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Beauty • 4th May, 17 • 0 Comments

As an eco-makeup formulator and professional makeup artist, I wonder what attracts people to certain colours and kinds of makeup more.  Why are humans drawn to vivid, shiny, glittery colours and textures more than matte, flat ones?

Recently, when making lipsticks, I became curious about how to suspend glitter in lipstick formulations, to add that shine without the 80's shimmery/aluminum looking effect. Safety concerns around how safe it is to ingest glitter and wether it is bioaccumulative and biodegradable came to the fore, as did my curiosity around what glitter and other shine-providing products are actually made of?

My responsibility to my clients in terms of the eco-friendly, 'clean' and 'green' standards of the ingredients I choose and use in my formulations and kit and the desires and preferences of my clients, is definitely something I've been seriously thinking about.

Here's some fascinating info I discovered that shed a lot of light on the topic:


In an article aptly titled "Glitter" for Mental Floss Magazine, journalist Linda Rodriguez McRobbie sheds some light on the issue of our historical preponderance for shiny things, stating that it might have stemmed from hunter gatherer belief that shiny things had spiritual powers.

When thinking of shiny things imbued with spiritual powers, birds instantly came to mind. The elaborate feathered headdresses worn by the Mayans and Aztecs of Meso-America made mostly from the feathers of the quetzal bird, since their irridescence- a quality where the object reflects different colours depending on the viewer's angle-and rarity, was highly desirable and attractive. (Source)

Close up of irridescent Quetzal bird feathers:

Quetzal Headdress:


Another natural element imbued with spiritual significance for many peoples around the world is water. McRobbie goes on to discuss a study at the University of Houston and Ghent in Belgium, that theorizes that our preference for shiny things is nothing short of proof of our biological imperative to stay alive, our search for water. "The theory is that our need to stay hydrated has kept mankind on the lookout for shimmering rivers and streams. And thanks to natural selection, that's left us with an innate preference for things that sparkle." (source)

Easy enough to believe this theory comparing our need for water to our preference for things that glimmer in the light! If it is true, it seems deeply ironic and tragic to me that our search for shiny, life-giving water has caused us to abuse and pollute this life source to such a point that it threatens our very existence, with the very thing that imitates it's lustre best: plastic.  


We've all heard of micro-beads by now, those micro-plastic spheres that clog our drains, pollute our lakes, rivers and oceans. Because they are so small, they pass through the water filtration devices, making their way into the water table and fish, who also, incidentally love shiny things, and finally into our bodies with horrible consequences.

Since Canada has taken steps to phase them out, banning them from cosmetics and toiletries by July 2018, this begs the question: what about glitter? Glitter is also made of microplastics, more specifically 'PET (polyethelene tetrapthalate), and though it too, is ubiquotous in cosmetics and toiletries, it has not yet been banned and is hardly regulated. We keep ingesting it, inhaling it and flushing it down our drains in vain efforts to get rid of this 'herpes of makeup land'.


Researching cosmetics ingredients when creating my skincare and cosmetics line 'Kavana', I sought out ingredients that add shine to a formula, safely. I learned that the three main ingredients that impart shine in our favourite hair oils, lipsticks and body sprays are not all created equal.

There are three categories of ingredients that create shine: the first is natural minerals like micas, the second is mandmade or synthetic micas, a.k.a "fluophlogopite", and the third, glitter, is manmade micro-plastics, like PET (polyethelene terephthalate)

Since i know that micas are a naturally occuring in silica based mineral rock found in nature, also called "phyllosilicate", and that their extraction is plagued by child-slavery/labour mining issues in India (source), where it's extraction has JUST been legalized in response to the outcry around children's deaths there, I was curious to learn about synthetic micas aka: "fluorphlogopite" and it's methods of production and safety issues. Ditto for glitter.  

FLUOPHLOGOPITE (synthetic mica):

According to

"Phlogopite' is a natural mineral of the mica family that consists of layered magnesium aluminum silicate sheets, weakly bound together by potassium ions. Synthetic fluorphlogopite is similar to phlogopite, except that in the manufacturing process (which requires high temperatures), some of the hydroxyl groups in the mineral are replaced with fluorine atoms. In addition, while natural phlogopite may be yellow, green or red in colour, synthetic fluorphlogopite is white to grey in color." (source)

So "synthetic fluorphlogopite (aka synthetic mica) is a fluorine substituted mineral, produced at very high temperatures, composed of magnesium aluminum silicate sheets, weakly bound together by potassium". (Source:


Now, I'm no chemist, but I wonder, how safe are topical applications of aluminum, one of the most abundant minerals on earth, fluoride and magnesium, for the human body? This substance, fluorphlogopite, wether in small or large concentrations, is ubiquitous- found in my favourite eyeshadows, hilighters and lipsticks, to name just a few, so I just wanted to know!

According to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, "...because the particles of fluophlogopite have a higher atomic weight, they penetrate the skin to a very limited degree, preventing the body from absorbing any potentially harmful elements found in the material and the leaching of fluoride ions and aluminum into the body in any significant quanitity, as well as causing the compound to be biologically inactive. (*Cosmetic Ingredient Review)

Oh phew, they're too big to get under my skin and they're also biodegradable, less sharp than natural mica and won't clog your drain and pollute our water, like glitter or synthetic plastic microplastic. (Source)

Furthermore, the 'Cosmetic Ingredient Review' confirms that "...human based studies on the effects of this ingredient on the epidermis and the eye region show that it is non-irritating and does not cause sensitization".  

Sweet! I'm happy I can take a bit of a shine to this ingredient! ;)

Now, how how about glitter?


"Glitter usually consists of aluminum, an approved color additive, bonded to an etched plastic film composed of polyethylene terephthalate" (PET) (source: FDA. PET is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family an is used in fibers for clothing, conatiners for liquids and foods, thermoforming for manufacturing and in combination with glass fiber for engineering resins..." (Wikipedia)

"These sheets of plastic are tinted with various colours and then shredded down to various sizes. Some of the tints may be pigments that are FDA approved for use in cosmetics. These glitters are diferent yet again from craft glitter, which may be tinted with pigments that are not approvied for use in any cosmetics and should be avoided all together for makeup use". (source) The size they are cut down to also varies. Craft glitter tends to consist of larger pieces and have sharper edges, so should be avoided at all costs around the eys, as it can scratch the delicate cornea- the distinction is an important one!.


The FDA considers glitter and mica-based composite pigments to be non-permitted color additives when used in FDA-regulated products, including cosmetics and yet, they are equally ubiquitous, from the drugstore to high-end makeup brands, so what's the deal? Why are they everywhere if they are not safe or approved by the FDA? Are peoples' bodies being used as guinea pigs to test the safety of these products? I'll be sticking to synthetic micas and avoiding polyester on the lips and in my body, thank you very much. Obviously, I will also not put these in my eco-friendly cosmetic creations. 


"Polyethelene, is the most common plastic. It's annual production is about 80 million tonnes." (Source) From packaging to microbeads clogging up our lakes, streams, rivers and oceans, nevermind the bellies of dead whales and birds, plastic is everywhere. It's made it's way into our bodies and seriously affects our endocrine system (hormones) and fertiilty. When I first saw this TED Talk on the 'Toxic Baby", i was moved to be part of the solution that fights against plastic pollution, both for the planet and women and men, everywhere, in whatever way I can.

It's up to us to stop the spread of plastic and vote for a cleaner future, for our water, our babies, our bodies, our future as a species, and yes, as we all know, this starts with reducing our plastic consumption, even in as small an amount as exists in lipstick. Small doses matter!  Just think of a nicotine patch, an asthma inhaler, a birth control pill and the huge effects these small but powerful drugs have on our bodies.

Small actions matter too. To carry the water metaphor to it's logical end here, every drop contributes to making-up the ocean. Let's keep them plastic free! Whether avoiding plastic consumption in our cosmetics and toiletries, or replacing our bottled-water habit with a refillable bottle, even avoiding polyester (plastic!) clothing, let's try to actively seek out alternatives in however a small way we can and do our small part to change the world and keep our water clean, nothing less! 




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