Sure, it’s pretty. Whether it’s in makeup, on Christmas decorations, or on a tee. But the dangers of glitter might surprise you!
By Diane Small
Hanging out with my six year old niece this weekend was unforgettable. Not just because she’s adorable and made me laugh about a million times. But because our time together left me with a reminder that was hard to shake off. Um, literally. Namely, glitter.
She just loves the stuff. It was on the letters of her Frozen tee shirt. It was on the stickers we pasted into a colouring book. I found it in the (5 free) nail polish I glammed her up with. And now it’s all over me: on my skin, in my hair and all over my clothes. Little flecks of it turn up in weird places like my dish sponge and bedding.
It got me thinking: what is this stuff? And what are the dangers of glitter?
After doing some quick research on the trusty internet, it seems the answer is: it depends.
What IS glitter, anyway?
Little kid glitter – the stuff used in crafts, on clothing, in fake jewels and tiaras and such – is simply teeny tiny particles of plastic. Which doesn’t sound so bad until you think of the hideous impact made by microbeads.
Microbeads in skin care were so bad for the planet, using them was banned in the U.S. and beyond. And just like the microbeads we once thought were safe in cosmetics and the microfibers of plastics we used to think were safe in clothing, glitter also contributes to the 800 tons of plastic that end up in the ocean each year.
The dangers of glitter are just as bad. So, where’s the ban?
As I found out the hard way, even when it’s stuck to something, glitter tends to find its way all over the place. That includes water filtration systems, since a lot of glitter is meant to be washed off. Think of makeup, nail polish, and clothes that have glitter, for example.
Once that happens, the water goes back into the oceans and rivers. Glitter particles are too small to be filtered out, so they end up in the marine creatures we eat, and the water we drink.
A brief history of glitter
Back in the day, glitter used to be teeny bits of crushed glass, also called ‘diamantine’. Since around the 1950s though, it’s now principally been made from copolymer sheets covered in a layer of reflective material, such as aluminum foil. This is then cut up into tiny, sometimes microscopic, pieces. In fact, sometimes as small as .002-square inches.
The dangers of glitter today are mainly due to the chemical structure of plastics. Glitter not only takes hundreds of years to break down, but also collects toxins from the surrounding seawater. This turns them into little balls of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which find their way into our bodies.
If you’re a fan of organic cosmetics, rejoice! Conscious companies like Dr Hauschka, Ilia, Eve Organics and other clean beauty companies will only use all natural mica and other mineral-based ingredients to make their glittery products.
But if you own any cosmetics with any form of aluminium, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP) on the label – I’d advise throwing it out as it is (in the packaging, to be safe) asap!
Shiny, toxic mountains
The dangers of glitter are now clear. So it’s obviously a bad idea to cover your face, body and nails in tiny particles of plastic and toxic aluminium. Yet more than 10 million pounds of glitter were purchased in the USA from 1989 to 2009. That’s literally a whole mountain of the stuff!
Most of this wasn’t for cosmetic use, though. The biggest dangers of glitter are the result of big events and parades, such as Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. Or even the far less exciting Toronto Santa Claus Parade, where nearly 155 pounds of glitter was used in 2011.
Imagine if only 100 cities around the world did the same each Christmas. That’d be around 15,500 pounds each holiday. A heck of a lot of plastic pollution!
The worst kind of glitter
Another of the most serious dangers of glitter is when it comes in the form of microparticles. These are usually found in things like hair and body sprays.
Those teeny weeny particles may seem less harmful because of their size, right? But chances are you’ll be inhaling them, and even absorbing them into your bloodstream through your nose, eyes or cuts on your skin. Plus, those really small ones are the hardest particles to filter out, as I mentioned before.
Not sure if you’re buying cosmetics with plastic based glitter? Always check the labels of all your cosmetics to determine if they contain any plastic-based materials. They’re often listed as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP),
How to avoid the dangers of glitter
To avoid the dangers of glitter for you and the planet, the best way forward is to follow these guidelines:
- Resist buying kids anything covered in glitter. If they really, really love shiny stuff, buy them stickers, toys or shiny-lettered tees made from foil. It’s safer for them, safer for the planet.
- Avoid using any glitter sprays! Be they paints, body or hair sprays, these will end up in our oceans. Avoid at all costs
- Look for mica, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide on the package. These are safe mineral ingredients
- Double check your nail polish. Even some 5 free or vegan brands use harmful plastic particles
- Just don’t buy anything covered in glitter, ever. Whether it’s home decor, party favours, Christmas bulbs or a simple birthday card. You can rest assured that at least some of that is going to end up polluting the ocean!
- Use ONLY organic, mineral based glitter cosmetics. There are very few of these indeed! If they’re not organic, assume they’re just nasty plastic particles covered in aluminium. That’s what even the most expensive brands like Burberry and Lancome use for glitter!
Still love the idea of a bit of shimmer in your self-tanner, eye shadow, or lippie? Never fear. Read on.
Where to find non-toxic glitter cosmetics
Luckily, there are a few brands that make non-plastic, biodegradable glitter. However, don’t assume anything! As mentioned above, always check the ingredients on the package to be sure. Some brands that are safe in one country may even change their ingredients in other nations, depending on regulations.
This well-loved Canadian brand uses mica-and mineral-based ingredients to make glitters, as well as natural starch-based lustres. You’ll find the stuff in everything from their bath bombs to their shower gels.
As their name implies, this colour cosmetics brand uses mica for their shine. You will find a bit of shimmer in their blushes, eye shadows, and foundations, but you won’t get full of, drag-queen glitter, though.
This is an eco-conscious company selling biodegradable glitter made from a plant cellulose, derived predominantly from non-GMO sustainably farmed eucalyptus trees. This is glitter on the level my niece would love! Use it to decorate home decor objects, add it to your cosmetics, use it as you like!
Bioglitter™ is the trademark and brand name of a range of eco-friendly alternatives to plastic glitter. It was created to tackle the microplastic pollution created by typical glitter. The British-based company sells wholesale, plant-based glitter for cosmetics, decor and crafts.
Did you know about the dangers of glitter? Let us know in the comments, below!