From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Close-up of glitter

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,[1] galena,[2] and mica,[3] as well as insects[4] and glass. Modern glitter is usually manufactured from plastic and is rarely recycled leading to calls from scientists for plastic glitter to be banned.[5]

Modern glitter[edit]

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.[3] During World War II, glass glitter became unavailable so Ruschmann found a market for scrap plastics ground into glitter.[3][6] He founded Meadowbrook Inventions, Inc. in Bernardsville, New Jersey, the company is still a producer of industrial glitter.[7] Decades later he filed a patent for a mechanism for cross-cutting films as well as other related inventions.[8]

Today over 20,000 varieties of glitter are manufactured in a vast number of different colors, sizes, and materials.[9] Over 10,000,000 pounds (4,500,000 kg) of glitter were purchased between the years of 1989 and 2009 alone[10]. Commercial glitter ranges in size from 0.002 inches (0.051 mm) to 0.25 inches (6.4 mm)[11] 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, triangles, rectangles, and hexagons.[11]

Ancient glitter[edit]

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.[12] However, as early as 30,000 years ago, mica flakes were used to give cave paintings a glittering appearance.[3] Prehistoric humans are believed to have used cosmetics,[13] made of powdered hematite, a sparkling mineral.[14]

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.[2] 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.[2]

From 40,000 BCE to 200 BCE, ancient Egyptians, produced "glitter-like substances from crushed beetles"[15] as well as finely ground green malachite crystal.[1] 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.[16]

Prior to modern plastics, particles of glass were used to create glittering surfaces and glass glitter is still produced commercially.


Glitter nail polish
Iridescent fishing lures

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[17].

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.

Glitter coatings or finishes are frequently used on fishing lures to draw attention by simulating the scales of prey fish.[18]

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.[19]


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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22]

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.[20]

Glitter is used for glitter bombing, which is an act of protest in which activists throw glitter on people at public events.[23] Glitter bombers have frequently been motivated by, though not limited to, their targets' opposition to same-sex marriage.[24] 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,[25] depending on the size of the glitter. Whether a prosecutor would pursue the charges depends on a number of factors.[26]

Ethical Implications[edit]

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.[27] Furthermore, in the UK, "over 60 British music festivals have committed to ban single-use plastics from their sites by 2021" this ban includes glitter.[28] Even though plastic glitter is banned, there is biodegradable glitter, which "naturally decomposes once it enters soil, compost or waste water environments," so, while it will stay on your face, once it comes off, it will decompose. [28] Environmentally friendly glitter "has the same shine and high precision cut as traditional glitter and is also 40% softer and more delicate on the skin than conventional glitter," meaning that not only will biodegradable glitter be better for the environment, it may be better for you too. This biodegradable glitter is made from "eucalyptus tree extract" which is metaled "with a thin layer of aluminium and coloured to give it its sparkle." [29]

According to Dr. Chris Flower, Director-General at the Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association, the “total effect of giving up traditional glitter might not be great in comparison with other harmful plastics, we should still do everything we can.” Even though the effects of glitter may not be as impactful as other harmful plastics, it does fall under the category of micro plastics, which can't be recycled and are harmful to the environment.


  1. ^ a b "Ancient Egyptian Eye Makeup". Country Facts. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Gibbon, Guy E. (August 1, 1998). Ames, Kenneth M., ed. Archaeology of Prehistoric Native America: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 310. ISBN 978-0815307259.
  3. ^ a b c d Mangum, Aja (Oct 7, 2007). "Glitter: A Brief History". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2013-10-12.
  4. ^ "Beauty, Hairstyles and Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt". Facts and Details. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  5. ^ "Scientists want to ban glitter".
  6. ^ "10,000,000 pounds of glitter was purchased between 1989 and 2009. All That Glitters: The History of Shiny Things". Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  7. ^ "Company Information". Meadowbrook Inventions, Inc. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  8. ^ "Operating upon sheets of foil – US 3156283 A".
  9. ^ "90 Seconds with Meadowbrook". Meadowbrook Inventions, Inc. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  10. ^ "Let's Talk About Glitter!". Cut to the Trace. 2018-02-08. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  11. ^ a b "Glitter and Sequins Sizing and Shaping". Meadowbrook Inventions, Inc. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  12. ^ "Definition of GLITTER". Retrieved 2017-03-30.
  13. ^ "Neanderthal 'make-up' containers discovered". BBC News. January 9, 2010. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  14. ^ "The History of Glitter". Auntie Illumi. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  15. ^ Sharma, Ruchira (2017-11-17). "Where did glitter come from?". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  16. ^ Hansford, Dave (February 7, 2008). "Ancient Maya Used "Glitter" Paint to Make Temple Gleam". National Geographic. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
  17. ^ "Should You Really Be Eating Edible Glitter?". Eater. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  18. ^ "Fishing lure – Patent US 2547240 A".
  19. ^ "Glitter as Forensic Evidence" (PDF). NFSTC. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  20. ^ a b Michele., White,. Producing women : the Internet, traditional femininity, queerness, and creativity. New York. ISBN 9781138776791. OCLC 889666420.
  21. ^ "Fringe cultures by Gina Marchetti". Retrieved 2018-04-17.
  22. ^ All music guide to rock : the definitive guide to rock, pop, and soul. Bogdanov, Vladimir, 1965-, Woodstra, Chris., Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. 2002. ISBN 087930653X. OCLC 49225452.
  23. ^ Vinciguerra, Thomas (August 27, 2011). Glittering Rage. The New York Times
  24. ^ Moody, Chris (June 20, 2011). "'Glitter advocates' plot their next victim". Yahoo! News. Retrieved October 7, 2011.
  25. ^ Kurtz, Judy (February 8, 2012). "Eye doctor warns of dangers of political protest on gay marriage". The Hill.
  26. ^ van der Pool, Lisa (September 2, 2011). "All that glitters is not gold, in the eyes of legal system". Boston Business Journal. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  27. ^ Glitter should be banned over environmental impact, scientists warn, Josh Gabbatiss, The Independent, 16 November 2017.
  28. ^ a b "61 UK festivals are banning glitter - make the switch to eco sparkle". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  29. ^ "The eco-friendly guide to glitter - BBC Newsbeat". BBC Newsbeat. 2017-11-18. Retrieved 2018-10-23.