What is it?
Mica is the name given to a group of silicate minerals which can be ground down into a sparkling powder for use in beauty products, causing it to be referred to as "nature's glitter". Colours vary between the different minerals, from silver and white to pink and purple tones.
What is it used for?
Mica is one of the most important mineral ingredients in cosmetics, used widely to add shimmer and sparkle. Basically if a product has a shimmer effect, it's almost definitely mica. It is also popular in skincare products designed to create a glow effect, particularly those marketed as brightening or illuminating. Outside of the beauty industry, ground mica is also used occasionally in toothpaste, in car paint and in plastics.
What are the pros and cons of using it?
The biggest benefit of mica is its ability to create a natural shimmery finish, since it can be milled to a fine powder. Because it is naturally produced it is a particularly well-loved ingredient among organic and natural beauty brands, and is safe to use on almost all skin types with little to no side effects. However, the dark side of mica is the mining of it. The Jharkhand state in India had the largest deposits of mica in the world, however the abundance of poverty in the region has led to widespread child labour in its mining. As reported by The Guardian in July 2016, even beauty brands dedicated to cleaning up their mica supply chains have struggled due to the difficulty in tracing the true origins of the mineral. Mica is bought by intermediaries, resulting in the mixing of legal and illegal mica which is then sold on to processing companies, whilst poor social conditions exacerbate the issue. And whilst boycotting Indian mica altogether might seem like the solution, Dutch NGO SOMO stated in a 2016 report that "this will not solve the problems of child labour, rampant poverty and low health, safety and environmental (HSE) standards," recommending staying involved and "seriously conducting due diligence" instead. Few make-up companies are able to avoid the use of mica altogether if they are to continue manufacturing their products - it is less ubiquitous but still prevalent in the skincare market - so finding a sustainable solution is key.
Which products will I find it in?
If you want to avoid mica in your skincare regime, the best thing to do is check your product labels diligently. However, companies such as L'Oréal have led the way in working with NGOs and independent partner organisations to help end the cycle of child labour in mica mining. L'Oréal was actively involved in the Responsible Mica Sourcing Summit, organised by The Natural Resources Stewardship Circle (NRSC) and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) in February 2016, and states on its website that: "We have therefore decided to implement a sustainable procurement policy in India based on a limited number of suppliers who have committed to sourcing from legal gated mines only, where working conditions can be closely monitored and human rights respected". So, if you do continue to use products containing mica, do your research and consider sticking with companies committed to ending the cycle of child labour. You can read SOMO's full report here.