Is all that glitters good for you? A guide to glitter make up and its safety

Dr Zara Kassam, PhD

Whether it’s festival time, the festive season or just a big night out – who doesn’t like a bit of glitter to brighten things up a bit? But how safe are these sparkly bits and the glue that sticks them on? Dr Zara Kassam finds out.

Who doesn’t love glitter? Our love for glitter dates to the Ancient Egyptians, who used mica dust as sparkly makeup. Glitter has become one of the biggest makeup trends for 2017, from festival looks to a night out on the town, we can’t seem to get enough of it.

However, one of the biggest concerns about glitter makeup is whether it is safe to use on your skin.


What is cosmetic glitter?

Whatever you do, don’t confuse craft glitter with cosmetic glitter. Cosmetic glitter is much more thoroughly regulated than crafting glitter as it’s designed to be used on the skin. Craft glitter, on the other hand, could be riddled with rust from machinery or other debris from its packing – not what you want on your face.

Unlike crafting glitter cosmetic glitter is much finer and the individual particles are rounded rather than hexagonal. It’s also subjected to strict manufacturing regulations to protect us the consumer.

Cosmetic glitter are well regulated especially when  it comes to the colouring agents they use. The US Food and Drug Administration or FDA has strict guidelines when it comes to colouring in cosmetics. Cosmetic glitter is made from a non-toxic plastic, and no matter how exotic or novel the colour additive or its intended use, it is subject to the same regulations as the everyday colours used in cosmetic products.


The colour itself comes from pigment rather than dye so it doesn’t leach out and stain your skin. It’s designed to reduce the risk of irritating your skin and eyes. The European Union has said that it is safe to use and considers its potential risks very minimal.

Glitter that is intended for crafting may cost less but uses poly-bonded coloured products that have coated dyes, which can run if they come into contact with moisture.

Can you imagine how painful it would be to have glitter on your eyelids and the dye running into your eyes! Not only that but these sparkly flecks could have some serious health implications if they get into your eyes as they could cut or scratch your cornea.

The other thing to be aware of is making the products you buy are approved for safety. If your buying them online and they’re cheap, they may not have passed EU or US regulations. Make sure it’s a brand you know and trust and is from a reputable supplier.


How to use glitter safely

When applying glitter on your face or eyes, it’s important to remember to take great care. It is essential to use a laying base adhesive coat for the glitter to stick to, or you will inevitably get it in your eyes; even if your using cosmetic glitter, your eyes can become sore and irritated if the flecks of glitter accidentally get into them.

Knowing how to safely remove glitter eye makeup is just as important as knowing how to safely apply it. Scrubbing it off is not a good idea as it can scratch the skin and you may get it in your eyes.


The best way to remove it is to use a good oil based makeup remover on a cotton pad and wipe away from the eyes. Use a clean cotton pad for each swipe to avoid scratching the sensitive eye area.

But what about the glue, is that safe?

It always a good idea to look at the ingredients and if you’ve got sensitive skin, acne or dry skin it might be an idea to avoid glitter glues or adhesives. The reason for that is that some of the ingredients like alcohol denat or phenoxyethanol can be drying or can irritate the skin. While they are commonly found in skin care products they aren’t right for everyone. If you’ve never used one of these products before it might be a good idea to test it in a small spot behind the ear 24 hours before your big night out, just in case your skin does react to it.

According to The Dermatology Review phenoxyethanol in large quanitites can be quite toxic to the brain cells and the central nervous system. It lists possible side effects from it as:

  • skin irritation,
  • allergic reactions,
  • cancer,
  • inflammation in the lungs and eyes, and
  • dermatitis.

It adds it may cause a severe skin reaction in people with eczema, so if the products you use contain this – it might be an idea to find one that doesn’t.

“If you’re going to use products with Phenoxyethanol, make sure to keep an eye out for any unexpected skin reactions, and ask your dermatologist if the chemical may exacerbate any skin problems you already have”‘ the review warns.


Safety first

So if you feel like embracing the glitter trend, our tips are to check the ingredients and to keep the glitter above the eyebrow and along the cheekbone to reduce the risk of injuring your eyes or the sensitive skin around them. Nobody wants a scratched cornea, so it’s a good idea to get clued up on some safety facts.

Alternatively if you’re not so keen on applying cosmetic glitter to your face, why not try sprinkling some on your roots, and curls to create funky and fun hairstyles!

What is your favourite way to use glitter? Or do you have any glitter safety tips? Why not tweet us your favourite glitter festival looks!