Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Dark Side of Mica

If your makeup has a sparkle or a shimmer, most likely you're using an ingredient called mica. Mica is a natural mineral that is mined and broken down to create a sparkly dust. While it creates great color, skin feel, and sparkle to cosmetics, there are some downsides to using this ingredient.
photo by blmurchvia PhotoRee
Skin Irritation
There is some evidence that mica can lead to skin irritation. Mica comes off in micro-thin sheets, (like what you see above) and when it's broken down to a powder, these sheets can be jagged, depending on the grade of the material. Theoretically these jagged particles could create microscopic lesions on your skin, leading to redness and irritation. There have been no studies on, this however, there is some empirical evidence that it does act this way for some people with more fragile or sensitive skin. Additionally, in order to create color with shimmer, micas are coated with colorants, many times synthetic dyes, so there is a risk of irritation from allergy to a mica.  

Chemical Processing
Most micas are not just used for shimmer, but for color. In order to impart color to micas, they undergo much chemical processing. They can be coated with mineral oxides (titanium dioxide, bismuth, iron, etc) but also with synthetic colorants. Some micas are then coated with silicones or other fatty materials to then reduce exposure to the dyes and reduce irritancy. So, while mica is a naturally-occurring mineral, calling it "natural" is a stretch of the word because of the intensive processing it underoges. However, it's generally accepted that when coated, it's an inert ingredient that's relatively safe. (Although breathing in the powder should be avoided.) 

While mica doesn't pose a large health risk, the environmental impact of mica creation seems to be substantial. Here's a description of how, after it's mined, it's processed:

Initially, ore is crushed to a fine powder to liberate the various mineral components of the ore, and then it is slurried to form an aqueous mineral dispersion. This crude dispersion is deslimed and separated according to particle sizes of the dispersed solids using a variety of mechanical classifiers. Desliming involves the addition of process chemicals such as sodium silicate to disperse slimes of hydrated clays, e.g., kaolin, which interfere with processing operations.
The separated fractions are then subjected to froth flotation to isolate the mica flakes from the kaolin, quartz and feldspar byproducts. Froth flotation entails diluting and agitating the mineral slurries in solutions of surfactants under acidic, pH = 2.5–4.0, or alkaline, pH = 7.5–9.0, conditions to entrain the desirable mica fractions in the resulting foam or froth. The mica-laden froth is then separated, concentrated and dried to recover the mica flakes, while the byproducts may undergo further treatment and isolation steps for use in other applications.
Flake mica may be converted to ground mica by dry or wet grinding.4, 5 Wet grinding is typically employed to obtain the higher quality ground mica used in cosmetics. The wet process yields exceedingly flat mica flakes with small particle sizes, high aspect ratios and smooth edges. In wet grinding operations, mica flake is ground in the presence of 20–35% water, dewatered, dried and then screened on sieves to segregate the various particle size fractions prior to bagging. Micronization techniques may be employed to produce even more finely ground mica particles. In this milling process, mica particles are propelled into each other at high speeds using jets of superheated steam or compressed air, causing a grinding action that effectively reduces particle size and thickness.- See more at: http://www.cosmeticsandtoiletries.com/research/chemistry/premium-Profile-of-Mica-209695521.html?c=n#sthash.JQmggUZi.dpuf
Unethical Mining Practices

In addition to the environmental impacts of strip mining, there's a human element as well. Mica suppliers and mines are being called in to question for child labor, especially in India. States one article: "the industry here is little better than a black market, dependent on a huge unskilled workforce, forced into working for lower and lower prices. Profits are made off the backs of children." Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/indias-mica-mines-the-shameful-truth-behind-mineral-makeups-shimmer-20140118-311wk.html#ixzz3K6x41I2t 

Makeups are probably the most difficult-to-find products when it comes to finding something that's truly organic. We have high expectations of our makeups: brilliant colors, shimmer, staying in place, feeling good on our skin, smelling mild, not clogging our pores. Mica is an ingredient that not only gives brilliant color and shimmer, but can even help absorb oil and give a silky feel on skin. However, there is a "dark" side to mica that one should consider when making an informed decision when choosing products. 

12 comments:

Bynna said...

As a girl in her early 20s who does enjoy using makeup (not a ton, I like the natural glow look.)but also believes totally in organic health (inside and outside the body)and taking care of this beautiful earth God has given us (AND the people in it of course!) this article was/is very interesting to me. Thank you for the information! It is so very hard to find truly organic makeup. Seems harder still to find makeup without Mica and Titanium Dioxide. I have found one company-epic mineral beauty...Stephanie, if possible would you please tell me what makeup brands you use? I would greatly appreciate it!

Michelle R said...

Thanks for the info, Stephanie! I got a lot out of your makeup recommendations post in 2013, would love to see an update. Because of finding that, I am now hooked on Lauren Brooke Cosmetiques. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great artical!
Are there any suggestions for how to avoid using cosmetics that contribute to child labor? That sounds just awful, but I'm a little overwhelmed with life in general...its hard to find time to research what practically this means to me and what I should do about it...

love natural sunshine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephanie Greenwood said...

Thanks for your questions! My recommendations since 2013 really haven't changed, even if some of them do contain mica, they don't pose a risk to the end user in most cases (barring allergies.) Lauren Brooke and others still remain my top recommendation. It's really impossible to know which companies use mica mined from ethical sources or not. Most of the time they don't even know because they're getting the mica from distributors that are three steps away from the actual mine in the distribution chain. Really, this article is to spread information and to start a discourse. When we start asking questions from companies, we can affect change all the way up the distribution chain.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Bynna--you can find my recommendations here: http://bubbleandbee.blogspot.com/2013/10/my-makeup-picks-updated.html There are no real perfect options, some do contain mica still. Mica doesn't have a large risk to the end user, so they're still on my "safe" list. However, I want to build upon a discourse on the topic, raise awareness, and start to question companies, mostly suppliers and manufacturers of micas, to hold them to a higher standard, both socially and environmentally.

Cking said...

How do you feel about Juice Beauty products?

Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Cking--They have a handful of certified organic options (look for those with the USDA seal) that I approve of. However, the vast majority of their line is still filled with synthetics.

Cking said...

I do choose USDA labels as first choice on most items...but when you can't get that and things claim to be all natural or 90-100% natural, how do you know who is the best and trust worthy? Also what do you recommend for the best natural solution for acne prone skin? I break out very easily but yet I am also so dry that my skin flakes so bad and my nose even peels...so I need good acne fighting but gentle and moisturizing at the same time, practically all year too! I also suffer bad with a lot of clogged pores or the black comedones on nose and chin with some on cheeks and forehead but nose and chin are the worst areas...could you help me on this?

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Thanks for your question, CKing! You may find some insight from another blog article I have here: http://bubbleandbee.blogspot.com/2012/12/is-your-flaking-skin-really-oily-skin.html Your symptoms sound consistent with seborrheic dermatitis.

Carlos Alvarez said...

Hi Stephanie,

Thank you for sharing this information with us. You certainly have a lot of insights into Mica and the effects.Look forward to more cool articles like these.

Carlos

Wormly Organics Online Food Store said...

I'm sure that a lot of women were enlightened by your post. It's really important to choose the products that you'll use wisely. Cosmetics should be carefully chosen to ensure that it will only bring improvements and not cause problems at all. Thanks for sharing!