Vividly Colored Glitters Will Soon be Made From Plants

It’s just as sparkly as the original.

Glitter can be more sustainable.

(Foonia / Shutterstock.com)

Glitter is everywhere. On colorful holiday cards, the art projects your child makes at school, and in the cosmetics you wear. It adds a little bit of sparkle to everyday life.

But there’s a downside to glitter too. Besides being incredibly difficult to clean up after use, glitter is also made of toxic and unsustainable materials according to a press release from Cambridge University in the UK. Now researchers at the university have discovered a way to make a sustainable nontoxic glitter from plant cellulose in a study published in the journal Nature.

Conventional glitter is made with unsustainable materials
Professor Silvia Vignolini from Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, the study’s senior author wrote: “Conventional pigments, like your everyday glitter, are not produced sustainably.” But there’s more than just environmental issues.

Glitter is traditionally made from mica or titanium and can be toxic if ingested. These metals are extracted with unsafe mining practices, according to Fast Company, and glitter made with these materials has actually been banned by the EU. But the new types of glitter are also not ideal. They are frequently wrapped in plastic polymer films or aluminum to make them shimmer and these do not biodegrade.

When people wear cosmetics with glitter in them and later clean their skin, these microplastic pieces make their way into our waterways. These particles are making their way into aquatic animals and into the food people eat.

How this glitter is different
The researchers from Cambridge set out to make a safer and more sustainable sparkle. The team began the process by extracting cellulose from wood and transforming it into shiny colorful materials to be used in cosmetics and other products like paint. But any type of plant material, even waste products like fruit peels can be used.

The color of the glitter – which is just as sparkly as the original – is made from plant nanocrystals. These particles that are found in nature can bend light to create vivid colors. In fact, nanocrystals create the most vivid colors in nature like the ones found on butterfly wings.

By using this method, the researchers didn’t need to add anything to the cellulose to create bright shimmering colors and the resulting glitter is biodegradable, plastic-free and safe enough to eat, according to the researchers.

“We believe this product could revolutionize the cosmetics industry by providing a fully sustainable, biodegradable and vegan pigment and glitter,” Vignolini said in the press release. While the product has to be optimized and scaled up, the researchers believe that the new planet-safe glitter will be commercially available in a few years.

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