Synthetic mica currently consists of only around 10% of the global supply, with mined mica being the remaining 90%. In regards to the pearlescent pigment industry this only alters to a 20% and 80% share respectively.
Before we begin we must first understand the basis for the need for synthetic mica over readily available mica so;
What is mica?
Mica is a broad term for one of thirty seven chemical variations (Phyllosilicates) of a naturally occurring layered, silicate mineral that is used in many different industries for its resilient and widely applicable properties, of which there are a few key points we’ll focus on later. The main applications you may have encountered it are the electrical industry, the paint industry, and perhaps more commonly known, the cosmetics and body care sector.
The main types of mica on the market are;
- Muscovite or white mica (potassium mica);
- Phlogopite or amber mica (magnesium mica);
- Two less useful types:
- Biotite or black mica (ferro-magnesium mica);
- Andlepidolite (lithium mica).
The chemical structure of each mica is hexagonal meaning it can be split down into sheets as thin as one micron whilst still retaining its mechanical, physical, or electrical properties.
As a mineral mica itself exhibits the following properties;
- Chemically inert, and does not react to water, acids, oil or solvents;
- Lightweight, flexible and strong;
- Able to resist extremely high temperatures or sudden changes in temperature;
- Able to withstand high voltages and insulate with low power loss (known as ‘dielectric’);
- And able to absorb or reflect light, which provides a decorative effect and protects against ultraviolet (UV) light.
All this may be a lot of information to take on at once, so don’t worry about coming back to review it again after your first visit.
So mica is useful to many different industries, but how does this relate to pigments?
Well, we’re mainly concerned with ‘scrap mica’ which is normally a by-product of the mining, trimming and fabricating of ‘sheet mica’ (predominantly used in the electronics industry).
Of that scrap mica the two types we’ll focus on are muscovite and phlogopite, which respectively show excellent electrical resistance and thermal resistance, along with brilliant and complicated visual effects when manufactured into powders and flakes. So from here on out let’s just refer to it as ‘mica’.
Mica is pulverised down into small flakes and dust that can be as small as one micron which is what we’ll be comparing our synthetic mica against.
Gotcha, so what’s the problem with it?
Here’s where we reveal the unfortunate truth about mica production. The main producers of mica crystals are third world countries where very little to no human rights standards are respected, the best example of which being India.
India and Madagascar currently have the highest export rates of raw products, however specifically within India alone at least 70-90% of the mica mining is unregulated.
Why is unregulated mica mining a bad thing?
Consider that two or three countries have a near monopoly on the raw mica. Of the list of countries that do supply raw at least 23 have been found guilty or are highly suspected of of child labour practices. These children mine from the age of 4-5.
What does that correlate to in terms of child labour numbers?
Sadly, in Madagascar, there were a reported 20,000 employed child workers, and yet 90% of the total mines are entirely unregulated. The children that were paid, earn only 22-34p a day, with 75% of Madagascan inhabitants earning less than $1.90 per day.
In India there are a reported 22,000 children working in mines across the country, but again bear in mind that these are the reported figures. These children earn around 14-24p per day.
What are the alternatives and how do you make them?
Synthetic Mica and Glass/ Aluminium oxide flakes.
Synthetic mica is manufactured in a lab and has zero reports of child labour at any point within the production chain.
It’s production quality is of a higher standard than natural mica, boasting higher thermal and electrical resistance, and a much higher colour vibrancy when dyed (it is colourless when first formed) along with better refractive and shimmering properties due to the lack of impurities.
Our synthetic mica is lab made in a ten step process, by heating certain raw materials1 in an electric resistance furnace and allowing mica to crystallise from the melt during controlled slow cooling. This results in a fluorine-containing mica with the characteristics of muscovite and phlogopite!
Glass flakes show lower optical absorption, and additional advantages like special colour effects and reflectiveness that are unobtainable with natural mica.
What are the difficulties?
Cost. Synthetic mica is far more expensive to produce, and likewise to sell on, however we are firmly dedicated to never use natural mica products and will consistently support initiatives and charities that combat the rampant mica mining industry.
Adoption. Companies, particularly in the car paint and electronics sector, have never had any substantial market and public pressure to change their practices or suppliers, and even after numerous investigations are reluctant to invest in synthetic mica because they would have to adapt their colour formulas.
How do we help?
In a market that surpasses $500 million dollars per year in raw trades alone, and is then converted in multi-billion dollar industries we have only one option.
Vote with your money.
The cosmetics industry has begun the slow change to synthetic mica with only around 12% of western companies adopting a move towards synthetic mica, however the market share as a whole is only predicted to grow 2% by 2024 without significant consumer intervention.
Who are Chromatic Castle?
My name is Callum, and it’s myself and my partner Charlotte that founded and run Chromatic Castle. We are fervently dedicated to pushing the boundaries of synthetic mica and glass flakes to a point where it can become advantageous for companies to adopt synthetic alternatives that can be used to ordinary and extraordinary ends. We will run initiatives every year to boost funds for charity drives and investigations into the dark world of mica production, and aim to be your one home for conscience-free pigments, whether they be for art, cosmetics, or paint.
We want to help.
Your support will make a difference, and your voice will make a change so please do spread the word that right here in Europe there is a company that is dedicated to making sure that in our lifetime we can see the end of child labour.
The future of this page.
What you have here is only the beginning of a scientific and actionable series of reports that will delve into the process and production differences of raw and synthetic mica. As the page and company grows we will aim to educate the everyday shopper as to how you can make a simple choice a lasting change.
1. Raw materials include; Potassium, Magnesium, Aluminium, Fluorosilicate and/or Synthetic Fluorophlogopite.
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