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Cambridge research yields sparkling success

Sustainable, biodegradable glitter made from cellulose found in plants, fruits, vegetables

Cambridge researchers have developed a sustainable, plastic-free glitter for use in the cosmetics industry, made from the cellulose found in plants, fruits, vegetables and wood pulp.

The glitter is made from cellulose nanocrystals, which can bend light in such a way to create vivid colors through a process called structural color. The same phenomenon produces some of the brightest colors in nature and results in hues that do not fade, even after a century.

Using self-assembly techniques that allow the cellulose to produce intensely-colored films, the researchers say their materials could be used to replace the plastic glitter particles and tiny mineral effect pigments which are widely used in cosmetics. In Europe, the cosmetics industry uses about 5,500 tons of microplastics every year.

The films of cellulose nanocrystals prepared by the team can be made at scale using roll-to-roll processes like those used to make paper from wood pulp. This is the first time these materials have been fabricated at industrial scale. The results are reported in the journal Nature Materials.


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