beauty

Health & Beauty, Life & Style

Mica – the ugly truth behind the sparkle

mica in makeup

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A dash of child labour, a pinch of deforestation and sprinkle of unfair wages – do you know what’s in your make-up?

The make-up industry has been hitting the headlines recently with some damning reports on the sourcing, mining and processing of a key ingredient of many make-up items: mica.  Why is this natural mineral causing such controversy and is it the only issue in the make-up supply chain?  Georgina Rawes from Ethical Consumer reports on their latest findings for Moral Fibres, when investigating some of the most popular make-up brands.

Mica – the ugly truth behind the sparkle

Until Mica hit the headlines in February most consumers would have known very little about this naturally occurring mineral.  Despite being found in nearly every make-up brand, providing the natural sparkle to eye shadows, lipsticks and blushers, its use had slipped under the radar.

Yet this glittering prize is not all it seems: behind the veneer of colourful shades, expensive marketing, and the promises of beauty there is an ugly truth.

mica in makeup

Recent reports show that 25% of the world’s mica comes from illegal mines in the Jharkhand and Bihar regions of North East India and involves 20,000 child labourers.  A recent ITV news investigation showed appalling working conditions, with children as young as six working in precarious mines.

Tunneling into the hillside to reach the mica deposits, workers have no protective equipment and the poorly constructed mines often collapse.  Cartels, operating illegal mines, are generating huge profits whilst children work for meagre wages and miss out on the education that could lift them from this spiral of poverty.  Between 5-10 children die in the mines each month and unreported adult fatalities are estimated to be much higher.

Despite the recent headlines these practices have been known about and challenged by campaigners for a decade.  So surely this mica doesn’t end up in our cosmetic products here in the UK…

Invading the supply chain

In our recent investigations into the make-up industry, we discovered that all of the make-up brands that we examined used mica in their products but only one mainstream brand had a clear policy on the issue.

It is clear from the absence of policies and statements from cosmetics companies that illegally sourced mica could well be contained within the products that are sold here in the UK.

Company responses

Lush made a pledge to remove mica from their products back in 2014 as they didn’t have the “purchasing power or local knowledge” to stay and make a difference, but they have spoken out about the difficulties that they faced in doing this.  When trying to switch to synthetic mica they found that it also contains traces of natural mica.  “We had no idea how difficult it would be,” said Stephanie Boyd, PR Manager for Lush.

Green People specifically stated that they do not use mica from India and instead source it from Malaysia.

Odylique stated that their mica was “ecologically and ethically obtained according to organic standards”.

L’Oréal was the only mainstream make-up brand to have a policy on their website and they state that 97% of their mica comes from secured sources, agreeing to work only with a limited number of suppliers in India who have committed to: “sourcing from legal gated mines only, where working conditions can be closely monitored and human rights respected”.  Their plan to achieve 100% secured sources by the end of 2016.

Companies must do more

It’s hard to understand why other cosmetics brands haven’t done more to investigate their own mica supply chains, but there is a positive force for change coming.

In February 2017, the Responsible Mica Initiative was set up with the view to eradicating child labour and unacceptable working conditions in the mica supply chain within the next 5 years.

L’Oréal, Coty and Estée Lauder have all signed up to the initiative, which is promising as together with Boots they account for 60% of the total UK make-up sales.

Although this glittering rock has been responsible for so much damage in vulnerable communities over the last decade, at last, it seems that the picture may be changing.  And there really is no excuse for the larger cosmetics companies not to be a driving force for change here.

Is mica the only supply chain issue for make-up brands?

At Ethical Consumer, we have produced reports on over 40,000 companies, brands and products, using calculations to assess and rank companies in all aspects of ethical behaviour.

Our report for the make-up industry  highlighted major issues in supply chain management and the use and sourcing of palm oil across the industry.

eco friendly make up brands


Smaller businesses such as Odylique and Green People were the only companies to achieve the highest Ethical Consumer ratings for supply chain management.

The cosmetics giants such as Boots, Superdrug, L’Oréal, Coty, Estée Lauder all received the lowest ratings.

We found that many brands have inadequate clauses on child labour, guaranteed living wages and acceptable working hours in their supply chain policies and so fail to properly protect workers.  Limited auditing and reporting on these issues also demonstrate a lack of commitment to finding and addressing issues.

Palm oil also an issue

We also found palm oil to be a concern within the make-up industry with companies such as Revlon and Coty having no publicly available policy on the sourcing of palm oil.  Palm oil has been associated with human rights abuses and widespread deforestation, the lack of traceability of the sourcing of palm oil and its derivatives highlights further issues within cosmetics supply chains.

Across all judging criteria, some of the biggest cosmetics companies such as Superdrug, Boots and Loréal achieved some of the lowest ratings.

Ethical Consumer best buys

Whenever we run consumer reports we look to recommend those companies who are doing their part to produce ethical products.  We have awarded our ‘Best Buy Label’ to Odylique (who feature a Fair Trade lipstick in their collection), Green People*, Neal’s Yard* and Lush.  These companies have achieved at least a middle rating for their supply chain management, are certified as organic and/or have received a best rating for their animal testing policies.

what is mica

Make-up shake up

Until large cosmetic companies, with their huge influence and enormous buyer power, can demonstrate that they are committed to managing a fair supply chain where workers are safe and paid fairly, it might be time to use your buying power to support the emerging ethical brands.  It’s time for a make-up shake up.

Thanks to Georgina at Ethical Consumer for this great post.  Score table copyright of Ethical Consumer.


Health & Beauty, Life & Style

A Story & A Request

make up

A brief history of my life thus far:

  • Birth – 1993 – childhood.  Bicycles, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Thundercats.
  • 1994 – 1999 – Early teenage years.  Listening to music, going to gigs in Glasgow, planning what gigs we should go to next, formulating how to get into 18+ gigs when you’re 16 and look about 12, saving up for gig tickets, going to music festivals.  Essentially, music.  And camping.  A lot of camping.
  • 1999 – 2001 – Early university years and all that comes with moving away from home for the first time.  Including the discovery of 50p drinks in the university union.
  • 2002 – Travelling.  Living out of a backpack for the best part of a year.
  • 2003 – 2005 – Later university years – in short, trying to be more responsible, but still going to a lot of parties.  Also having a lot of part time jobs.  The most memorable being a job in a cafe that I lasted one shift  in.  Reason for leaving so hastily?  They asked me to belly dance… Seriously.
  • 2006 – 2009 – Actual proper job territory.  Trying to be a proper grown up – achieving it at least 70% of the time.  Don’t ask about the remaining 30%.
  • 2009 – Home ownership – for this read the run down flat you bought because it was the only one you could afford is taking up all your money and time trying to make it habitable.
  • 2011 – Present – Small children on scene so trying to be a proper grown up, whilst running on 60% less sleep.  Often too tired to operate heavy machinery or drive cars but trusted to look after children.  Constantly looking for my purse, phone, keys, TV remote, etc.  Eventually finding the lost items in really random places and then never being sure if it was me that put them there or the children.

You might be wondering where I am going with this.  Well, all of this is a particularly long winded and convoluted way of saying I don’t have a clue about make-up.  I’ve never really devoted any time or energy in learning how to use it.  My teenage years – the prime time to learn about these things – were, as you can see, a bit preoccupied.

I have approximately four things that I put on my face when I want to look less tired, none of which I’ve ever been sure if I’m using correctly.

I’ve recently tried watching tutorials on YouTube but I’ve realised that there are two kinds of people in this world: 1) people who really really love makeup and 2) people like me who have no clue, and wonder why you’d possibly need/want/have time to put 15+ things on your face.  The people on YouTube fall into the first category, which is really rather intimidating for people in the latter category.

You guys have been asking me for ethical and organic and cruelty free make up recommendations for some time now, and I feel bad for having let you down on this front.

With my authority on make up being approximately zero, I thought that instead we could crowdsource this thing.  I’m pretty sure some readers must be more knowledgeable than I.  So, I’m turning to you dear readers!  I’d love to know:

Your favourite eco beauty brands and products

Your favourite cruelty free brands and products

Your favourite organic brands and products

If the three things can be mutually exclusive then all the better!

Also, if there is anything else you think we need to know (for example, the best eco-friendly brushes, tools, etc) do let me know.

With your help maybe we could put a guide together.  Pop it all in the comments below or send me an email with your favourites!  And if anyone more qualified than I wants to write a guest post then the gig is yours!  Drop me an email to :)