Mica: How Much Does Your Makeup Really Cost?

Marianel Andrea

An Indian girl working at a mica mine
Courtesy: terredeshommes.nl

Makeup is considered essential by women. The majority of them uses it every day to beautify themselves and conceal forms of blemishes on their face. Although expensive, they would purchase different brands of makeup that ensures them of a promise for a youthful and livelier appearance. As all products are made in time, makeup doesn’t stay stationary; it also has trends that differ from time to time. 

The makeup trend of today focuses is the dewy face, a total opposite of 2019’s matte skin trend. To achieve a dewy and hydrated face, women usually need the help of a highlighter. Highlighters can cost from $3 up to $95 and could come in a powder (E.l.f.’s Baked Highlighter), liquid (Maybelline’s Master Strobing Liquid Illuminating Highlighter), stick (NARS’ The Multiple) or even jelly form (Farsali’s Jelly Beam Illuminator). What makes highlighters shimmer is due to a component called mica, a naturally occurring mineral dust. Mica is not only used for highlighters, but also to other types of makeup like eyeshadows and foundations, shingles, as a substitute for glass, wallpaper, insulation, cement, and asphalt. Mica may be harmless in our makeup, but it poses a serious peril for those who obtain it for us. Meet the child laborers of India and Africa. 

In 2019, Madagascar ranked 4th in the highest mica production in the world while India ranked 8th. Each country earned millions in return for their large exports, yet these countries remain poor. If you dig deeper, you’ll know that the abundance of illegal traders could be to blame. If you set up for a legitimate business, you have fees to pay to the government such as taxes. However, there are illegal traders do not have a legitimate business. They hire middlemen to sell the mica under the license of a legal mine from another part of the country. Once the mica is shipped out of the country, traces of illegal trading would be too impossible to track. With these operations slyly planned and secretly done away from the awareness of law-abiding enforcers, they were able to operate in poor towns. The reason why these towns were selected because the people residing in that area don’t have many options where to work and what job may provide them with money to support their respective families, so they risk their lives in exchange for a very small wage. The parents of one family cannot feed their children by themselves, so the children were forced to work at an early age. Working in mica mines isn’t easy. Many children have died whilst in one. Though the risks are too evident to ignore, these children still brave their way to the mines because they won’t have any food on their tables if they don’t. Even if they don’t die from being covered by debris in the mines, they risk their health for they could develop respiratory illnesses (due to the powder irritating the mucous membrane linings inside the lungs).

An estimated 22,000 children in India and at least 11,000 in Madagascar are risking their lives in these mines. Fortunately, some makeup brands began to use synthetic mica for their products. Cosmetic conglomerates like L’Oréal, Estée Lauder Companies, LVMH, Coty, Chanel, and Shiseido have all joined a group called the Responsible Mica Initiative or RMI that was started in 2017 to create an ethical, transparent supply chain by 2022. A Nobel Prize awardee, Kailash Sayarthi, founded the Kailash Sayarthi Children’s Foundation that piloted a concept named “The Child Friendly Village” which aims to connect parents to new sources of income which helps prevent their children working at an early age.

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