Most glitter products are made of toxic and unsustainable materials and contribute to plastic pollution. Now, a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge has developed a sustainable, plastic-free, non-toxic, and biodegradable glitter for use in the cosmetics industry. It contains no plastic or aluminum at all, being composed instead of cellulose found in plants, fruits, vegetables, and wood pulp. It is just as sparkly as the original.
The glitter is made from cellulose nanocrystals, which can bend light in such a way to create vivid colors through a process called structural colors – such as those of butterfly wings and peacock feathers.
The researchers say their materials could be used to replace the plastic glitter particles and tiny mineral effect pigments, which are widely used in cosmetics. The films of cellulose nanocrystals prepared by the team can be made at scale using roll-to-roll processes like those used to make paper from wood pulp, and this is the first time these materials have been fabricated at an industrial scale.
Using commercially available cellulose materials transformed into suitable liquid suspension in just a few steps, the team showed continuous deposition and drying of the cellulose-containing suspension on a commercial roll-to-roll machine. After producing the large-scale cellulose films, the researchers ground them into particles of the size used for making glitters or effect pigments. The resulting particles are biodegradable, plastic-free, and non-toxic.
According to the researchers, the process is also far less energy-intensive than conventional methods. They say the glitter pigments are even safe to eat or drink.
“We believe this product could revolutionize the cosmetics industry by providing a fully sustainable, biodegradable, and vegan pigment and glitter,” said Professor Silvia Vignolini from this Department, the paper’s senior author. Although further optimization of the process is still needed, the researchers are hoping to form a spin-out company to make their pigments and glitter commercially available in the coming years.