Let’s Talk About Glitter!

There are two primary concerns that I routinely see from consumers in the online beauty community and from readers with respect to glitter: 1) whether cosmetic-grade glitter is eye safe, and 2) concerns about plastic glitter and its impact on the environment.  Those concerns continue to be expressed more frequently as more brands include glitter in their product offerings, including products that may or may not be explicitly marketed for eyes but often are included in palettes that otherwise look like a typical eyeshadow palette.

Briefly, with respect to the second concern:  cosmetic grade glitter generally means plastic glitter or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This post doesn’t seek to address or provide more information on the environmental impact of plastic glitter in cosmetics or viable alternatives; biodegradable glitter exists but it is unclear why it isn’t used more often or if it is a safer alternative (based on my limited research).  There are alternatives to using plastic glitter, like synthetic fluorophlogopite (which is lab-made mica) and borosilicates, which are two ways Lush replaced plastic glitter in their products, that have widespread usage in cosmetics already.

Background

This post is focused on the first concern as I recently had to go to an eye doctor after-hours to have a plastic particle removed that had gotten stuck to my upper eyelid immediately after I removed my makeup (not during wear) that would not flush out at home. Fortunately, I walked away with minimal damage (antibiotics for a week and skip contacts for a few days), so I consider myself lucky and definitely think getting to the doctor sooner (about two hours) was the right move!

You can get a corneal abrasion or scratch on your eye through regularly-scheduled, mundane activities from inserting contact lenses (fingernails are often the culprits) to dust or sand getting into your eye to rubbing your eye.  If you accidentally stab yourself in the eye with a mascara wand or eye brush that could cause damage to the eye.  If you wear eye makeup, it makes sense to take care in the types of products used, ensure that they’re adhering well to the area, and take care removing it all.

I’ve been wearing heavy eye makeup for over 15 years, and this is the first time I’ve gone to an eye doctor because something was stuck in my eye. I have worn glitter products for years, too, on the lid as well as below the lash line (not the waterline) not always fully aware of the risks but quite aware of potential risks in the last few years. I’m not looking for sympathy (I knew the risks), but it did make me want to look into glitter in cosmetics again (previous attempts to find clarity were not fruitful… it was not much more fruitful this time).

My personal takeaway from my recent experience and after sifting through what little information was available is to use caution when working with products near or around the eyes, particularly when working with larger particles, whether more traditional sparkle or glitter, and when working with mascara wands (I’ve poked myself in the eye at least a dozen times over the years) and brushes (keep ’em clean!). This was a painful reminder to take care and if there’s a precaution available, I should take it — e.g. I’m not going to test any loose sparkle/glitter without an adhesive base any more.

Ophthalmology on Eye Safety

In my quest to try and to provide information to readers, I considered looking to ophthalmologists, who would likely be the ones “seeing” the impacts of glitter.  A lot of ophthalmology organizations didn’t turn up any results when I tried searching their websites for glitter and/or cosmetics (generally) information or guidance. From the organization American Academy of Ophthalmology, they included the title of a section as “avoid glitter eye makeup” but go on to say be careful:

Be careful with metallic, glitter, sparkle powder or other makeup. Flakes can fall into the eye, get into the tear film and irritate your eyes. Glitter eye makeup is a common cause of corneal irritation or infection, especially for people who wear contact lenses. Larger glitter or inclusions in makeup can scratch the eye, much like getting sand or dirt in your eye.

Everyone should have a good grasp of the general dos and don’ts of what to do if something gets in your eye, and if you’re someone who regularly wears eye makeup, particularly anything with larger particles (like glitter), I’d say it’s well-worth knowing what to do (or not do) before you need to know it!

If you suspect that you’ve scratched your eye, even if you’ve been able to flush out the foreign body or bodies, seeing an eye doctor to determine the best course of action from there is a good idea. Minor scratches can heal in a few days, whereas deeper ones can take longer, so seeing an eye doctor will allow them to look at the area and prescribe any necessary medications or provide treatment instructions for that specific case.

Resources

What Little I Could Find on PET Glitter Safety

You would think that it would be easy to ascertain if glitter was safe or if this ingredient was safe for this area or not, but alas, it is not so simple.  CosIng, which is the EU source for ingredient safety, seems to allow for use of PET glitter without restriction in cosmetics, but the in the US, when I’ve asked industry insiders and brand owners that I know, the consensus is that no glitter is approved by FDA for usage on the eye… and yet it is clearly being used by brands routinely.

Fellow blogger Phyrra tried to figure it all out in July 2012, and she corresponded with FDA, who said that “Glitter usually consists of aluminum, an approved color additive, bonded to an etched plastic film composed of polyethylene terephthalate. FDA considers glitter and mica-based composite pigments to be non-permitted color additives when used in FDA-regulated products, including cosmetics. However, we are exercising enforcement discretion for a period of time.” 

I can’t find anything more on the period of discretion, whether it’s still ongoing, whether it ended and what the outcome was, etc. However, the FDA has a Color Additives and Cosmetics Fact Sheet, and they go over “special effects and novelty use,” and they included this example (which sounds similar to the example provided in their response in 2012):

Composite pigments: Color additives used in combination to achieve variable effects, such as those found in pearlescent products, are subject to the same regulations as all other color additives. Some color additives, when used in combination, may form new pigments, which may not be approved for the intended use. An example is a “holographic” glitter, consisting of aluminum, an approved color additive, bonded to an etched plastic film. (FDA Color Additives and Cosmetics Fact Sheet)

It seemed like they were illustrating an example of something that “may not be approved for the intended use” but may not be is not the same as is not approved–there are other examples on the same page that said “are unapproved” or “are approved.”

I reached out to the FDA via their online contact form on January 14th, 2020:

I wanted to inquire whether glitter, Polyethylene Terephthalate, is an approved ingredient for eye cosmetics, such as eye liner, eye shadow, and so forth.

In 2012, the FDA had replied to another media outlet with this: “However, we are exercising enforcement discretion for a period of time. During this time, we will allow glitter and mica-based composite pigments to be released with comment when presented for importation into the US. Once the enforcement discretion period is over, FDA will resume our enforcement of these non-permitted colors.”

So I wanted to get a status update on glitter in eye cosmetics.

I also wanted to inquire on whether there will be any modifications to approved color additives, particularly for use on eyes, for such color additives as Red 28 Lake (Ci 45410), Red 7 Lake (Ci 15850), and Yellow 6 Lake (Ci 15985).

The FDA’s response, received on January 16th, 2020:

FDA regulates the dyes and pigments used for coloring foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices or the human body as “color additives.” Glitter (polyethylene terephthalate) imparts color to cosmetics so it meets the definition of a color additive. FDA has not approved the use of glitter or polyethylene terephthalate as a color additive in cosmetics or any other FDA-regulated product.

You also asked if the regulatory status of Red 28 Lake (CI 45410), Red 7 Lake (CI 15850), and Yellow 6 Lake (CI 15985) has changed in that they are now allowed for eye-area use.

These are still non-permitted color additives in eye-area use cosmetics.

So, the answer is that PET glitter continues to be “not approved,” and based on my reading of their response, it’s actually not approved in cosmetics, generally.  They also confirmed that certain commonly used color additives in “Pressed Pigments” remain “non-permitted” for eye area use (I mean, while I was on the line with them, so-to-speak, I figured I’d ask!).

You can find a list of FDA-approved Color Additives here, which will also breakdown restrictions on use or any limitations. This list is useful in particular for anyone who is concerned about “Pressed Pigments” (not glitter) as you can look up the various pigments used in a particular shade to see if it is approved for eye usage or not.  I wasn’t able to find any pending petitions regarding glitter, and you can also view final rules regarding color additives (generally) here.

There are labeling inconsistencies (at least to us as consumers), which have led to confusion and for some, increased the alarm about the safety of the products they’ve used in the past or are currently using. Why does one brand’s Pressed Glitter come with a warning but another brand’s does not? What makes one any safer than the other? Based on the response I received from the FDA, the “FDA has not approved the use of glitter or polyethylene terephthalate as a color additive in cosmetics or any other FDA-regulated product.” (That seems to imply all cosmetics, which would

ColourPop Good as Gold Palette

For example, ColourPop includes the warning “not intended for use in the immediate eye area” with their Pressed Glitters, which have been included in various palettes alongside eyeshadows and Pressed Pigments (another product “not intended for use in the immediate eye area”).  MAC Glitters used to have a similar warning, but presently, for many of their glitters, their warning is now “Approved for adhesion on the eye area using Duo Adhesive.”

In 2009, MAC glitters came with this warning: “Keep entirely clear of eye area. If product enters eye, rinse with water. If irritation occurs, consult your ophthalmologist.”  In 2016, a kit of Pigments and Glitters had this warning for the Glitter and Reflects Glitter: “Not for use in the eye area,” though the Reflects’ line of Glitters contains calcium sodium borosilicate (not plastic glitter; other Glitters in the range do contain plastic glitter) and +/- color additives, while two Pigments included in the same kit also contain this ingredient but included additional ingredients beyond color additives.

While ColourPop seems to have caught the attention of many consumers, they’re really not alone in using plastic glitter in their products, and turns out, PET glitter is included in many past and present products that were marketed for eyes.  Products like Stila’s Glitter & Glow Liquid Eyeshadows contain plastic glitter in several shades and classic Urban Decay Eyeshadows (seems like most that were described as having micro-glitter) like Chopper, Gunmetal, and Midnight Cowboy (not an exhaustive list) also used PET glitter.  Urban Decay’s Heavy Metal Glitter Gels and Heavy Metal Glitter Eyeliners were released last year and are listed for eye use.

Fenty Rose (4) Palette -- Diva Feva contains PET glitter

I found PET glitter in newer releases like Marc Jacobs See-quins (not all shades but a fair amount), and even Pat McGrath’s Bronze Blaze (from the Bronze Seduction Palette) includes PET glitter. Brands like NARS and Fenty have released pressed glitter eyeshadows, too, and I use the term eyeshadow because they, too, use the same term to describe those products; their palettes did not come with any warning/disclosure, and the packaging showed an eye icon.

I couldn’t find much in the way of studies done on PET glitter and whether they were safe for eye usage.  The one that does come up is by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), which publishes findings and safety assessments of ingredients used in cosmetics, and they published their final report in 2013 on PET glitters used in cosmetics.

Keep in mind, however, that the CIR is not a regulatory body and was originally established by the industry trade association (currently known as the Personal Care Products Council); they have a set of procedures that they say keeps their review process independent from the Council and the cosmetics industry. The report looked at the potential for ocular injury and found that:

“Use studies of eye products that contain PET demonstrated no ocular irritation or dermal sensitization. The Panel concluded that modified terephthalate polymers were safe as cosmetic ingredients in the practices of use and concentration described in this safety assessment.” (Safety Assessment of Modified Terephthalate Polymers as Used in Cosmetics, April 12, 2013)

Within the report, CIR stated, “In several use tests of eye shadows, gels, liners, and mascara containing PET (up to 46.272%), there were few reports of adverse effects, including in subjects wearing contact lenses (Table 5).” Referring to Table 5 says that “there is a very slight ocular irritant potential” with the eyeshadow used that is “normal for this type of product.”

Of the seven products tested, the only one that was noted as having any adverse event reported contained 46.272% of PET glitter with no size indicated; the other six products ranged between 8 and 12% concentration with three that provided size used and three that did not provide a size. The final report provided no insight into guidance on particle sizes, concentration, etc.

We know by the types of products released that PET glitter comes in an array of sizes and shapes, and it doesn’t seem illogical that size and shape might increase or decrease potential for ocular irritation or injury, but there’s no information that I’m aware of on that.  The follow-up question is also what is the definition of safe because CIR says “ocular injury is not likely” but does, ultimately, say PET glitter is safe to use in eye cosmetics, so it seems safe is more of a spectrum of safety — not that it is 100% safe.

In part of its findings, CIR wrote that a “lack of case reports” and “no ongoing FDA regulatory actions suggested to the Panel that ocular injury is not likely.” If, in fact, consumers sustain ocular injury from the use of PET glitter, then it seems it will fall to consumers to report those injuries to the FDA. For US consumers, you can report cosmetic-related complaints to the FDA.  It is more important to notify the FDA of a reaction than the brand as brands are not required to report back to the FDA.  This is true for any and all reactions to cosmetics.

Effect of Glitter without Using PET Glitter?

As previously mentioned, there are two ingredients that are commonly used in cosmetics, including eye products, that might work in lieu of plastic glitter: borosilicate glasses and synthetic fluorphlogopite.

Some popular products that use one or both that are very sparkly: Pat McGrath Astral Solstice, Kaja Shimmer Trios, ColourPop Eyeshadows, ColourPop Sequin Super Shock Shadow, Hourglass Scattered Light Eyeshadows, MAC Dazzleshadows, and Urban Decay Moondust Eyeshadows–just to name a few.  They’re both routinely used in most mainstream powder eyeshadow from Anastasia to ColourPop to MAC to Make Up For Ever to Natasha Denona to Tom Ford.

The CIR also has a report on the safety of certain borosilicate glasses, including calcium sodium borosilicate, which is commonly used in cosmetics, including many favorite sparkly eyeshadows. (Please find CosIng database results here for borosilicate glasses.)  There is also a final report on the safety of synthetic fluorphlogopite, which is also known as synthetic mica (CosIng database results for synthetic fluorphlogopite here).

Both of the CIR reports seem to confirm safety based on “present practices of use and concentration” by the industry; the tone of the report on PET glitter read to me that they were trying to establish its safety. (Please refer to first mention of CIR for potential conflict of interest information.) Based on reading through all three reports, the final report on PET glitter didn’t seem quite as detailed or as thorough to me, so I’d certainly like to see more studies/tests done.

A Look at Particle Sizes

Based on the three CIR reports linked within this post regarding particle sizes for PET glitter, borosilicate glasses, and synthetic fluorphlogopite, these were the sizes noted.

  • PET glitter: 0.006 x 0.006″ or 150 x 150 μm (tested for adverse eye use) (CIR Report)
  • Borosilicate glass particles (flakes): 50 nm – 5 μm in thickness with a particle size of 15 – 350 μm; borosilicate in cosmetic had an average particle diameter of 1-100 µm
  • Calcium sodium borosilicate (flakes): of 9 – 13 μm (CIR Report)
  • Calcium aluminum borosilicate: 20 – 200 μm, when coated with colors (CIR Report)
  • Synthetic fluorphlogopite: 10 – 150 μm (CIR Report)

Browsing TKB Trading, which is an old school site where one can buy raw ingredients, their Mermaid Collection, which includes iridescent pigments using calcium sodium borosilicates includes particle sizes 60 to 400 µm. They include interesting verbiage under “Details,” copied and pasted below:

In the USA, natural mica used in cosmetics is not allowed if larger than 150 microns in size. However, larger-sized Synthetic Mica and Borosilicate products are currently permitted.

Even so, it may not be a good idea to have these larger particle sized powders near the eyes.

Borosilicate pigments like the Mermaid colors are uniquely reflective. Also, the large particle size means they are more sparkly.

The pigments can also be used in many things. In particular we recommend them for nail polish, shimmer body lotion and soap.

Approved for use: Eyes Lips, Face (but please use caution around the eyes).

Exploring synthetic fluorphlogopite options on TKB Trading, Cherika Moon also has a certificate of analysis that can be read (here), which listed particle size as 100 to 260 µm.  Synthetic fluorphlogopite is supposed to have a “more uniform finish which does not contain any sharp edges” (per Lush).  The more uniform edge, as opposed to natural mica, seems to be why brands feel comfortable using larger particle-sized synthetic mica than natural mica.

For comparison, Lit Cosmetics sells three sizes of loose glitter where Size #2 is dubbed “small” at 0.004 x 0.004 or 101.6 μm x 101.6 μm, Size #3 is “medium” at 0.008 x 0.008 or 203.2 x 203.2 μm, and Size #4 is “large” at 0.015 x 0.015 or 381 x 381 μm (note: I’ve made assumptions that Lit’s measurements are in inches before converting to microns).  Most brands that sell glitter, whether with or without a warning, do not include information regarding particle size (this is normal; we’re not seeing microns listed on Sephora listings!), so I’m glad Lit listed those measurements so we can have some visual idea of various particle sizes.

Confusion or Conclusion?

The FDA’s position is that “FDA has not approved the use of glitter or polyethylene terephthalate as a color additive in cosmetics or any other FDA-regulated product.” EU’s CosIng database permits the use of glitter or polyethylene terephthalate without any limitations or restrictions, per searching their database.  This is where I stood a week ago, and I’m really in the same place now–I don’t feel like I have that much more information.

In the US, color additives require affirmative approval, whereas other types of ingredients can be used so long as they are safe, so the industry seems to be primarily self-regulating with respect to other ingredients used. It is important to note that “not approved” doesn’t necessarily mean “not safe” but it doesn’t mean that it is safe either.

There are certain ingredients that are prohibited from use, and there are color additives that have limited or restricted use. Unfortunately, there did not appear to be any color additive petitions about getting glitter approved for cosmetic use (let alone for eyes).

One interesting nugget I read while scouring FDA’s website for information was that products are “to be safe when consumers use them according to their labeling, or as they are customarily used.”  That “customarily used” with the or modifier made me wonder if products that come with a “not intended for eye” kind of warning but are otherwise placed in what looks and feels like an eyeshadow palette — would that fall under as “customarily used?” Food for thought!

“The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients (except for color additives not intended as coal-tar hair dyes) to have FDA approval before they go on the market, but it does require them to be safe when consumers use them according to their labeling, or as they are customarily used. Also, any color additives used in cosmetics must be approved by FDA.” — FDA on Makeup

There doesn’t seem to be a way for consumers to determine if product A with a warning of “not intended for use around the immediate eye area” is actually any riskier than product B that calls itself an eyeshadow with no warning. Consumers will have to look at the information available and use their own judgment about what is comfortable for them. Seemingly, we appear to be extremely reliant on trusting brands to use ingredients that are “safe” in our cosmetics.

I’m not here to to tell you to wear glitter or to not wear glitter. My goal was to do more research and present that information to readers and consumers so that they can make the best decision for themselves with more information as more brands add plastic glitter to their products (with or without warnings).

Also, don’t use craft glitter in place of cosmetic-grade glitter! Craft glitter can be cut from glass, metal, and may be coated in dyes that are not suitable for cosmetic use. Cosmetic-grade glitter is typically made out of plastic, cut differently, and while largely self-regulated by the brand’s that release the products, are intended for cosmetics use (at least on face and body).

A Brief Aside

People have asked about the brand/product that was stuck in my eye, and given that no detailed lab analysis was done, a “plastic foreign body” was what was removed per doctor’s notes. The products I removed immediately prior to something getting stuck in my eye area were Fenty eyeshadows from the Rose and Pastel Frost palettes, Marc Jacobs Grape(vine) Matte Highliner, Pat McGrath Fetish’eyes Mascara, and La Mer Thee Soft Fluid Foundation.  The other eye used Fenty eyeshadows from the Smoke and Pastel Frost palettes with the rest being the same.

The Fenty Rose (4) and Smoky (6) eyeshadow palettes both contain glitter shades, which have PET glitter in them, but they are listed as eyeshadows with an eye icon on the back of the palette with no disclosure or warning on either the cardboard packaging or the actual palette that I could find.  I wore both glitter eyeshadows on part of lower lash lines–not my waterlines but below my eyeliner–as past personal experience has given me more irritation from glitter fallout into my eyes (often requiring early removal of a look) when I’ve worn it on my lid (I had no irritation during wear, only after removal). Per my doctor’s notes and what he told me, it was a plastic particle that was removed.

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The hours I’ve spent with my eyes almost glazed over and two separate windows with 30-40 tabs open in each for the last three days trying to find clarity… 😔

I always love a good “Temptalia Investigates” blog! I really appreciate the work you put in to researching glitter in eye products, because it can feel so daunting as a layperson to sort through all the information from the FDA & the EU.

I’m personally not a fan of the new pressed glitter fad that many brands seem to be pushing, because the particles just seem too big & rough for me to feel comfortable putting near my eyes, even with glitter glue.

I think it’s one thing for a brand to sell individual pressed or loose glitter as a standalone product, but when a brand includes them in a premade eyeshadow palette, it seems like they’re endorsing their consumers to use the glitter on their eyes, even if there’s language on the box warning against it not being intended for that use.

I agree! I think pressed glitter should be sold at least separately, if brand wants to include that in their range. Eyeshadow palette should be filled with eyeshadows.

Thank you so much for the research you have done on this matter on behalf of all of us who use eyeshadows. It certainly is a tricky subject to navigate through and I have a feeling that the current laws/regulations have not really caught up with what ingredients are being used in eyeshadow palettes and investigated fully.
I am sorry to hear that you have experienced some eye issues as a result of your work on this blog, but I guess that it is not surprising, considering how much eyeshadow you apply on a daily/weekly basis, that one day you would be affected. As a person who has problems with my eyes, I steer very, very clear of any glitter whatsoever.
I think brands should just not use plastic glitter or any other kind – there are so many other, much safer finishes to use.
Thank you once again Christine.

It definitely made me wonder what the appeal of PET glitter was over borosolicate glasses or synthetic mica – is it a cost thing or a real preference for the look of PET glitter?

This is excellent research, Christine! I enjoyed the read, even though you didn’t really get any clear answers than what you’ve already been told or suspected. I’m pretty cautious with using glitter around my eyes. I just can’t risk it, but I have no problem with the other alternatives. Just the fact that I can feel the gritty texture (no matter how fine) of glitter between my fingers is enough to prevent me from using it on my eyes. As a dry eye suffer who constantly has scratches on her cornea because they’re so dry (made worse from Lasik back then), the last thing I want are more scratches on my eyes. LOL!

Did your dry eyes ever get better post-Lasik, Christina? I have drier eyes, though I don’t “feel” they are dry routinely, but I’ve been told that I’m unlikely to be a candidate for Lasik due to having some dryness currently.

Unfortunately, Lasik just makes dry eyes even more dry. I went into it with already dry eyes and was told that it could make things worse for me. I went ahead anyway because my prescription was extremely high to the point where I was having difficulty driving at night.

It’s been 10 years. Are they really dry? Yes, absolutely, but I manage with constantly applying eye drops. It was a trade-off for me. I am extremely happy not having to wear thick, thick glasses and being able to see at night. I have had friends who weren’t as affected as I was with dry eyes, so it’s worth looking into some more of you still are considering the procedure.

Hey Christine! I had LASIK surgery done a couple of years ago and my initial visit to see whether I’d be a good candidate I was told my eyes were dry and that I wasn’t a candidate. I was advised to use hydrating eye drops three times a day for a total of 6 months before I could be re-evaluated. After the surgery I was prescribed the same eye drops for another 3 months. It takes a while to permanently rehydrate your eyes before a LASIK surgery but it’s well worth the effort cause I don’t miss the dryness and constant irritation from wearing lenses all the time.

Thank you so very much for investigating the PET conundrum, Christine. Nothing quite like having an up close and personal run-in with PET glitter to cause one to look deeper into its potential hazards! Having had a nasty little experience with Marc Jacobs Topaz Flash myself, I totally sympathize with you over your own experience with Fenty Rose Palette. It’s no fun at all. And makeup *should* be care-free and fun.
What I see as the basic problem, is that it would appear that the jury is still out when it comes to the FDA putting their foot down on cosmetics companies using PET in eye makeup. They need to get their sh*t together on this one before people end up with serious damage to their corneas! PET can be so dangerous when the particles are even the size yours or mine were. Nevermind the very large ones that ColourPop insists on putting in their “eyeshadow” palettes! As for the very small ones in PMG Bronze Blaze, I haven’t had any serious issues….yet. Only a sensation of grittiness if any fallout gets in my eye when I use that shade or the similarly textured Gilty Pleasure. I’d rather it have one of the other 2 types of glitter mentioned in your article instead, though.
No doubt, the day is coming when someone out there does suffer permanent eye injury due to using a PET glitter eyeshadow. Sadly, I do believe that this is what it will take in order for cosmetics companies to quit pushing the limits of safety vs. marketability.

Fully agree with this 100%. Which is why I’m so pleased that Christine put this post out. Hopefully word will spread further with it over time. One big concern is that younger persons eager to experiment with make-up, but less aware of any warnings that might (or might not be) on the packaging, will run into a tricky situation because of this. Especially since a good amount of glittery stuff seems to be marketed heavily towards that age catchment. But hey, as it can happen to anyone, this stuff just shouldn’t be manufactured. Alternative ingredients need to be used.

Christine, thank you for doing this. Aside from the health concerns, it’s kind of odd to me that microbeads have become verboten but PET based glitters remain popular. I’m not sure what the difference is – they both seem bad for the environment.

I actually think the push toward being more “eco-friendly” here might be the way PET glitter gets phased out over time.

Thank you for taking the time to write all of this up!

I have seen an indie brand say “008 Polyester Glitter” as one of their ingredients. Is polyester glitter safer than PET glitter? I keep seeing mixed signals from indie brands on how safe any glitter is.

From a quick googling, one site listed the ingredient under their polyester glitter category as PET glitter (same as what I wrote about), but I saw a lot of association with it as an alternative craft glitter so I’d definitely try to dig in more to see what that means. I don’t think that’s a standard way of writing the ingredient, though…

I wish I could be of more help! I’ve really only looked at finished cosmetics vs. raw ingredients, and it seems to turn up as polyethylene terephthalate. You might inquire with the brand to see if they have a more detailed ingredient list. The CIR study on polyethylene terephthalate linked in the post also looked at a few other forms, so that might be helpful, too.

PET is a polyester resin (so a type of polyester) which is probably why it was referred to this way. I am no chemist, but find my science degree comes in handy with these glitter discussions;)

This is fascinating to me (although I’m sorry you had to go through this). I’m already seriously allergic to one FDA-approved pigment color (a diagnosis I learned about through a patch test) so always avoid that pigment color. And I already avoid any eye products with the glitter in them.

However, in looking at your list above and running the ingredients through my database, I see that PET is in quite a few highlighters (I know, not used on eyes, but still, interesting as I wonder if these products can scratch the face) and in one eyebrow product, Fenty MVP pencil. I also found it lurking in some eyeshadow crayons.

Regarding the Borosilicate, I find it in three PM Decadence shades (likely the very three that I hate using because they feel gritty: Enigma, Sinful and Gold Standard); two ABH Sultry shades (Rose Quartz and Cinder) and one ColourPop Brown Sugar shade (Saute).

I found fluorphlogopite in some highlighters; one blush; six shades of ABH Sultry (Pearl, Steampunk, Bloom, Cinder, Teak, Cyborg); and six shades of ColourPop Brown Sugar (Chai, Jamocha, Amber, Ginger, Henna and Choc).

I’m thinking that learning about all this is a good way for me to clean out my collection some more. I’ve got enough issues still getting eyelid breakouts even avoiding the problematic pigment color.

Oh, yes, PET glitter is used in a lot of cosmetics. Since this post was really focused on potential for eye irritation/injury, I focused on eye products (as those are also where the warnings apply, if they exist), but I know I will be exercising more caution in the removal process if I was wearing a very glittery highlighter/blush color!

I always read the ingredients in everything before I purchase, and the 1st time I ever saw fluorphlogopite as an ingredient was when Hourglass came out with their Ambient Lighting products. I thought that might be their “secret sauce” so I looked for dupes that had that ingredient and at the time I couldn’t find any (I did purchase some of the Ambient Lights). After some months (I don’t remember exactly how long it was) I started finding it occasionally in other products. Now it’s fairly ubiquitous. I will say that the Ambient Lighting products are very finely milled, and while it’s used on the face, some people use highlighters (including me at times) as a highlight in the inner corner of the eye, or as an eyeshadow. IDK if products with that ingredient are made with less of a fine powder, or if there are chunkier ones available too.

Thanks for the in-depth look into this. I’m sorry about your experience but am glad that there was no permanent damage. I’ll need to weed out shadows with glitter or microglitter fallout and just keep the ones that are formulated to stay on well. Glad I normally prefer satin or matte finishes anyway.

You experience is going to make me more careful about make up removal too. I will be using a Qtip along my lashlines first before cotton pads to sweep the rest away. Then soak my lashes with an additional cotton pad to get rid of the mascara.

Oh my god!! I hope you’re feeling better now! Sounds so painful and awful!

This post is so, so amazing, and the reason there need to be people like you reporting thoroughly, critically, and honestly. It seems like cosmetics and those who use them (mainly women) are not a priority to the US FDA, which I can’t help but find sexist in a way, where women’s health is not as high priority as men’s. I fangirl when I see you turning on law school mode. BTW, I think you may be missing a clause after “The FDA’s position . . . ‘the use of . . . FDA-regulated product.'” I think this is a misplaced apostrophe: “brand’s that release”.

Fixed that, thank you! I don’t know that I’ve ever reordered a post so often and I didn’t paste what I intended from the FDA response email!

The U.S. more or less expects cosmetic companies to “self regulate.” You mentioned some regulations and I’m sure you didn’t find much. The U.S. pales in comparison of other countries. More safety and environmental regulations have been removed in the U.S. over the past couple of years. And the UK just banned over a thousand ingredients while the U.S. banned about 30. There are some of U.S. cosmetics are actually banned in other countries due to their ingredients, like formaldehyde.

As per a certain company with many releases including more push on plastic glitter- do you think companies care your safety or your coin? It’s not both. It would be great if the world was kind and thoughtful, but it isn’t. Companies generally do not care about your safety. They care about profits. We would not have the growing waste and pollution if thought and safety was the standard and priority.

Yeah, I am bitter about it. I know the beauty community is a force to be reckoned with when they team up. They fought for vegan, cruelty beauty, drove Lime Crime out of Sephora, ripped a new one on numerous companies for not having deep foundation shades but it’s been real silent on safety and plastic in makeup.

Those who still want to risk glitter, I’d like to plug Eco Stardust (https://ecostardust.com/pages/non-bioglitter-amnesty) You can send them your plastic glitter to recycle and you can get a discount on their actually biodegradable glitter. Clionadh cosmetics has some beautifully unique shadows and uses Bioglitter too

The only way to increase safety standards (physical safety and environmental safety) is to make a lot of noise about it. Thank you for posting about it and I’m glad you’re okay.

I too am grateful for Christine’s extensive research and totally agree with your concerns, She. The concept that industries who profit from a product should be the ones regulate it– which is the M.O. in the U.S. is obviously absurd and negligent. We are widely known to under-regulate and those slim regulations have more recently been gutted. It’s very much buyer beware. Having had one such run-in with a glitter piece from a Tom Ford eye palette, I am finished with glitter completely. Not worth it. Also it turns out that glitter winds up in the oceans where it kills fish and marine life. Anyone who is vegan (or indeed anyone) might want to consider that. https://www.fatherly.com/news/glitter-is-destroying-the-environment-scientists-ban/

Excellent article Christine, thank you for all your hard work and the hours you invested!! We all super appreciate you. ❤️
Under Conclusion or Confusion…the first sentence regarding the FDA’s position–are you missing a word there?

A great, thoroughly researched post, even if it’s difficult to come to clear conclusions—besides, for me anyway, avoid glitter. It’s interesting to see how widespread it is, and that even older shades from Urban Decay may contain it. As others have said, I would never use one of the pressed glitters, but several of the more traditional shades/shadows you mentioned are in my collection! With knowledge comes power! And disappointment. 😂

Thank you so much for this post!

This was so thorough! Thanks for making sure your readers are informed about the products they purchase (or in some cases, ones we don’t purchase.) Many cosmetics companies rely on consumer ignorance about potential hazards.

Well that was a heck of a rabbit hole you jumped into. I am very relieved to read your eye is okay. You made my brain hurt reading this. I’m thoroughly impressed/amazed with your supernatural tenacity.

Unlucky that it happened, but lucky how little damage it caused, despite all the pain while it was in there. It’s incredible how very small particles can cause searing pain on the eye – so magnified!

This was honestly a very interesting read! As a contact lens user and having super sensitive eyes, glitter has always been an issue for me. However, it became a bigger issue when I discovered that I’m allergic to synthetic mica. Sadly, glitter and I just don’t work. Still, thank you for your investigation!!!

Wow Christine! First of all I’m glad your eye is ok. Second being a former contact lens wearer I know the perils of not getting anything in your eye! I had Lasik a few years ago and I love it, I had to have a touch up as they didn’t quite do it strong enough. I had to wait for almost a year until my eye was “moist” enough though. I live in Calgary, Alberta so it is very dry and after having the surgery once it dried my eye out already. So a humidifier on my desk and constant eye drops and my eyes were finally “moist” enough to do the surgery again. Thank you for all your research, what an eye opener! I will be very cautious if I ever think of using glitter around my eyes again. I can’t believe they aren’t after the cosmetic companies if these products are not approved.

Oh my gosh Brenda. I’m always excited to find someone who is from Calgary, Alberta (or who has even heard of it). I live in the San Francisco/San Jose area now, but hardly anyone knows where I’m from even though I think Calgary isn’t that small anymore.

But yes, every time I go back in the winter, my poor already dry eyes are so dry. I don’t know why I never thought of using a humidifier. I definitely have to remember to use mine daily!

Aww that’s nice! Calgary has around 1.2 million people now so it’s not that small., my husband is from here I’m from the coast. It’s cold as heck here right now! -24C that’s without the windchill. That’s why we spend quite a bit of time in Vegas, and we usually drive down the coast at least once a year through San Fran, love Cali! You’re lucky to live there, enjoy!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this editorial Christine! They are my favorite posts on temptalia. I think your post will start a much needed revolution in the industry, with regards to Glitter. It’s amazing how you can harness one negative experience and turn it into a systematic discussion about policy and regulation in the cosmetics Industry!

I read it like a lawyer’s brief. Very systematic, referring to precedents, etc. Thank you for sharing the current status quo with us!
And Gute Besserung for your eye!

I thought it was important to share because it can and does happen, so it’s not a “would never happen to me!” kind of thing either because sometimes I see people using “well, I’ve done it forever and never a problem” as justification for why someone else should feel comfortable about it. I also realize that a lot of things can cause damage to the eye, even if technically safe, whether that’s makeup or you know… dust or sand! So, I didn’t want people to take what happened to me and run with it in an alarmist way either so I tried to present ALL the information possible so that it can be more about readers’ armed with whatever info is available and making the decision based on their personal comfort level.

I’d like to add my praise and thanks to everyone else’s for this information and for the research you’ve done, Christine. Because of my age (advanced) and problems I’ve had with my eyes (retinal tears), this whole business of these “non-eye-safe” glitters is an important one to me but even younger people with healthy eyes – well, a lot of them are concerned about this ongoing inclusion of these “plastic” based glitters in eye products. Maybe it behooves those who buy Colour Pop (since they seem to be including these more and more) and other brands using these ingredients to write directly to the company explaining that they won’t be buying palettes or single shadows that contain these. I think if enough people did and the companies understood clearly just how much business they might be losing, things might change.

I’m allergic to some glitters. I’ve bought the hypoallergenic nars palettes before and my eyes stars watering and burning. Other glitters, like the stila liquid eyeshadows, I’m fine.

While I don’t feel any personal need to be using large glitter on my eyes, I’m thankful for your research into this. I feel sorry for runway models who don’t really get much of a choice when someone decides they “need” to be wearing craft glitter on their eyes on the runway to get “a look”.

If any professional makeup artists are using craft glitter on other people that’s a real problem, much bigger than PET glitter. Craft glitter is an entirely different thing and absolutely should never be anywhere near the eye. The only case of a person actually losing their eye due to damage from glitter was someone who was simply making christmas cards and happened to get a piece of craft glitter in her eye. If a makeup artist is using craft glitter they need to be corrected immediately.

Outstanding piece, Christine. Thank you for all your hard work. I’m glad you’re OK. Your eyes must be exhausted! Your eyes never look irritated in your photos, and I’ve often wondered how you use and remove so much makeup every day with seemingly no eye or skin irritation. I’d love to read more about your day to day skincare and eye care, if you’re ever so inclined!

I take photos of my eyes within an hour or two of application, so I’m sure that helps, and if my eyes are very red, then I’m usually not taking photos because that becomes the focus of the review vs. the actual product (and redness is typically unrelated – allergies, dry eyes, etc.).

My skincare routine changes regularly since I test something new (depends on what I run out of when or if I try something and find it ineffective), so I don’t have a regular routine, actually! Whatever goes on my face is going near my eyes, too, but I don’t use anything specifically for my eyes 🙂

Thank you for your meticulous investigation! I try to ignore the pressed glitters in my Colourpop palettes but it would be better if they weren’t in there at all.

This is yet another example of why you are the best beauty blogger in the blogosphere! I’m sorry that glitter in the eye happened to you, but so relieved that it turned out ok. I occasionally get into researching about something thoroughly like you do (I chuckled with empathy at your reply to kjh “The hours I’ve spent with my eyes almost glazed over and two separate windows with 30-40 tabs open in each for the last three days trying to find clarity…”), but your results and conclusions (so thoughtfully and eloquently put) helps thousands of women and I commend you for that! 👏👏👏
Thank you❣️😘

Thank you so much for this thorough and fantastically researched overview! I am really hoping the PET plastic-in-eyeshadow trend dies soon. Not only for safety, but for environmental reasons.

I want to recommend a tip to anyone and everyone that use glitter, no matter what type or size it is: Remove it with tape. Apply tape (if it’s very sticky, remove a bit of the stickiness on the back of your hand) with light pressure on the glittery area and remove, and start again with fresh tape, and go on for as long as you’ve removed as much as you can. It minimizes the risk of wiping glitter in to your eyes and it goes in to the trash, and not down the drain! And Christine, thank you for this article. You’re an absolute pearl.

Thank you for this tip! Tbh I’ve always found the most dangerous part of wearing glitter to be taking it off; out of the hundreds and hundreds of particles, how can I be sure one or a few didn’t fall into my eyelashes only to wash into my eye? And I’ve seen them wind up on my waterline or tear duct from exactly that! I don’t often wear glitter on my eyes because it’s so difficult to take off throughly enough, but if and when I decide to, I am sure this will be a huge help. 🙂

As an eye care professional, I would like to say “thank you” from my heart for this! Glitters are not eye safe and it drives me nuts when I see companies (like ColourPop) put glitters in eyeshadow palettes – especially ones that are aimed at more juvenile customers. As adults, we can probably deduce for ourselves that putting chunks of glitter near our eyes has some inherent risks that younger kids wouldn’t think about. The younger ones may not know about primer and “glitter glue” and adhesives to keep the glitter adhering to the skin and end up with a corneal abrasion. I’m sorry you had this happen to you but I’m glad you are able to bring awareness to it. Maybe the makeup companies will listen to you. 🙂

I’m not sure if anyone is still posting to this thread but it seems that synthetic fluorphlogopite is used in many eyeshadows I’ve looked up, including my much-loved Sydney Grace. Perhaps the key with the fluorphlogopite is that the shadow be very well put together, meaning not having any fallout. Just thinking out loud here as I think if I tried to avoid the fluorphlogopite, I’d end up not having any shadows at all.

I do think though that I want to avoid borosilicate in my eye products. That product is in a lot fewer shadows and I’m pretty sure that the colors that have them are the ones that bother my eyes if there’s any fallout.

Hi Kitty,

Both borosilicates and synthetic mica are pretty common from what I’ve seen, so I’d definitely pay attention to what shades have given you trouble, but I’d pay particular attention to see if there’s any correlation with type of formula or particle size – like a lot of people love how sparkly some Pat McGrath shades are, but they definitely have more visible sparkle to them and there’s a range of sizes for both types of ingredients. It might also be something where if the first ingredient contains it then that might be more bothersome vs. deeper on the list! Good luck.

The own thing that I wonder about is that if an eyeshadow palette is being sold with a color that states not to be used on the eye due to the glitter, what in the world do they expect you to use it for? It seems like it would be more responsible not to include it in the palette at all.

Great article!

I wear contacts and I’ve suffered from irritation. Mascara flakes tend to be the worst culprit, followed by eyeliner and foiled shadows. I’ve learned to become very particular about removing shadows, particularly with anything resembling glitter. Scotch tape to the rescue. Just a few passes with a piece of tape removes the bulk of the glitter, making removal much safer and easier.

Thank you very much for your well researched piece, Christine. I feel like acknowledging PET glitter safety/legality as a gray area is a bit taboo, and it’s wonderful to read a thoughtful breakdown of the different kinds too! Also, I hope you’re healing well. 🙂

With regards to biodegradable glitters (and PET etc for that matter) I hope the FDA will assess the safety of ingesting them in small quantities. I have some that I think are really cute from Shroud (formerly Strobe) Cosmetics, but because of concern for my eyes and the difficulty of removal, I’ve been using them on my lips. Clearly I don’t deliberately eat glitter, but it’s inevitable that a small amount gets swallowed over the course of talking and drinking and I actually do wear glitter lips semi-regularly. Of all the things we are exposed to over the course of our lives I’m sure a few specks of glitter are the least of my worries, but I do sometimes think about it, especially with the glitters that are specifically designed to break down…

Awesomely comprehensive research and thanks for your personal input. Great read and I appreciate the work you put into this article.
Thank you!

After my headache with the FDA in 2012 and your responses from them, I’m convinced they really don’t care about safety at all.

The bit about “to be safe when consumers use them according to their labeling, or as they are customarily used.” is very interesting. To me, that would imply that an eyeshadow palette being used as an eyeshadow palette should be safe.

I’m so glad you didn’t have permanent damage from this experience.

Yes, I read it that way, too — or at the very least, it certainly seemed like the merest fine print was not a 100% sure-fire way to avoid liability.

This is so confusing. All the different types of glitter, how are we supposed to know?! I love the urban decay midnight cowboy and I bought the heavy metal liner to be just an inside corner “highlite” for some looks and only use in the corner of my eye….I’m sure I have many others. I do know I dont use the cheap no name brands of pallettes I’ve seen online that appear to be chunks of glitter on clear formula (even the wet and wild small single glitter) items I stay away from because the glitter chunks look too big and just iffy.

So what about metallic eyeshadow is that and foiled the same??

The beauty “standards” are so confusing, just like pigments that are sold as eyeshadow in pallettes and then tiny print “not eye safe” like seriously, if they are going to do that, they should stick to making whole pallettes like that and let people pick up shadows, vs pigments. I know it might be annoying, and people want many colors and finishes in one pallette it seems these days, but then the time something DOES gosh forbid happen, it’s scary…whom would want to go blind over an eyeshadow look?!

I’m glad your eye was okay !! I’m sure it was a scary moment. I just ordered blue contacts after 20 years of not playing with them and it was some youtubers suggestion (with code) I got them in, but they felt like they were too convaved and stood out too much on the inside of my eyelid. I tried eye drops just to see if maybe my eyes were dry or something and they just felt odd. When I went to take the last one out, it rolled up into my eyelid and I freaked out trying to figure out how I was going to get it out..it took me an hour and it was rolled up in my eye but thankfully it came out without issues after I calmed down.
Needless to say, I’m not wearing them anymore, and might try to get another named brand company that isn’t some off brand youtuber approved /money maker too type deal.

You’ll primarily be looking for this ingredient: polyethylene terephthalate. There are some derivatives like polybutylene, but it likely will have terephthalate with it.

It’s not an issue related to cost of the product, as a FYI!

I am glad your eye is okay!

Hi Christine
Long time reader – now subscribed. Thank you for all of your time and research and I am sorry this happened to you. I wanted to ask – what is the difference between glitter vs shimmer vs foiled vs metallic shadows? I avoided the obvious ones like ColourPop but didn’t realise this applied to the PMG palettes and wouldn’t have wasted my money if I knew. Your clarification would be appreciated and thank you again

You’ll primarily be looking for this ingredient: polyethylene terephthalate. There are some derivatives like polybutylene, but it likely will have terephthalate with it.

There’s no universal definition for those finishes – one brand’s glitter finish might use mica or borosilicates and another brand’s will use plastic glitter. It doesn’t apply to every shade from Pat McGrath, but they have used it before!

Late to this conversation, but I can tell you love research, Christine. Thanks for this!
Also regarding Lasik. I had my eyes done about 15 years ago using ‘No Touch’ PRK method. It was developed here in British Columbia 30+ years ago by London Eye Center. It’s def more pricey than traditional Lasik (at least it was when I got it done) and the downtime is longer. I don’t know if it would make much difference to dry eyes (doubtfully), but worth looking into. I never had dry eyes to start but did have to rely upon drops for at least a couple years after surgery. It was still the best decision I’ve made. My understanding is it is (or was) a better method to avoid issues with things like night driving, especially as they are able to work on a larger surface with this method; ergo more tissue is available for treatment. They treat a lot of military, law enforcement etc.

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