Monday, October 26, 2009

Oy, the Drama...

I've written and re-written this blog post countless times. I'm torn between posting and not, as it is my personal belief that it's unbecoming for a brand to poke fingers or disparage other companies. But then again, I haven't posted an update to this blog in nearly a month (somewhat intentionally, so that I can keep the Breast Cancer post on top).

In the last few days, there has been quite a bit of drama has surrounded things much closer to my heart: independent mineral makeup companies, and the issue of repacking micas and calling them eyeshadows (or pigments, ya da ya da ya da). Companies that package micas and sell as shadows isn't new - there are several well known companies that practice this. I saw one particular company when I was attending IMATS selling an 8 stack of straight up mica for some ungodly amount like $65 (maybe it was $85). I saw that and said to myself, "Self, you're in the wrong part of the business. It takes no capital and no time to scoop mica from a bag to a jar, and look at those profit margins!" And many a beauty blogger were oogling over them (sigh). For that kinda profit, I can afford a booth at IMATS and do that and still come home rolling in the dough - there's no costs of carrying eleventy-seven base ingredients, no time or effort in coming up a medium that blends well, stays put, and with cool colors. And no "oopsies" that become my "Mystery Colors". There's another company doing much the same thing in many kiosks in shopping centers all over the country: selling straight up mica and at a grossly overinflated price. I've always wondered how much these joints get in return customers. I'm guessing not many, so they take their money up front and are happy with a one-shot deal.

The "mutiny" that's been buzzing around the last week isn't aimed at these larger companies who probably buy their micas in China, have them packaged there for pennies, and shipped here. It's been aimed at smaller Indies such as myself, which then hits a spot near and dear to my heart, for fear that it will cast a pallor on the entire industry, including those who work hard to create their products. The broo-ha-ha that has been surrounding the issue is that of people who purchase micas in bulk from either the manufacturer or from an intermediary wholesaler, then repackage them in smaller jars and call them shadows or pigments, created by them after hours of searching for inspiration and trial and error until they came up with just the perfect shades. Even more disturbing is that they are gettng the runaround and less than honest answers (if answers at all) from many of these repackers. The customers are naturally upset at this because they're paying good money ordering what they think is a novel shade of shadow, only to find that it's exactly as something else that they own. This differs slightly from the larger companies mentioned above because all of this is online. You're not looking/touching/seeing the actual product, but ordering based on your best guess from your monitor.

I have no issues with repackers; everyone has a right to run their business any way they choose. However, it is like nails on a chalkboard to hear that they use "nothing but pure pigments" (very true, actually) for the most intense color, and don't "water them down with fillers". Ummm... excuse me? Would you like that shadow to last all day without having to apply it wet? Then other ingredients need to be added that provide properties for adhesion, perhaps oil absorption, water repellency, etc.

Having read many of the blog posts and comments, looked at the websites in question (I am not mentioning which blogs or mineral makeup companies as I will not break my personal standard of ethics), I thought I'd do a bit of education and tips.

To begin with, if you're a customer of mine, you're probably reading this whole thing wondering "WTF?" Although most (if not all) of my customers are young at heart, but many of us are not young by the calendar. That's why I started this line to begin with: I couldn't find any darn minerals that didn't have tons of shimmer, sparkle or sheen. However, there are tons of women out there who love (and can carry off) dramatic color that would make me look worse than Bozo The Clown. These women are the ones who are most affected by the mica repackaging issue. They like dramtic looks, not the subtle neutrals many of us wear daily.

What's the difference between a mica and an eyeshadow? Actually, a mica is a thin, usually transparent sheet by itself. These micas are coated/bonded/blended with iron oxides, tin oxide, titanium dioxide, carmine, all sorts of things to make them colorful and shimmery. How much shimmer will depend on the micron size of the actual mica - but I'm not going to go chemist on you, so just trust me on that part. By itself, colored micas have little adhesion and staying power. Those who wear straight micas (and knowing that they are doing so), will add something to keep it on their lids. Usually a shadow primer, followed by applying the colorants with a wet brush, and perhaps even a sealant on top of that. THEN you can get a bright, bold color. If you take it straight out of the bag, rub it on your hand and blend it in a bit, you'll see that there's little color payoff. Now run that hand under water - bye bye color!

It irks me to no end to see companies state that they use only pure colorants/micas/pigments (fill in the blank as to how it's phrased; it's still basically saying the same thing) with no "fillers", making "fillers" sound like a bad thing. Most ingredients added to a colored mica serves a purpose beyond bulking up the product to make it spread farther. You can't add straight iron oxides to your eyes - they won't blend, they won't apply smoothly, and they will stain your lids! A filler could be something like plain sericite - it doesn't really do much in the case of an eyeshadow other than to add some fluffiness, and by itself, doesn't have much in the way of adhesive properties. Although, when added to iron oxides, you'll be helping the spreadability issue, so even then, it's not a useless filler. Zinc oxide, Zinc Stearate, Titanium Dioxide (other than the titanium dioxide that has been pre-blended to the mica colorant by the manufacturer), Carnauba coated mica, magnesium myristate, magnesium stearate, kaolin clay, silica, boron (and many more) - all of these ingredients will aid in adhesion, water resistance, oil resistance, spreadability (aka slip) and staying power. If you don't see at least one or two of these in an ingredient listing, you're probably not looking at an eyeshadow that will remain on your lids without creasing or wearing off unless you use a shadow primer, foil (appy wet) on the color, and really work with it.

Some tips to look for:

  • When perusing the website, look at their product line as a whole. Most savy Indies want you to have a one-stop shopping experience, so you'll see a whole slew of types of products, including foundations, blushes, finishing powders, primers, lipsticks (which, btw, I doubt you'll ever see from me - I've yet to successfully make a lip product and not spill it everywhere; one of the downsides of being a 2nd generation klutz), and brushes. If you don't see a fully developed product line, you may be looking at a repacker who has no ability to develop a product line.
  • Look for a listing of ingredients. Those who are reputable have nothing to hide, and usually will post their ingredients either all on one page, or with each individual item. We do that on purpose - we want you to know what the ingredients are so that God forbid you have an allergy to a particular ingredient, you don't buy it and sue the pants off us for not disclosing the ingredients. Make sure that the ingredients listed are real ingredients, as recognized by the FDA, and not "glitter, shimmer, sparkle, Fairy Dust, or secret ingredient". We're not Coca-Cola; we can't use secret ingredients as a listing.
  • If you see "pure, crushed minerals straight from the Earth", run. You're looking at someone who really hasn't a clue. Iron oxides need to be lab processed to remove the heavy metal content that is toxic if used as mined from the Earth. Colored micas don't come from the mine that way - they're made in a lab. Can you see some guy in Africa sitting with a mortar and pestle crushing up minerals and think they're safe for use as cosmetics?
  • Google the company. Google more than their name, but Google something like "XYZ reviews", and see what's been written about the company elsewhere.
  • Feel free to contact the company. Ask how long they've been in business. Question the ingredients if you're unsure. I've had many a customer call wanting ingredient information - even though it's listed on every product page, people don't always see it. If they don't get back to you in a timely manner, ask yourself if this is indicitive of their customer service and whether that matters to you.

When you walk away from this post, I hope you take one thing with you: if it's too good to be true, then it probably isn't.


  1. Thank you Robin for saying what needs to be said. This is not bashing it's truth telling so that our customers can make decisions based on factual information. They deserve this. Keep it up. I will do the same. Karrie

  2. Thanks Kerrie. There's been so much mud-slinging on this topic, it's hard to write about it without a bias and becoming part of the fray.

  3. Perfectly well stated. Great article. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Very Good article. I was thinking of doing one myself. But never know how to state things, but you did a good job. I hope the girls who read this come away with a better undterstanding of what they are buying.

  5. This was a very informative and well written article. I'm starting to become a little bit nervous that the Mutiny will become a witch hunt for small companies and not those it was originally intended to.

    I think people may be mistaken in thinking that they can go out and buy mica and it will be an eyeshadow. I'm sure TKB is getting huge sales right now on this. "Fillers" has turned into a dirty word, although even I (who has no clue how to make makeup) realize that those things are needed for adhesion and texture.

    It's true that the ones effective mainly by this are the "dramatic" looks, but everyone should be concerned with what they are buying and putting on their skin.

    Thank you for this post, it's very important to get both sides of the story.

  6. Thanks Lisa, yeah, we're all a tad afraid of it becoming a witch hunt as well. That's one of the reasons I won't name names, and haven't applied for the badge. I'll educate people to the nines, but I'm towing the line of professionalism as best as I can.

    There's nothing wrong with buying from a mica repacker. So long as you know that is in fact what you're doing. Maybe the fact that it comes in a jar instead of a baggie works for you. Or maybe you can't meet the minimum at TKB. Whatever floats your boat - so long as you know the boat you're on!

  7. This is a fabulous, well written, post! Thank you for writing it!

  8. Glad to see you are educating without giving any credit to the mutiny. Seeing one company appoint themsselves the "authority" on other people's businesses is just bad business. Just last week people thought their worst nightmare was Skin Deep - but this new group make Skin Deep look like full fledge scientists.

    You handled this well

  9. Robyn, thats what I was thinking! As long as I know something is repackaged, I don't mind at all! I just bought a color that specifically said 'unblended' (although she did add adhesive stuff to it) but the color was so pretty, I couldn't resist! As long as I know the truth, I'm totally fine.

    "Whatever floats your boat - so long as you know the boat you're on!" I love that! So true!!

    Thanks for responding, I appreciate it!!

  10. Great post and very informative! I like the fact that you've chosen to educate instead of lecture and censor. Choosing to act with professionalism will always "pay off" in the end. As a customer, I really don't want to get involved with business owners disputes. I want great prouct and useful info. Thanx.

  11. Thanks, Robyn for this article! Sometimes, I run into websites that give me the feeling they don't know what they are doing. Like you said, those sites seem to have unholy outrageously high price tags. I'm glad I didn't buy anything from them and it's very brave of you to voice your opinion.

  12. Great article and really informed someone coming in cold to this news. I do wonder on the other hand the ingredients being used to produce the mineral makeup.

    Do we have to worry about toxic crap from China again? What is the quality control for this especially from the unethical repackagers?

  13. Hi Anon,
    Repackagers get their colorants from the very same companies that the rest of the industry does - there are only so many of them. Either they buy by the kilo direct from the distributor/manufacturer, or they buy from an intermediary who breaks those kilos into smaller, more manageable sizes - where you can buy as little as an ounce at a time. Since a kilo is 2.2 pounds (1000 grams) - if you're repackaging straight mica, an average 5 gram jar will hold 1-2 grams of mica. That's as as many as 1000 jars PER COLOR. Repackers may buy kilos of a few shades, but to buy kilos of 50 different colors isn't too likely, IMHO. No one has that kind of warehouse space. So most likely, they're buying from an intermediary.

    But I digress, since that has little to do with your question. Micas come from all over the world - including China. Remember, these are minerals, and certain ones will be mined best from certain parts of the world, just as certain clays can only be found in specific regions. However, to be sold in the US, they must pass certain specifications. Don't forget, nearly all minerals are lab processed to remove impurities, and micas are especially lab processed to produce the color (they are usually iron oxides and titanium dioxide bound together). Each batch of mica comes both with a Material Safety and Data Sheet (aka MSDS) and a Certification of Analysis. The Certification of Analysis shows the parts per billion of mercury, lead, etc, and must be within US acceptable guidelines. The EU guidelines are even more strict, and you will find that the manufacturers usually want to meet both so that their products can be sold worldwide. So no worries about toxic crap.

    Your only concern should be about product labeling and sanitization. I've seen many products improperly labeled, usually out of ignorance. If a person is repackaging ALL their colors, they may be dong this because it's easy, and they don't possess the knowledge of the properties of different ingredients and what they do. If they haven't taken the time to learn this, it isn't a big leap to think that they may not have bothered to educate themselves as to proper FDA labeling as well. As for sanitization - that's something you may never know. It's not like you can ask if they're packaging under santitary conditions, or filling jars on their bed with the cat sleeping next to them, and expect to get an honest answer.

    Oh, my! Sorry for such a long-winded answer!


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