What is mica and where is it used?
Mica, or muscovite, is a natural mineral that is commonly used as a color additive and for a shimmery quality in cosmetic and skincare products. However, since it’s a mineral, it has to be mined for use in these products (1).
Quick troubleshoot: Are glitter and mica powder the same thing?
To put it simply, no they are not. Even though mica is known for its shimmer, it is not the same as glitter, which is made from small pieces of plastic, specifically with microplastic (tiny bits of plastic that are less than 5 millimeters long) (2). These plastic bits spread all over, in our waterways, in our backyards, etc. It is said that we could be ingesting a credit card’s worth of plastic a week (6). Mica, on the other hand, is naturally sourced from the earth.
Whew, there’s no plastic in mica. One potential source of plastic pollution marked off. But wait – what happens to the people who work with mica in factories to make our beauty products? What about the people who mine the mica out of the ground? There are downsides to using mica, too.
How important is mica in skincare and cosmetics, and what kind of mica do we use?
18% of the demand for mica around the world is for cosmetics. That’s huge – the only two categories bigger are electronics and paint (also used for its shimmery qualities). There are two main types of mica, sheet mica and scrap mica – cosmetics and skincare products use scrap (or ground) mica (3).
Note: cosmetics usually don’t use scrap mica straight from mining – they usually use it if it’s a by-product of sheet mica, trimmings off of sheets of mica in the factory, because that is the highest quality of scrap mica. The production of scrap mica depends on sheet mica. These two types are interdependent. For that reason, this article will be looking at the effects of sheet mica and not scrap mica.
What are the dangers of mica, and what is mica mining like?
High mica mining mortality rate.
- Mining is dangerous work. Mica mining is done by the poorest of workers, usually because of the lack of a better alternative. A lot of this work is done by hand, deep in the narrow shafts of the mines – not to mention, sheet miners are paid less than a living wage (3).
There are major illegal and child-labor-using mica mining operations in Madagascar and India.
Madagascar - One of the biggest growing sources for concern (as of 2015) is Madagascar. It is a country riddled with violence and corruption, and is pretty fragile politically. These factors led to the puzzling numbers of greater export numbers of mica than production numbers. This means non-western countries like Madagascar have illegal mica exports – they are not officially recorded in the country’s mica production numbers (3).
Jharkhand, India and Bihar, India (the “Mica belt”) – These areas produce at least 25% of the world’s production of mica. At least 22,000 children are working in sheet mica mining areas in the 300 villages between these two towns. Child labor is extremely prevalent there, and of course, because they are children, they work for only a few cents a day. They can start working at approximately 5 years of age (3).
“Illegal mining is especially associated with various socio-economic problems such as child labour, poor health and safety conditions, limited education and health facilities, trafficking, and security issues.” (Cowan, Shipper, 2018) Where there is illegal mica mining, there is usually a host of other issues to be resolved in the area – mica is only the result of some of these root problems.
Sheet mica mining is extremely labor-intensive for workers.
- The US does produce some mica, but very little because it is not very viable in most western countries because of their higher wages and worker rights laws. Mica production takes place in countries like India, Madagascar, Brazil, China, etc., because many children are undocumented and therefore not protected by labor laws - any existing labor laws are weak in these countries and the other mica producing countries (specifically in wages) (3).
After mining comes the factory.
This is where all the sheet mica gets taken, and where most of the world’s scrap mica is created, as a by-product of sheet mica. (Ding ding – here’s where the mica used in cosmetics is procured.)
What is mica factory work like?
- Mica is a mineral dust – dust that can easily go into your lungs. Repeated contact with mica can lead to a built-up exposure – scientists for decades have been talking about the risk of fibrosis – scarring of the fiber – in the lungs, due to mica. Factory workers face this risk every day working with mica. This of course, is the same risk that miners face, arguably at higher levels than factory workers, because they’re face-to-face with it with rarely any protection for large amounts of the day (4).
How to avoid unethical mica in your beauty products ?
Look for alternatives:
The Responsible Mica Sourcing Initiative
Not all mica is considered equal. The Responsible Mica Sourcing Initiative (RMI) (5) is a coalition that works to establish safe mica working/mining conditions in Jharkhand and Bihar, India. The standards below are taken from RMI’s Working Standards page.
- Legal – Adherence to all laws and regulations, be duly registered and pay taxes
- Social – Employment of workers of legal age, provide fair working hours, respect the freedom of association and diversity, especially the rights of women including access to child care
- Economic – Commitment to provide workers with a minimum wage and overtime pay as well as benefits such as employer contributions to state insurance programs and provident funds
- Occupational health and safety – Providing hygienic facilities and ensuring safe operation of equipment, access to personal protective equipment, first aid and canteens
- Environmental systems – Minimizing the impact of operations on the environment
This initiative has been joined by a large number of mica companies in Jharkhand and Bihar, adding up to 70% of exports from these two places that now responsibly source mica, as of 2019. To give a bigger picture, RMI members make up 30% of India’s mica exports. That is an important step in this process to abolishing unethical mica, and they’re only getting stronger.
Read your labels:
Read the labels of the product you’re using. Don’t fall for buzzwords like the word “Natural”. It doesn’t mean much – mica is natural, but it doesn’t mean it’s good for you or the people that mine it. Avoid names like mica, muscovite, or phlogopite in your ingredient list. Look at our blog post Are you being Greenwashed? for more information on how to catch toxic and unsustainable ingredients and marketing practices while shopping for your green beauty products.
Forego the shimmer:
Many companies use mica needlessly in their products, in foundations for example. Evaluate what you’re using the product for, or creating the product for, and really figure out if you need to use mica powder in it. Here’s some questions to help you think critically:
- Does the purpose of mica (as a shimmery, reflective element) fit what you want in your skincare or makeup product? (Mica in a matte foundation makes no sense, for example)
- Does the benefit of buying a product with unethical mica in it outweigh the environmental and social issues it has?
- What are other safer methods/ingredients you can use on your skin instead of an ingredient like mica powder?
Here’s the scoop on Anato:
We understand what mica is and believe it has no place in green beauty - so none of our products use any form of it. We use annatto seed as a colorant to give a beautiful hue to our products. (Also has some awesome UVA and UVB blocking properties, so you can find it in our Ocean Friendly Sunblock.) Look up more on the annatto seed in our blog post, Why Anato? Our face oils need no shimmery effect – after all, they bring out the au naturale glow from within your own skin! We list out all of our ingredients under every product you buy, and you can always get in contact with us if you have any questions on the sourcing of our ingredients.
Do research on the brand:
Do research on the brand itself to know more about which products use what dyes, colorants, and other products like mica. Look at their “About” or “Our Story” sections for more clarification on how they make their products and what kind of values they consider. Emailing them is another great option to really know if they use ingredients like mica or any other harmful ingredients. The advice we give is: if it doesn’t look right, and doesn’t explicitly state that they don’t use unethical mica or use an alternative for it, you’re probably better off not buying it. Green beauty can be quite deceiving!
If you absolutely need a quality, shimmery eye shadow or highlighter, we recommend Aether Beauty. They have ethical, high quality products that contain exactly the sparkle you’re looking for in mica products, only their mica is ethically sourced! They also have the detailed “About” and “Our Ingredients” section that should be in any brand you’re looking to buy from.
A summary of what mica is:
Mica, a natural mineral, has some pretty bad effects throughout its supply chain, especially for its miners in Madagascar and India – they face a lot of human rights issues and unsafe conditions, as well as some potential lung-scarring from too much mica dust. But not to worry; there are plenty of ways to avoid unethical mica, including the RMI’s Ethical and Responsible Mica Sourcing initiative, using plant based pigments like annatto (what we named Anato after!), and researching mica in your products effectively, all detailed out in this article. There is such thing as synthetic mica, but we do not recommend it as we believe that safe and effective cosmetics grow from the soil!
The problem of mica really highlights why we need plant-based products and a critical eye when looking for a product that sticks to your values. It’s why we take such pride in creating our transparently-crafted products for Anato, and we look forward to sharing some of the stories about the farmers we work with. Our founder, Celine, takes great pride in sourcing ingredients from perennial plants and trees that are good for people too.
Follow up steps:
Dive into the world of Green Beauty.
(1) Mica. (2020). Retrieved August 04, 2020, from
(2) Allman, G. (2019, November 06). Glitter and Mica Powder are not the same thing! Retrieved
August 04, 2020, from
(3) Schipper, I., & Cowan, R. (2018, March). Global Mica Mining and the Impact on Children’s Rights. Global Mica Mining. https://www.somo.nl/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/NL180313_GLOBAL-MICA-MINING-.pdf
(4) Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet. (2002, April). New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. https://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/1659.pdf
(5) Divine Comedie. (2020, April 1). RMI. RESPONSIBLE MICA INITIATIVE. https://responsible-mica-initiative.com/
(6) Could you be eating a credit card a week? (2019, June 12). WWF. https://wwf.panda.org/?348371/Could-you-be-eating-a-credit-card-a-week