The Science Behind Glitter: What Is It Made Of?

Mar 10, 2023

If someone asked you as a child what your favorite craft supply was, there’s a good chance that you said glitter. Humans, like many animals, naturally gravitate toward shiny things such as glitter. However, just because we love glitter doesn’t mean we understand it. What is the science behind glitter, and what is it made of? How safe is it to use? Is it eco-friendly? We answer those questions below and provide some glitter project ideas, so you can start crafting with your new knowledge.

The Science of Glitter: What Is It Made Of?

Glitter isn’t a new phenomenon. As we mentioned above, humans and many other animals are naturally drawn to shiny things. Humans have used some form of shiny glitter for thousands of years. Early humans even used crushed minerals, such as mica, to add sparkle and color to their early artistic projects, such as cave paintings and pottery.

Humanity has come a long way since those early crushed mineral days. Now, we can mass-produce synthetic glitter using a combination of aluminum and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. Most of the time, manufacturers coat the plastic base with aluminum to maximize shine. However, some manufacturers may pay homage to our ancestors and coat the plastic base in a shiny mineral, such as mica.

Regardless of the coating, manufacturers then cut the shiny plastic into tiny shapes, often circular, measuring between 0.6 millimeters and 0.65 millimeters long. Circles are the most common glitter shape because they’re less likely to cut you if you’re scooping up glitter in handfuls. However, you can find glitter in all sorts of shapes, from tiny crescent moons to larger abstract flakes.

Is Glitter Safe?

Metal and plastic make up a lot of our world, so products made of aluminum and plastic—like glitter—are generally safe. The problem is that some glitters are safe while others are not. This depends on exactly what metals, plastics, and additional substances you find in the glitter. While aluminum, PET plastics, and mica are the three most common glitter ingredients and are safe, some manufacturers use different materials.

Manufacturers should note the safety of their glitter on its packaging with labels such as cosmetic glitter and craft glitter. Cosmetic glitter contains ingredients that are safe to use on your body, so you can have peace of mind while putting it in makeup or bath bombs. On the other hand, craft glitter is best for art projects because it may contain ingredients that aren’t ideal for close, prolonged skin contact.

Some glitters are safe for all uses, and the manufacturers should note this on the label. If you’re not sure what’s in your glitter or what purpose the manufacturers intended, then err on the side of caution and only use it for craft projects.

It’s also important to note that the only glitter safe for consumption is food-contact glitter. The baking industry often uses these glitters to add a hint of sparkle and shine to sweets and baked goods. However, you should only consume this glitter in small quantities. No glitter is safe for frequent ingestion, especially cosmetic and craft glitter.

Is Glitter Eco-Friendly?

Unfortunately, most glitters are not eco-friendly. Due to their small size and plastic content, most environmentalists consider glitter a microplastic. Glitter takes a long time to naturally break down, and until it finishes that process, it can harm the environment—especially animals. After, as mentioned, animals like shiny things. This means that even after glitter gets flushed down the toilet or dumped in the trash, animals can find and consume it. The glitter they ingest stays in their stomachs and causes various health issues, such as malnutrition and reproductive problems.

The key to safely using glitter despite this less-than-eco-friendly status is precaution and attention to detail. You can still use glitter in many artistic projects, but you shouldn’t just throw it around your workspace or haphazardly throw it away. Instead, cover your workspace in protective paper, so you can return any spilled glitter back to its container. This way, the glitter you use is safely secured to your project or in its container, not out hurting the environment.

Glitter Project Ideas

After reading about the science of glitter, you might feel the urge to make a glitter project! There’s almost no limit to how you can safely use glitter in an artistic project.

You can use the natural shiny attraction to your advantage and add glitter flakes to homemade fishing lures. Either mix the glitter into the paint of your choice or mix the glitter into clear glue that you use as the final coat for your lure.

If you prefer to DIY beauty products instead of hobby supplies, consider making your own glittery nail polish. Buy an empty nail polish bottle and an un-tinted lacquer nail polish base. Mix your glitter flakes into the base, add any tinters you want, and then pour it into your nail polish bottle for custom nail polish with great shine.

Artists can follow the nail polish guide to create custom glittery paints. Buy a white paint base or make your own white paint to mix glitter into. Then, all you’ll need to do is paint your canvas with the glittery paint and let it dry to see a beautiful, unique sparkle.

Lastly, glitter flakes look great in various resin projects. At Eye Candy Pigments, we have epoxy flakes ideal for epoxy resin projects. Pick out a mold or frame for your resin project, such as a circular coaster mold, and then mix your epoxy resin. Add colors and flakes as desired, mix thoroughly, and then pour the epoxy resin mixture into your mold or frame. Leave it to harden and observe the shine in your final product. You may need to sand the surface of your resin to see the most shine.

People have many questions about the science behind glitter, such as what it’s made of, how safe it is to use, and whether it’s eco-friendly. Understanding glitter and how to use it so you don’t hurt yourself or the environment is an important part of working with this fun art supply. Once you understand glitter, you can use it in almost any project!

The Science Behind Glitter: What Is It Made Of?