For thousands of years, humans have been trying to adorn everything from their homes to their bodies with glitter. However, it wasn’t always so accessible, and it wasn’t always safe.
Early cave paintings and other archaeological evidence suggests that humans used mica, lead, and other minerals to add shimmering qualities to their art and cosmetics. Egyptians are thought to have used crushed scarab beetle shells to add glitter to their cosmetics. The history of glitter goes back so far that the word itself is derived from the Old Norse glitra which means “to shine”. Glitter as we know it today can be traced directly back to World War II.
Prior to World War II, glitter was commonly used in decoration. However, the largest source of glitter was Germany, which meant that it was inaccessible during the war. If you have vintage Christmas ornaments, you may have already seen German glass glitter. German glass glitter is still available today, though it is not nearly as common. Since it is made from glass, it is not as safe as the glitter that proceeded it.
Around 1934, a machinist named Henry Ruschmann invented a way to replace German glass glitter by grinding up plastics. The glitters we use today are a direct descendent of Ruschmann’s glitter. Both craft glitter and cosmetic glitter are made from plastics and foils, but the size and shape differs. Craft glitter is cut in many shapes and sizes. Cosmetic glitter is almost always very finely cut hexagons, because the smaller edges make it much safer to use near the eyes. Thankfully, cosmetic glitter isn’t made from glass!
Photo from the Meadowbrook Glitter Company – a US based glitter manufacturer.