Health Crystals: the dark truth behind the Shine

The demand for so-called healing health crystals in the Global North continues to soar. Yet consumers are unaware of the bloody, dangerous, and environmentally destructive production methods behind them in the Global South, says Joseph Brammer.

I remember seeing the light pink of rose quartz shining bright in the summer sun. They were tiny stones spread out on a blanket by the campus green. Beside them, the pitch-black hue of tourmaline glittered against that of the rich, shimmering lavender of amethyst.

The man picked up a piece of rose quartz and said “This is the stone of love and healing.” He held it up to the sun and smiled. In front of him, a price tag: “All Health Crystals £15”. This was in 2019. Ever since then, I have been fascinated by these curious stones and how they have ended up on so many of our shelves. 

It’s not only me, though. In recent years, the world has witnessed an unprecedented demand for so-called healing crystals. These are an array of stones which allegedly possess mystical properties based upon at best tenuous, and at worst non-existent or unfalsifiable, scientific claims.

Health crystals: A booming industry.

Companies such as Goop, Holland & Barret, and Oliver Bonas sell a variety of stones with insubstantial mystical qualities. Take, for instance, Goop’s ‘Yoni Egg’, an ovular piece of rose quartz which claims to ‘harness the power of energy work, crystal healing.’ Retailing at 55 USD, Goop’s Yoni Egg is emblematic of a burgeoning, highly lucrative industry of healing crystals.  

Goop itself is estimated to be worth $250 million and the global demand for healing crystals has doubled between 2016 and 2019. Such interest is reflected by the surge in Google searches for the term ‘healing crystals’ which has risen by 60% over the past decade

As the demand increased, so too has the market. Presently, healing crystals represent a billion-dollar-plus industry with forecasts it will continue to grow. It is an industry of extremes that ranges from smaller, low-end crystals retailing for less than a US dollar, to large, highly coveted showpieces selling for in excess of $40,000, and further still to prized collections auctioning for over $925,000

Nevertheless, the most commonly sold health crystals tend to be low to mid-value, such as quartz, amethyst, black tourmaline, and jade which you might find at a wellness store. These crystals are bought for – quite literally – rock-bottom prices from predominantly low-income countries and sold at an excessive profit for consumption in high-income states. 

As the healing crystal industry soars, there has been growing intrigue over the disparity between the supply chain involved in the production of these stones and the progressive, healing premise upon which they are sold. At its centre, the healing crystal industry pivots on a paradox. On the one hand, healing crystals are sold under the pretence of positive energy, wellness, and New Age spirituality. On the other hand, the methods used in the production of these crystals are extremely dangerous, unregulated, heavily dependent upon child labour, environmentally destructive, and predominantly take place in low-income countries

A Closer Look: Madagascar.

Take, for instance, Madagascar. It is one of the world’s poorest countries with 81% of the population living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per capita/day. Though poverty is rampant, so too are bountifully lucrative crystal deposits across the country. As such, crystal mining represents an economic lifeline and a strategy for poverty alleviation for many Malagasy people. Yet, the mining itself is dangerous, illegal, and destroys much of Madagascar’s precious biodiversity. 

Crystal mining is gruelling work and much of it in Madagascar is performed artisanally. That is, with no heavy machinery and with basic hand tools. It has been reported that miners regularly dig mine shafts that are less than 80 centimetres wide and over 35 metres deep with nothing but pick axes.

At this depth, miners face limited airflow and groundworkers regularly use rudimentary airbags to send oxygen to the miners below – with workers regularly passing out or dying from the practice. Worst still, it is estimated that over 85,000 children work in the industry as youths are best placed to navigate the narrow mining tunnels. Miners are willing to take these horrendous risks to earn a piecemeal living and escape the extreme poverty they face. 

These appalling conditions take place as the sector is largely unregulated due to Madagascar’s weak state capacity. Much of the mining is performed illegally as the state lacks the resources to police the industry effectively. In 2019 it was estimated that only 1,300 mining licences were issued by the government, despite there being over a million mines.

In the absence of regulation, there has been a proliferation of illegal mining in registered conservation zones which threatens vulnerable ecosystems. For example, the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, a 1,470-square-mile area of rainforest composed of two national parks, has witnessed widespread deforestation. Such deforestation is not only bad for the climate, but directly threatens endangered species and vulnerable ecosystems as swathes of habitat are destroyed. 

Need for regulations and policies.

Presently, little to no regulation or policies exist to mitigate the destructive production methods of artisanal crystal mining. Worse still, many crystal retailers dubiously claim that their crystals are ‘ethically sourced’ without any mechanism in place to verify this. As such, consumers are left in the lurch, regularly buying mislabelled ‘ethically sourced’ stones and unaware of the reality miners face on the ground. 

Policy interventions are needed now to address these issues. 

Similar interventions have been implemented in the diamond sector such as The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), which was introduced by the UN in 2003 to negate the trade of conflict diamonds and produce ethical supply chains. Whilst not perfect, KPCS was an instrumental piece of legislation that had made significant strides in reducing the circulation of conflict diamonds and improving the working conditions of miners. A similar ethical certification scheme is desperately needed for the crystal industry to ensure safe working conditions, a fair wage for miners, and environmental sustainability.

Feature Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

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Health Crystals: the dark truth behind the Shine

by Joseph Brammer Reading time: 4 min