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Sinister sparkle? Scientists warn glitter pollutes oceans

Microplastic bans could soon include glitter used in lotions, cosmetics and more, in an effort to protect marine life.

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Bonnie Burton profile photo
Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
2 min read

Whether you love to add a little sparkle to your skin, or you think glitter truly is the herpes of the craft world (once it's on you, it never comes off), some scientists are now claiming that glitter is a hazard to the environment. 

Glitter, along with microbeads, are considered to fall under the category of microplastics, which are defined as plastics which are less than five millimeters in length. Microbeads are often found in facial scrubs, toothpaste, soaps, cosmetics and more.

These microbeads pass through water filtration systems after usage but don't disintegrate, and often end up being consumed by marine life, causing concern among scientists keeping a close eye on how pollution effects fish.

A 2016 scientific study that influenced the case for banning microbeads in cosmetics in the UK, entitled "Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology" reported that microplastics were contributing to the decline in fish populations in the ocean.

However, in May of this year, the same study was challenged for doctoring findings. But scientists are still adamant that new legislation should be introduced to encourage the use of biodegradable options to replace hazardous microbeads. 

In 2015, California became the first U.S. state to drastically restrict all use of the non-biodegradable microbeads in products. Seven other states have followed suit. 

Now scientists are urging the U.S. and other countries to consider banning the use of glitter in hygiene and beauty products as well. 

"I think all glitter should be banned, because it's microplastic," Dr. Trisia Farrelly of New Zealand's Massey University told the Independent.

Historically, glitter was made from mica rock particles, glass and even crushed beetles. Modern-day crafting glitter is made primarily from metals, while fine-milled cosmetic glitter is made from polyester, foil and plastics.

Currently, glitter added to "rinse-off" cosmetics and other personal care products it will be covered by the 2018 UK microbeads ban. Crafting glitters are currently not included in the ban.

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