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Scientists have been speaking out to warn against the devastating environmental impact of glitter, and unlike the sparkly stuff, the news is neither shiny nor pretty.

Glitter, which, as anyone who has toyed with the stuff will attest to, is notoriously stubborn. And the dangerous thing is that it’s getting into our oceans and, therefore, into marine life. Technically, glitter counts as a microplastic – one which measures 5 mm or less – and in some cases, is invisible to the naked human eye. The size of these small fragments means they’re easily swallowed by sea life, and the results for them can prove fatal. Not only that, plastic has also been found in seafood consumed by humans. A study found that up to a third of fish caught in the UK contained plastic – pretty stomach-churning stuff.

Environmental anthropologist Dr. Trisia Farrelly of Massey University in New Zealand calls for an outright ban of the stuff, speaking to The Independent. Having conducted some research on the matter, Dr. Farrelly found one of the impacts of PET, one of the plastic components of glitter, is that it can break down to release chemicals that disrupt hormones in both humans and animals. More worryingly, such chemicals have been linked to the onset of certain cancers and neurological diseases.

Though most people think of parties and dressing up when they hear the word glitter, it also exists in everyday cosmetics and other products in smaller quantities. And certain microplastics, namely microbeads, are even manufactured specifically to be used in cosmetic products. While the damaging impact of microbeads has been established, with countries such as the UK set to enforce a ban on them next year, it’s unclear whether such a ban will cover glitter, too.

In the meantime, brands such as Eco Glitter Fun and Bioglitz are providing an alternative to the plastic kinds by selling plant-based, biodegradable, non-toxic glitters instead. And the larger, natural cosmetics chain Lush has already joined the bandwagon, replacing their existing glittery products with biodegradable substitutes.

While all this is good to know, Dr. Farrelly emphasised that change must come from the top, with the responsibility not being lumbered onto consumers to figure out what they might be buying. “Producers need to be responsible. They need to use safer, non-toxic, durable alternatives.”

It sounds like taking heed of the scientists’ warnings is a pretty good place to start – and we’ll be more careful next time we have the desire to rock some sparkly eyeshadow too.

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