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Glitter and Mica: Beauty, Environment, and Child Labor

While I don’t have the chance to wear makeup much, I love shimmery and glittery eyeshadow. I enjoy the variety of shades makeup brands offer, and I like experimenting with different looks. However, shortly after receiving my first eyeshadow palette, I learned about the environmental and ethical ramifications of shimmery and glittery eyeshadow. 

black makeup palette
Siora Photography/Unsplash

First, let’s talk about glitter! Glitter in makeup is a microplastic, and microplastics are extremely dangerous for the environment. Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than 5 mm in length, and because of their small size, when we take our makeup off and wash our faces, microplastics pass through water treatment system filters. They then end up in our waterways and pollute our oceans, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. Plastic pollution in our waterways is already a huge issue. From there, glitter can be consumed by sea life and then subsequently end up in our bodies from the seafood we eat. Even if your glitter doesn’t end up down your sink but instead on a makeup wipe thrown in the trash can, that glitter will ultimately go to the landfill, leaking toxicants into the soil. 

Sharon McCutcheon - Unsplash

If you can’t part with glitter, try biodegradable glitter. Beauty brands like BioGlitz make their biodegradable glitter from plant cellulose. Just a warning, though, biodegradable glitter is harder to find than makeup with regular glitter. If you know you need makeup with glitter for an event, make sure you find your biodegradable glitter makeup product earlier. 

Now, some have turned to mica as an alternative to glitter. Mica is the mineral dust mixed with crystals, granite, and other materials to create the shimmery eyeshadow we all love. Mica can also be found in concealers, highlighters, and blush. However, mining mica has impacted the environment negatively. Mining, in general, can lead to soil erosion and contaminate water and soil. Furthermore, mining mica also leads to deforestation. Many trees and large areas of forests are cleared to provide more space for mica mining. Mica mining also impacts wildlife as well. In India, villagers reported a decrease in elephants, wild boars, and rare birds. 

Mining mica not only poses serious environmental ramifications, but it also has serious ethical issues as well. The majority of natural mica is linked to child labor and illegal mines. 60% of high-quality mica used in makeup is from India, and India made mining illegal in the 1980s. Today, 22,000 Indian children are estimated to work in these illegal mica mines. I first learned about children mining mica in a Refinery 29 documentary. I was horrified that natural mica was mined by children who make less than fifty cents a day. Mining mica not only prevents children from attending school, but they present a great danger to these working children. If a mine collapses while children are inside, injuries, paralyzation, and death are possible. Children and adult miners alike know how dangerous mining mica is, but for many, it is their families’ only source of income. 

With the environmental and ethical implications of natural mica in mind, one thing you can do is switch over to synthetic mica. A number of beauty brands, including Lush, have switched over to synthetic mica for these exact environmental and ethical reasons. Take a look at the labels of the products you want to buy. Natural mica will be listed as ‘mica,’ ‘potassium aluminum silicate,’ or ‘CI 77019.’ Synthetic mica will be listed as ‘synthetic mica’ or ‘synthetic fluorphlogopite.’

Cosmetics and brushes rest on a table
Photo by Emma Bauso from Pexels

However, mica mining families share that mica mining is their only livelihood. If you can, one way to support these vulnerable communities is to donate. For example, the Kaliah Satyarthi Children’s Foundation serves to connect parents to new income opportunities so their children do not have to work. Another thing you can do to help is to shop from makeup brands that sustainably source mica with a traceable supply chain. You can also go on their websites to find more, and if you can’t find a clear answer, you can reach out and ask by emailing or calling their customer support and service teams. 

Unfortunately, glitter and mica both harm our environment, and mica poses additional ethical problems. For those searching for makeup products to help the sparkle, I suggest trying biodegradable glitter or synthetic mica. As consumers, we can and should take the time to carefully consider the ramifications of our actions. Doing additional research on a specific beauty brand or product never hurts, especially if there is a possibility that such a product will harm our environment or put others at risk. It is the least we can do for ourselves, for others, for our planet, and the future to come.

Ashley is a freshman majoring in Political Science at UC Davis. Her hobbies include brush lettering, reading, and painting her nails. Ashley is passionate about female empowerment and fighting for gender equality. She plans to attend law school and hopes to become a prosecutor or civil rights attorney.
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