Innovation That Matters

The new glitter is made out of organic materials extracted from plants, fruits, vegetables, and wood | Photo source University of Cambridge

Researchers make non-toxic, biodegradable glitter from cellulose

Fashion & Beauty

The researchers believe that their invention could provide a sustainable replacement for the plastic glitter particles and tiny mineral effect pigments currently used in lots of cosmetics

Spotted: Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a sustainable, plastic-free, non-toxic, and biodegradable glitter for use in the cosmetics industry.

The glitter does not contain any plastic or aluminum. Instead, it is made out of cellulose nanocrystals extracted from plants, fruits, vegetables, and wood pulp, and is said to be as sparkly as the original.

The cellulose nanocrystals draw on a process called structural coloration. Structural coloration bends light in a way that creates vivid colours, and is caused by interference effects rather than by pigments. Examples of this process are present in nature – for example in butterfly wings and peacock feathers. Researchers have been studying structural colours for a while due to their long-term stability advantages and environmentally-friendly properties compared with conventional pigments, and dyes.

The Cambridge researchers believe that their invention can replace the plastic glitter particles and tiny mineral effect pigments currently used in lots of cosmetics.

“We believe this product could revolutionize the cosmetics industry by providing a fully sustainable, biodegradable, and vegan pigment and glitter,” says Professor Silvia Vignolini the paper’s senior author.

The process is also said to be far less energy-intensive than conventional glitter and pigment making methods. In addition, the films of cellulose nanocrystals can also be made at scale using roll-to-roll processes, just like making paper from wood pulp. After making the cellulose films, the researchers then grind them into smaller particles appropriate in size for glitter and effect pigments. The resulting shimmery particles are fully biodegradable, plastic-free, and non-toxic.

The research was partially funded by the European Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). 

Sustainable fashion accessories are an important area for innovation. For example, at Springwise, we have spotted lipstick made from algae, and sustainable cosmetics made from unwanted fruit and vegetables.

Written By: Katrina Lane

Email: sv319@cam.ac.uk

Website: ch.cam.ac.uk

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