Glitter describes an assortment of small, colorful, reflective particles that comes in a variety of shapes. Glitter particles reflect light at different angles, causing the surface to sparkle or shimmer. Glitter is similar to confetti, sparkles, or sequins, but somewhat smaller. Since prehistoric times, glitter has been made and used as decoration, from many different materials including stones such as malachite, galena, and mica, as well as insects and glass. Modern glitter is usually manufactured from plastic and is rarely recycled leading to calls from scientists for plastic glitter to be banned.
The first production of modern plastic glitter is credited to the American machinist Henry Ruschmann, who found a way to cut plastic or mylar sheets into glitter in 1934. During World War II, glass glitter became unavailable so Ruschmann found a market for scrap plastics ground into glitter. He founded Meadowbrook Inventions, Inc. in Bernardsville, New Jersey, the company is still a producer of industrial glitter. Decades later he filed a patent for a mechanism for cross-cutting films as well as other related inventions.
Today over 20,000 varieties of glitter are manufactured in a vast number of different colors, sizes, and materials. Over 10,000,000 pounds (4,500,000 kg) of glitter were purchased between the years of 1989 and 2009 alone. Commercial glitter ranges in size from 0.002 inches (0.051 mm) to 0.25 inches (6.4 mm) a side. First, flat multi-layered sheets are produced combining plastic, coloring, and reflective material such as aluminium, titanium dioxide, iron oxide, and bismuth oxychloride. These sheets are then cut into tiny particles of many shapes including squares, rectangles, and hexagons.
Glittering surfaces have been found to be used since prehistoric times in the arts and in cosmetics. The modern English word "glitter" comes from the Middle English word gliteren, possibly by way of the Old Norse word glitra. However, as early as 30,000 years ago, mica flakes were used to give cave paintings a glittering appearance. Prehistoric humans are believed to have used cosmetics, made of powdered hematite, a sparkling mineral.
8,000 years ago people of the Americas were using powdered galena, a form of lead, to produce a bright greyish-white glittering paint used for objects of adornment. The collecting and surface mining of galena was prevalent in the Upper Mississippi Valley region by the Cahokia native peoples, for regional trade both raw and crafted into beads or other objects.
Over 6,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians produced glittering cosmetics from the iridescent shells of beetles as well as finely ground green malachite crystal. Researchers believe Mayan temples were sometimes painted with red, green, and grey glitter paint made from mica dust, based on infrared scans of the remnants of paint still found on the structures in present-day Guatemala.
Prior to modern plastics, particles of glass were used to create glittering surfaces and glass glitter is still produced commercially.
Prior to fabrics made with modern glitter, sequins were sewn or woven on to fabric to give it a glittering appearance. Edible glitter made from gum arabic and other ingredients is even used by culinary artists.
Glitter is used in cosmetics to make the face and nails appear more shiny or sparkly. Additionally, it is used in children's arts and crafts to color and texture items. The small, brightly colored particles often stick to clothing, skin, and furniture, and can be a hassle to remove.
Due to its unique characteristics, glitter has also proven to be useful forensic evidence. Because of the tens of thousands of different commercial glitters, identical glitter particles can be compelling evidence that a suspect has been at a crime scene. Forensic scientist Edwin Jones has one of the largest collections of glitter consisting of over 1000 different samples used in comparison of samples taken from crime scenes. Glitter particles are easily transferred through the air or by touch, yet cling to bodies and clothing, often unnoticed by suspects.
Glitter can be seen as a tool of fashion used various subcultures, as it allows for a visible statement to be worn and seen on the body. This is because it has been theorized to be a "flickering signifier", or something that destabilizes known notions of popular culture, identity, and society. Glitter is associated with "fringe cultures", which often use excessive glam and glamor such as glitter to evoke a deeper understanding between the relationships of commercialized popular culture and "high" culture, or "high-brow" art.
Used by glam rockers, such as David Bowie, Gary Glitter, and Iggy Pop glitter is also used as a tool to help blur gender lines. This helped to create the more extreme "Glitter Rock" – an even more heightened version of glam rock.
Glitter is also used by nail artists and make-up artists to make statements about femininity and beauty standards. Women who wear an excessive amount of make-up use glitter to help them disrupt how others view them by wearing it during the day, at places such as the workplace. The sparkling visibility of glitter allows users to disrupt standard ideas of beauty culture and what is and isn't considered "excessive" in terms of make-up usage. This is because it is a fashion usually associated with nightlife and not professionalism.
Glitter is used for glitter bombing, which is an act of protest in which activists throw glitter on people at public events. Glitter bombers have frequently been motivated by, though not limited to, their targets' opposition to same-sex marriage. Some legal officials argue glitter bombing is technically assault and battery. It is possible for glitter to enter the eyes or nose and cause damage to the cornea or other soft tissues potentially irritating them or leading to infection, depending on the size of the glitter. Whether a prosecutor would pursue the charges depends on a number of factors.
Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University, has called for a ban on glitter made of PET and aluminium, as it is a microplastic that can break down to hormonal disruptors in the environment.
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