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Goodbye Glitter? A Bid to Save Sparkle (and the Environment)

Published October 22, 2023
Published October 22, 2023
Mar Bustos via Unsplash

Glitter, the iridescent source of joy responsible for those viral social media posts that consumer eyes get glued to, may be losing its sparkle—and with concern about the health effects of microplastics in the lungs and bloodstream, it’s not just the oceans that want to be saved from sparkles washing down the drain after a long night out. These microplastics can end up in our oceans, our soil, and our bodies.

As of October 17, 2023, the European Commission has banned microplastics in cosmetics as part of the European Green Deal’s aim to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050 and reduce the 42,000 tons of microplastics that are added to products every year. The initiative could result in a 7% reduction in microplastic pollution as well as the reduction of plastic pellet pollution by 74% by the end of this decade. The law came into effect mid-August, with September 2023 seeing the ban of plastic microbeads in exfoliating products. Now glitter is on the chopping block.

Loose plastic glitter has now been banned, with products containing glitter receiving later deadlines for transition periods: October 16, 2027, for glitter in rinse-off cosmetics and October 16, 2029, for glitter in leave-on products. SKUs containing glitter such as lip, nail, and color cosmetics can be sold until October 16, 2025, but from October 17, 2031, until October 16, 2035, these products will need to bear a label indicating their microplastic content. Items placed on the market before October 17, 2023, do not need to be recalled or withdrawn.

But clearly customers love their sparkle. The announcement of the ban caused glitter sales to surge in Germany, with certain customers purchasing 82 packages of glitter in one go. Even the organization banning it is not trying to take away the joys of glitter products altogether. “The purpose is not to ban glitter but replace plastic glitter with more environmentally friendly glitter that does not pollute our oceans,” the European Commission states.

Some beauty innovators have already been leading the way. BioGlitz has been making biodegradable plant-based sparkles since 2017. Submission launched eucalyptus cellulose-derived sparkle as a 100% plastic-free company with the ethos of “Glitter not litter.” The Unseen uses eye-safe glass microspheres for the striking iridescence of its dual reality pigment eyeshadow.

A majority of the industry will need to resort to different materials and innovations to ensure the eye-catching factor of their products, but the positive impact won’t only be for the environment. With traditional plastic glitters causing corneal abrasions or scratches, the push for more eco-friendly (and hopefully eye-safe) alternatives will leave optometrists worldwide also breathing a sigh of relief. Rather than goodbye glitter, it’s hello new standard of sparkle.


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