Why natural mica is a no-no for Lush

Since 2018 Lush has been completely natural mica free; this article explores our journey to remove it from our supply chain, including our reasons for switching to synthetic mica.

What is mica?

Mica is the name given to a mineral that gives sparkle to products. Depending on how coarse or fine the mineral is it will produce different effects, levels of shimmer, and colours.

A shimmer effect is created when mica is coated with an oxide, most commonly titanium dioxide. Different colours are achieved by applying more coats of the chosen oxide.

Lush co-founder and makeup creator Rowena Bird explains: “In the same way that light hits a prism and creates a rainbow, when light hits titanium dioxide, it bounces off and gives a rainbow effect. Depending on how many times you coat the mica you get different shades. You can create a total of seven different colours and then after that, the layers create deeper shades each time.”

The intensity of the shine depends on the size of the mica. Rowena explains that for a shinier effect, the mica particle needs to be bigger. That said, bigger particles can sometimes cause irritation, so mica particle sizes are regulated for certain products, such as eyeshadow, to ensure products are comfortable and safe to use.

Rowena adds: “The size that you make the pigment, determines how shiny it is. A silk eyeshadow would need a small particle size, so it looks and feels very smooth. A smaller particle creates a lustre, whereas a larger particle will create a heavier sparkle.”

What is natural mica?

Natural mica is a naturally-occurring mineral. There are many types of mica and it can be found across the globe, however, over the years the cosmetic industry has given preference to Indian mica due to its quality. It is used across numerous industries in anything from car paints, inks, and edible glitters, to cosmetics. Due to the human rights issues, namely Child labour, associated with the mining of natural mica, Lush has made a commitment to remove natural mica from its production as of 1st January 2018.

What is synthetic mica?

Synthetic Fluorophlogopite - more widely referred to as synthetic mica, mimics the effect of natural mica but is made in a lab. Just like natural mica, the synthetic alternative gives a glittering finish to makeup.

Despite being a man-made substance, synthetic mica is an environmentally-friendly alternative to commonly used plastic glitters. Lush Creative Buyer Gabbi Loedolff says: “Even though it is synthesised in a lab, it is constructed of natural minerals, so you don’t end up with the problem of microplastics which can end up in the oceans and water supplies."

As a business, Lush remains committed to tracking down the most environmentally-friendly materials for our products, which means all the shimmers and sparkles you’ll find in your favourite products are kinder to the planet than PET based glitters.

Because synthetic mica is created in a lab, the purity is higher, so bolder colours and more reflective products can be achieved when compared to natural mica. Rowena explains: “The positives of using synthetic mica come when creating a very sparkly eyeshadow. Natural mica has jagged edges, whereas synthetic has very smooth edges, meaning you can use a much larger particle size of the synthetic to accomplish something much sparklier. If you were to use the same particle size of natural mica this would feel uncomfortable around the eyes.”

What is the problem with natural mica?

Natural mica itself is not a problem, however the ethical issues that surround it are linked to the sourcing of the mineral.

Lush first started buying materials containing natural mica back in 2012. We chose suppliers based on the guarantees that children were not working in production, and had audit reports to verify this. Our supplier was working with a local NGO called BBA (Save the Childhood Foundation), which works with whole communities to accomplish ‘child-friendly villages.’

Unfortunately, the pigment division of the company was subsequently sold to another company. Gabbi explains: “We were told that the company could no longer offer the same external, third party auditing or verification. The new suppliers remained adamant that there was no child labour involved but because we no longer had verification of that fact by an independent company this raised a concern. It was then that we decided to switch all of our materials containing natural mica to a synthetic-based mica instead.”

When did Lush decide to stop using natural mica?

When we were no longer able to guarantee transparency in the supply chain, we decided to make the change to synthetic mica. In 2014, we started working to replace all ingredients containing natural mica with a synthetic mica based version. As of 1st January, 2018 we stopped using natural mica in production. 

Gabbi explains: “For us, it was to do with the sourcing practises behind natural mica. It became clear that we couldn’t get the transparency that we wanted in our natural mica supply chains, so we decided synthetic mica was a better and more ethical option for us.”

Why did it take so long for Lush to switch?

Eliminating natural mica from production wasn't an easy process as it meant we needed to put in place tighter controls and, of course, we didn’t want to waste the stock that we already had.

In 2016 natural mica was discovered in a range of mica pigments that we were told were synthetic. Gabbi explains: “This discovery was a real shock for us and highlighted the need for really tight controls. So it wasn’t just that it was our ethical preference not to use natural mica, it was absolutely something our suppliers had to fully commit to and confirm that they would not use natural mica in anything that they supplied us with.”

The decision to completely halt the use of all natural mica was a complicated one and Lush was struck with a moral dilemma. Rowena explains: “We only use a very small amount of the pigments in our makeup range and you can only buy these pigments in kilo lots, so there can be a lot left over. The decision was made to use up the stock that we had before declaring ourselves free of natural mica in order to avoid wastage. You have to give the material and the people who mined it the respect they are due.”

Gabbi adds: “Once we become aware of any potential issues, it took time to further research and build our knowledge on these matters. At Lush, we prefer to visit our suppliers and take a collaborative approach to resolving any challenges that we encounter. Unfortunately in this instance, the magnitude of the issue combined with our relatively small buying power and the fact that we were advised not to visit without armed accompaniment, meant we did not feel that we had the influence to drive the improvements needed. Therefore we made the decision to move away from purchasing natural mica and to move to synthetic mica based alternatives instead.”

Why not become part of the Responsible Mica Initiative instead?

As a smaller buyer, we’re doing things our own way...

The Responsible Mica Initiative is an association that wants to achieve a 100% responsible mica supply chain over the next five years. The initiative is a collection of different companies, predominantly in the cosmetics industry, that are working to try and bring about changes to the supply chain and the legislation surrounding mica mining. Whilst Lush supports the Association’s objectives, when we first came across these problems there wasn’t the same public awareness that there is now.

Gabbi explains: “When we were looking to make a change, other companies weren’t really talking about these issues. If you consider that the cosmetics industry uses about 10% of the natural mica produced in the world, we are a really small part of that and as a small user we have very limited buying power. We didn’t feel that we could actually have the impact that we wanted to have, so that informed our decision to move to synthetic mica.”

How do I know if my cosmetics are made with natural or synthetic mica?

To find out whether the mica in your cosmetics is synthetic or natural look out the following information on your labels.

Natural mica will be listed as ‘Mica’, ‘Potassium Aluminium Silicate’ or ‘CI 77019’ on the quantitative ingredients list, whereas Synthetic mica will be listed as ‘Synthetic Mica’ or ‘Synthetic Fluorphlogopite.’

You'll find all the ingredients we use in a product listed on the packaging (where appropriate) and online. What's more, you'll find examples of where we harness the sparkle of synthetic mica across our range of cruelty free, vegan makeup. Such shiny delights include silver eyeliner Success and our radiant face powder Emotional Brilliance, but you can discover the whole range here.

But aren’t natural materials always better than synthetics?

No, this isn’t always the case...

The majority of our ingredients harness the power of Mother Nature, however, when it comes to picking materials that are ethical and sustainable, natural ingredients aren’t always the best option. Take musk for example - for many years companies used musk from animal sources, but as a vegetarian company, we use a synthesised musk to ensure it is cruelty-free.  

Gabbi lists a few other reasons why synthetic mica is a better option than natural mica: “Synthetic based mica is much brighter in colour and because it’s synthesised in a lab it is very pure in quality, so it doesn’t have the heavy metal contamination that natural mica can have.”

Sourcing ethical and environmentally-friendly ingredients is an ever-evolving process and the buying team at Lush is continually working hard to improve how our materials are sourced.

Words by Amy Shepherd

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