Ethical Sparkles and Shimmers: Natural Eyeshadows and Highlighters

A festive outfit isn’t complete without a little sparkle, but micro-plastic glitter is far from fun. Holistic make-up artist and nutritional therapist Sjaniël Turrell shares how to achieve shimmer whilst still being aware of the planet. 

It is hard to fathom that we are already mentally gearing up for the festive season. Christmas day plans and festive party invitations are already flying about on different communication channels and even though we’re always surprised at how early some people start thinking about these things, the year-end party season is upon us before we know it. I love how this time of year brings out the glam in all of us. There are only two times a year that I feel the need to go and pay to have my nails done – the beginning of summer (usually in a bright, happy coral tone) and a few weeks before Christmas (usually some OTT gold or red glitter – although these days you can find better festive options at non-toxic nail bars) – needless to say, if you ́re ever going to go for anything with a sparkle it’s going to be around the festivities of Christmas time.

As we here are all eco minded individuals, it may (or may not) be a question you’ve asked yourself, but how good is sparkle for the planet? How good is it for you? And you may be surprised at some of the answers – from shimmery eyeshadows to highlighters and glitter, I explore the most eco-minded options below.


If you are a seasoned natural beauty enthusiast you may already know that the majority of eyeshadows you find in organic beauty brands all seem to have had some level of sparkle or pearlescence; in fact, finding a truly matte or even pressed eyeshadow used to prove quite difficult. The reason for this is that all natural eyeshadows will be made from mineral colours and fillers originating from different types of rock. One of the main fillers, and also the main shimmery ingredients in eyeshadows and other shimmery products like highlighters, is mica. Mica comes from sheet rock called silicate and covers around 37 different minerals with similar properties, coming in various colours and has a pearlescent finish. It has many uses industrially from adding colour and lustre to paints and plastics to being used as fillers in building materials and insulation in electrics, so while it’s uses are not exclusive to the beauty industry, it is found here in abundance.

Mica produces a natural shimmer, is a non-polluting product and is not known to be harmful to our health in any way (unless breathing in fine particles during mining). There is, however, the issue of making sure that mined mica has been properly processed to eradicate heavy metals and potential harmful toxins found in the ground, ensuring it is ready for cosmetic use. Additionally, the process of mining itself must also be considered.

Mining of mica is a harsh process that includes drilling and blasting the earth, with the majority of the world’s mica coming from countries where cheap labour and child slavery are still actioned. The North-East of India is one of the primary producers of mica, with the Responsible Mica Initiative stating that 25% of the world’s mica production comes from illegal collection, where over 20,000 children are working in extreme conditions to support their families.

Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of mica used within the beauty industry, avoiding all mica-containing products would leave little left to play with. Some environmentally conscious companies like LUSH, although not deemed to meet the criteria of a 100% natural beauty brand, have banned the use of mica in all their products in favour of synthetic fluorphlogopite (a synthetic mica), creating products with similar properties and without harming the environment. The Responsible Mica Initiative, an association that is working toward a 100% responsible Indian mica supply chain, implements fair and sustainable collection and processing practices by empowering local communities and working with the Indian government and local authorities. Thankfully, a list of beauty companies and brands that are members of the initiative, such as Burt’s Bees and The Body Shop, are listed online for further guidance on where to source beauty products containing ethical mica.


Previously reserved for kids party face-painting or playing dress up, glitter seems to now be a massive trend within the beauty industry with all manner of festivals and self-expression seeing sparkle making its way back into our make-up bags. Many big name commercial brands regularly use cosmetic glitter in their ‘wow-factor’ make-up, sparkly eyeshadows and shimmery highlighters, though many of these are made of plastic. Plastic sheets are combined with colour and reflective compounds such as aluminium, titanium dioxide and iron oxides and then cut up into minute pieces, essentially creating a micro-plastic horror movie. Microbeads were notoriously banned in all products in the UK in 2018, yet glitter is still used in abundance despite having the same effect on our oceans and planet.

Fortunately, ‘eco-glitter’ is now readily available for all the glamour and fun without the environmental consequences. Having substituted the plastic for a plant cellulose from eucalyptus trees, most options on the market range between 90-100% plant-based structures, with the additional 10% consisting of plastic polymers. It is important not to be encaptured by the ‘eco’ status of this glitter and to carefully consider the origins and sustainable practices that go into making this alternative. The first question you need to ask is: is your plant cellulose glitter sourced from sustainably sourced eucalyptus trees? If your supplier does not specifically state this on their website, it may be worth reaching out and asking. And then: is it truly biodegradable? There is a concern that biodegradable glitters actually degrade at the same rate as regular PET plastics – which means over many years! The fact is that for anything to biodegrade properly it needs to be in the right environment, exposed to air and sunlight and a myriad of other combining factors, with not enough information available yet as to how long these new eco-glitters do stay around. Perhaps one positive to consider is that the chemical composition of the eco-alternative means less harmful chemicals are being released into the atmosphere upon their disposal. For eco-glitter fun, Bioglitter Pure (100% plant-based) and Bioglitter Sparkle (92% plant-based) are available in a variety of colours and sizes.

This festive season (or for any glam up occasion for that matter), take a moment to consider your choice of product and feel confident that you’ve made the best choice with the information you have. Below are my picks for your best shimmer and glitter must haves to embrace the year-end party season with joy.

RMS Beauty

The RMS Beauty Hidden Desire Palette offers strong pigments of gold and copper toned luminous eyeshadows and comes with a complimentary highlighter and blush. Their cream eye polishes are available in nine different shades of shimmer and sheen, adding a more intense glam finish to any eye look.

Lavera Illuminating Cream Eye Polish

Available in two different sets of metallics, with four shades in each, choose fromcoppers and golds in Indian Dream or pinks and purples in the Lavender Couture set. For higher intensity of colour and sheen, apply them wet to the eyes.

Lily Lolo Constellation Collection

Five cosmic inspired shimmery colours with great pigment ranging from light silver to dark gold, the names – Dazzle, Moonstruck, Cosmos, Galaxy and Solaris – say it all.

Bellapierre Shimmer Eyeshadow 9 Stack

These stackable shades of pigmented loose eyeshadows come in two different colour ways, Astrid offering fun with pop’s of colour or Bella’s shimmery metallic tones and neutrals. 

Rituel de Fille Celestial Sphere Eye Soot

A versatile gel/cream base with brightly shimmering iridescent effect that comes in three shades – perfect just on the eye, on top of eyeshadow or used as a glam highlighter.

ILIA Liquid Light Serum Highlighter

This stunning liquid highlighter is perfect for both highlighting face and eyes, and comes in three shades – Nova, a soft gold, Atomic, a soft pink sheen and Astrid, a beautiful rose gold – all with just the right amount of shimmer and glow for that special occasion.

RMS Luminizer x Quad

All four of the best RMS Luminizers in one compact – you simply cannot go wrong with an RMS luminizer in your makeup bag! My secret tip for the most iridescent glowing skin – mix your luminizer with your foundation and you’ll have celestial glow all night.

Manasi(7) Strobe Lighter

These cream highlighters give that extra sparkle you need from an evening highlighter whilst still being subtly grown up. The two colours are Celestial, a translucent white and Sunrise, a nude rose gold – use them as a typical highlighter or over eyeshadow to give it extra sheen.

INIKA Cream Illuminisor Trio

 All three of Inika’s shimmery cream illuminators – Rose, Gold and Spice – are available in one palette, easy to use on eyes, cheeks and even lips. The perfect highlighter with a little more glittery shimmer in the finish for those party nights.

MADARA Cosmic Drops

A buildable liquid highlighter that comes in four shades and can be applied as a light glow or built up to a strong sheen on the face or eyes. Naked Chromosphere is a pearly gold tone, Cosmic Rose is a pink rose gold, Burning Meteorite is a stunning burnt copper and Aurora Borealis gives that iridescent purple/blue/pink sheen.

Find out how to keep sparkle in your festive wardrobe without sequins.

Read Sjaniël‘s guide to more natural and organic eyeshadows.

Learn more about where to start with ethical beauty.