Glitter sunscreen has arrived but all is not what it seems

Glitter sunscreen has arrived but all is not what it seems

As any self-respecting millennial girl will know, summer isn’t summer without a generous helping of glitter slathered across every bit of available skin with the gusto of an excitable three-year-old. Now as much a part of the festival wardrobe as pretty wellies and a fanny pack, glitter is the perfect portable accessory that we can slap onto our skin for that little bit of instant extra.

But, if there’s one thing that a festival also requires, it’s sunscreen - and, unfortunately, one often messes up the other. You can’t apply glitter over the sunscreen ‘cause it just won’t stick. And you can’t apply it under it, because it's only going to smudge and you really will look like that three-year-old. Well, this year, the beauty world has a solution for you: glitter sunscreen. But is it really everything it’s cracked up to be? Well, it depends how you look at it.

First, let’s focus on the bit that's really the most important - the SPF. One of the market leaders is SeaStar Sparkle, made by Sunshine and Glitter, which offers pink, gold and rainbow options. On the company website, it is said that the product is: "nourishing and loaded with antioxidants, provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection and 80 minutes of water resistance." What's more, the makers also go on to add that it uses non-irritant glitter is: "PABA and Paraben free".

That’s a lot of claims for one little bottle of sunscreen. So, can it possibly live up to these promises while looking so cool too? Well, although glitter is not FDA regulated, Ohio-based dermatologist Alan Parks told Allure that he sees no real reason why the sunscreen should not be safe for skin: "The effect of glitter should theoretically not cause a change in effectiveness of the sunscreen if the sunscreen is applied in a sufficient amount to cover the exposed area of skin." 

However, that doesn’t mean you can start slacking when it comes to skincare. Like most sunscreens, it does also instruct you to reapply every couple of hours, stating to "limit time in the sun, especially between 10am and 2pm" and "wear long sleeve shirts, pants, hats and sunglasses" - all advice that, while certainly entirely valid, no one has ever followed properly and kind of lessens the need for sunscreen in the first place.

But now we get to the slightly more awkward bit, namely the environmental cost of our glitter habit. For some time, scientists have been warning of the damaging effects that glitter can have on ecosystems, in particular our oceans; it's actually made of microplastics, just like the microbeads that have recently been outlawed in the UK. Defined as particles less than 5mm in diameter, microplastics may sound small and irrelevant, but given that a 2014 study put the estimated number of pieces in the ocean at between 15 and 51 trillion pieces, they pose a huge threat.

Adventure Scientists, an NGO who recruit, train and manage skilled volunteers who help to conserve natural environments, explained the risks that microplastics pose, highlighting that they: “enter the food chain when ingested by aquatic life, accumulating in birds, fish, marine mammals and potentially humans.” And given that festivals aren’t exactly the only places we like to doll ourselves up with glitter - as anyone that’s ever been somewhere both hedonistic and beachy like Ibiza or Cancun will understand - it’s more than likely that the sea is exactly where this particular glitter will end up.

At the time of writing, Sunshine and Glitter hadn’t responded to our request for clarification about whether they were using biodegradable glitter in the SeaStar Sparkle range and a quick look through Twitter showed that they had not responded to the numerous other individuals asking the same question, but over on Facebook the response was simply: “We’re working on it.” However, the fact that the sunscreen is not already environmentally friendly has already led to criticism that it is "irresponsible", prompting an online petition which cites that similar products by the same company already use biodegradable glitter. 

At the end of the day, everyone loves an extra bit of sparkle and it's good to know that glitter sunscreen can live up to its promise to protect your skin. So it's unfortunate that it can't seem to do this without poisoning the planet. With a bit of luck, and perhaps a little more pressure from consumers, over the next few years, a company will be able to develop a decent, reasonably priced, gloriously glittery sunscreen that doesn't kill the planet.