The Ugly Origins Of Your Beautiful Makeup Products

“Makeup can be a tool for liberation and expression. It can make us feel beautiful, but one of beauty’s most popular ingredients has a dark side.”

The ethical standards that brands now have to adhere to, or at least are expected to, are a lot higher than they were years ago. Customers now call out brands for their unethical practices, from using animal-based products to animal testing. Even beyond their products, brands are being held accountable for the treatment of their employees, for their stands on social issues, and much more.

However, an investigation by Refinery29 has revealed a “dark truth” that the cosmetics industry has managed to hide for a very long time. This truth concerns the key ingredient in your favorite makeup products.

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Let’s find out more.

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The makeup world today has been taken over by shiny, shimmery products. From shimmery shadows to glowing highlights, this sparkle is everywhere.

However shiny and beautiful these products may be, their origins are as ugly as possible.

In a video entitled “The Dark Secret Behind Your Favorite Makeup Products,“ and an article entitled “The Makeup Industry’s Darkest Secret Is Hiding In Your Makeup Bag,“ Lexy Lebsack chases the origins of a key ingredient in most makeup products – mica.

Her investigation takes her to India.

“Nine thousand miles away, in a remote village in India, children are risking their lives to bring you the shimmer in your makeup.”

R29’s investigation reveals that most of the mica used by major cosmetic brands in the world comes from India, specifically from illegal mines that employ child labor.

“Unlike chunky glitter often made from plastic, mica’s delicate shimmer is one of the pillars of modern makeup — and 60% of the high-quality mica that goes into cosmetics comes from India, mostly from neighboring regions of Bihar and Jharkhand, where child mining and worker exploitation is the norm.”

Beyond the sheer evil that child labor is, these mines pose great dangers to the children working in them.

The Ugly Origins Of Your Beautiful Makeup Products

“Breathing in the dust in mica mines can cause infections, disease, and permanent damage to lungs.”

However, these children are no strangers to these dangers.

“During R29’s investigation, we came upon mines in Jharkhand with children working who were as young as five years old. Most reported that they didn’t go to school and had been working in mines for as long as they could remember. None of them knew where the mica ended up, but everyone knew the dangers.”

Working in these mines pose several health problems, but they also pose a direct and immediate threat to their lives.

“There’s a much more catastrophic risk that worries locals most — and one the Kumari family suffered firsthand. Surma Kumari, 11, and her sister Lakmi, 14, were working in a mine when it began to crumble. When they tried to run, Surma got stuck under a rock and Lakmi was buried under a mountain of debris. Their mother and father were in the village when they heard there had been an accident, but by the time they got to the mine, Lakmi had died.”

The Ugly Origins Of Your Beautiful Makeup Products
Surma Kumari with her parents.

The sad truth is that deaths in these mines aren’t an anomaly, they’re the norm. So much so that the owners of these mines have set a price for their lives.

“Surma’s father, Kishar Kumari, told us that deaths are so common that the traders who control this particular cluster of mines have a set rate they give to families who lose loved ones while mining. “For each person who dies, they give 30,000 rupees [or about $432 in U.S. dollars],” Kishar says. “That was it; they don’t do anything for safety.” Kishar has limited options to make a living, so he still works in the same mines, but stays above ground to sort the mica because it’s lower risk. “There’s no other form of [work],” he explains. “When you’re hungry, there’s no other way.””

The Ugly Origins Of Your Beautiful Makeup Products
Surma’s scar from her accident

The dark and ugly truth of these mines and the origins of mica might make you feel that brands should completely cut off traders that offer mica that comes from these mines. However, that won’t make a difference.

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Families that are employed by these mines would have to find other forms of employment, which would be equally, if not more, dangerous.

The solution isn’t to completely abandon these mines, but to figure out solutions to this problem. Solutions that ensure that these mines are supervised by the authorities, that they pay the miners a fair wage, that they don’t employ children, and most of all – that these children are made to go to school so that they don’t have to work in the same mines and face the same dangers as adults.

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