By Angelica Bottaro

From the time we are young children all the way up to adulthood, there is some form of glitter in our lives. The shiny specks are found in arts and crafts supplies, makeup, heck, even some clothing sparkles with a glitter-like appearance. It’s the oh-so-pretty glisten that really just gets us.

It adds shine to our lives, and it’s honestly hard to imagine a world without it. The thing is, glitter is so darn hard to get rid of—the shiny specks of green, pink, gold, or whatever colour, end up floating around in rivers, embedded deep in the soil, and getting caught up in the dust on the city streets.

While the idea of walking down a street covered in shining sparkles kind of excites me, when you dig a little deeper into what it really means, that excitement turns to anxiety. Glitter may be beautiful, fun, and often festive, but the luminescent footprint it’s leaving on the environment is nothing to be excited about.

Microplastics In Glitter

One of the most-used types is cosmetic glitter. It’s in everything that shimmers—from those eyeshadows you love on a night out to that highlighter you use to brighten your face up a bit when you haven’t gotten enough sleep the night before. These products are often staples in our makeup bags; however, they are severely damaging the environment.

Cosmetic companies use microplastics, cellulose, mica, or glass to get that makeup to really shine. The microplastics used to make glitter are similar to those formerly used in face exfoliators or washes before the FDA banned them due to the long-term pollution they cause as they are not biodegradable.

The Effect Of Microplastics On Human Health  

If you’re meticulous about your skincare routine and wash all that makeup off every night in the shower or sink, those microplastics go down the drain, through the pipes, and right on out to wastewater treatment plants. This is damaging in two ways: some of these microplastics will get stuck in solid waste and could then be used to fertilize soil used for food production. Meanwhile, the rest slips right on past the filter to make their way into the rivers, lakes, and oceans.

When those microplastics get into the soil, they can actually grow in the food that we eat. In the ocean, fish and other aquatic life may eat them by mistake. Since they aren’t rounded nicely like the banned beads from years ago, they can actually cut the intestines of sea animals. 

Now, suppose you eat a lot of fish; you could end up consuming a little more than you bargained for if that fish fell victim to the microplastic parade we continue to send down the waterways. If we end up eating too many of these little microplastics, which are also great harbourers of contaminants like trace metals, chemicals, and even carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), we could develop some serious health issues.

Microplastics And The Environment

Aside from the fact that animals cannot digest plastic any more than we can, there are other concerns when sending glitter down the drain and into the environment. For starters, microplastics, like all other plastic, take thousands of years to break down. That high level of waste builds up in different ecosystems, threatening the way of life of the creatures that call it home. 

This mishmash of junk can also lead to the spread of toxins if certain substances seep into the plastic and then are moved or shifted somewhere else down the line.

Is Your Makeup Full Of Glitter Microplastics? Probably!

While not all shiny, glittery makeup products have these evil elements that can end up in the environment, a good percentage do contain these microplastic demons. You may be thinking, “Phew! Only some!” but considering how big the cosmetic industry is and how many people on the planet wear makeup regularly, that’s a whole lot of glitter going down drains across the globe.

You may not want to stop using your sheen-inducing makeup, but there is no denying that there is now a serious ethical question to ask yourself before you put it on your face, eventually sending it out into the environment. Is having glittery skin more important than oceanic ecosystems and the health of the world and both its human and animal population? 

Of course, if the corporations who control the products and the ingredients used were to lessen the impact, you wouldn’t have to make that choice. Unfortunately, though, until companies take the reins on helping the environment instead of hurting it, you will have to pick a side. Opt for the more natural glow that comes from knowing you are helping to protect our planet.